The Sooke area attracts people from all over the country. They come here for the West Coast experience and many of them fall in love with the area and never leave. They plant gardens and build homes, many of them tucked away off the beaten track.
Driving through Sooke one would never suspect that there are flourishing, lush, and beautifully-maintained gardens hidden away among the craggy rocks, arbutus and fir trees. High on the hills overlooking Sooke Basin is one such garden, and it is the first on the list of gardens in the annual Sooke Secret Garden Tour.
Cori and Geoff Steele’s home is situated with Mt. Manuel Quimper on the north and Cooper Cove and Sooke Basin to the south. Their garden was planned and planting started even before the house was built almost four years ago.
Perched high on the hill, Cori’s gardens are more an extension of the property than a separate space for plants. She has chosen those plants that thrive in the warm micro-climate and are not totally destroyed by deer.
“I used to live on Whiffin Spit,” she said, “and it was trial and error. I try to do my best and (fingers crossed) the deer haven’t touched my peonies.”
She doesn’t have a particular theme, she chooses plants she likes and ones which are sentimental. A landscaper helped put in the plants and they conferred on what to try. Cori has a Mediterranean spot where she has lavender, rosemary, thyme and bay. Beauty berry and dogwood are among her favorites and she loves the name, Banana Split, a type of yucca plant.
Cori readily admits she is a fair weather gardener but she also finds her garden to be a place to decompress and relax from her busy life as a mother of three active children.
She laughingly said that their yard is supposed to be low maintenance but she has found out that it’s the weeds that are high maintenance.
But, she said it always makes her feel better, something housework can never do.
Their three-and-a-half acre property is polished and poised and ready for visitors.
All of the gardens on the Sooke Secret Garden Tour are different.
“We choose gardens in various stages,” said Sue Hyslop, spokesperson for the Sooke Philharmonic Society.
On June 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine, ticket holders will be able to wander through 11 different gardens from Basinview Heights to French Beach. Some gardens are well established while others are new, but what they all have in common is the owners’ love of gardening. Some were reclaimed from swamp, others built on bare land with only a vision in mind. There are fairy gardens, ponds, gazebos, Hobbit houses and myriad other fascinating features in the gardens. There will be music, classic cars, refreshments, plants for sale, garden experts, artists and artisans and even a shuttle service during the tour. It will be a full and eventful day for gardeners and those who just love beautiful landscapes.
The event, in its sixth year, is a major fundraiser for the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. The ticket is also the map of the garden on the tour.
Tickets ($20) for this event are available in Sooke at Shoppers Drug Mart, Peoples Drug Mart, Double D Gardens, Shirley delicious, Sooke Soil and Landscape. In Victoria and area tickets can be purchased at Lynne’s Little Elf Garden Centre, Garden Works, Dig This, Marigold Nurseries and Art Knapp Garden Centre at Mattick’s Farm.
For more information visit: sookesecretgardens.com or contact Margaret at 250-642-6747.
Garden Tour Tips
Here are a few tips for ensuring you have a wonderful visit at the Sooke Secret Gardens:
• Follow the garden numbers on the map and garden descriptions for the most direct route around the tour or choose your own. There will be balloons and Secret Garden Tour road signs to help you find all the gardens
• Shuttle services will be available if required for gardens with challenging access. These will be marked on the ticket/map.
• Bring a camera and notepad to record garden ideas and tips.
• Wear comfortable clothing and non-slip shoes.
• Be prepared for changing weather.
• Bring bags or boxes for plant sale purchases.
• Please respect the hosts and their privacy.
• Demonstrations and advice from garden experts will be available at various garden venues.
• Look for the many volunteers who are there to assist you.
• Always drive with caution on unfamiliar roads.
• Fill your gas tank — no gas stations west of downtown Sooke.
• Enjoy yourself, bring a friend and make a day of it.