It doesn’t matter where you look or wander, there is beauty everywhere at Milner Gardens in Qualicum Beach. Every time we visit my first reaction is, inevitably, ‘Oh my!’ Depending on the season there is always something different to see, with an ever-changing palette of exquisite loveliness. It is impossible to be bored here which helps to explain, in part at least, why this 70-acre slice of heaven has been voted one of the 10 best public gardens in Canada.
The historic estate and gardens have been described as everything from a woodland garden to an artist’s garden. What it most definitely is not is one of those flashy, over-the-top show gardens full of colour crammed into every nook and cranny. In fact, 60 of the 70 acres is comprised of coastal Douglas fir old growth forest criss-crossed with well-defined paths that offer a peaceful and awe-inspiring introduction to the property.
Once visitors have traversed either a forest path or the gravelled driveway to the bottom of the property they have access to spectacular oceanfront views, sweeping lawns, inspired natural gardenscapes and the unspeakably lovely Milner home, which was completed in 1931. Forget your cell phones and anything else modern or electronic (except your camera – a definite must!) – entering the historic home of Ray and Veronica Milner takes you back to a time when life was slower and more gracious. You can meander through much of the 6,500 square foot beauty and enjoy the old-world ambiance that the Milners created, taking in the scrapbooks that chronicle the visits of (amongst others) British royalty, the beautifully-appointed rooms, Veronica’s artwork – it’s a wonderful glimpse into another world and lifestyle.
The Camellia Tea Room, located in the house, offers light lunches and teas, gorgeous views of Georgia Strait and yet another respite from the modern world. A few tables on the covered verandah bring al fresco dining to a whole new level.
While the 10 acres of gardens surrounding the house are more subtle than in-your-face show gardens crammed with annuals there is definitely much to see and enjoy, depending on when you visit. In addition to being a talented artist Veronica Milner was a dedicated collector of plant material. There are more than 500 rhododendrons that burst in to bloom each spring, and other interesting garden inhabitants add colour and texture through the rest of the year. Benches, water features, statuary, sweeping lawns and quiet pathways offer visitors a feast for the senses – it is very apparent that an artist’s heart and eye played a major role in the design here. There is a languid feel to the place that invites visitors to meander and marvel; it isn’t difficult to while away several hours enjoying all that the Milners created.
There are many other great features on the property as well. The old gardener’s cottage still stands, and the pool house has been converted to a gift shop. There is a charming ‘Shoots with Roots’ children’s garden, and plants propagated from heritage stock on the estate are available for sale.
Throughout the year there are also many special events, facilitated by an active volunteer force and Vancouver Island University, which since 1996 has overseen the maintenance and promotion of the property.
It’s hard to know what Veronica Milner, who was well-known locally for her extremely snobbish attitude, would think of the thousands of people who troop through her home and treasured gardens each year. But we have to be thankful that she had the foresight to gift the place to the community, and that we have the pleasure of visiting and enjoying the results of her vision and passion. This property is a true Vancouver Island jewel.
Milner Gardens and Woodland is located at 2179 West Island Highway, Qualicum Beach
Lat. 49.3528352 Long. -124.4128444
N 49 21.170 W 124 24.771