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Needle or Temple Juniper

The Tree-loving Seattleite's guide to Victoria

    Victoria, B.C., is 150 miles from Seattle, 3 hours away. Yet the two cities' tree populations are refreshingly different.
    Victoria is rocky, breezy, sunny and dry, with a less extreme temperature range. Look at a map and you will plainly see why --Victoria sits exposed at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Therefore, it, like Sequim and the San Juan Islands, lies in the rain shadow caused by the great Olympic Mountains and Coast ranges to the west. As a result, the dominant tree in Victoria is the native oak, Quercus Garryana. By comparison, Seattle's most common tree is Bigleaf Maple. In brief, Seattle is moist, gray and lush, while Victoria is much more of a savanna environment.
    Native Americans did not inhabit the present site of Victoria, although they lived in adjacent locales; they called the place "Camosun." The British established Fort Albert in 1843, but soon fortunately renamed it Fort Victoria, and the youthful city incorporated in 1862, seven years before Seattle. Victoria is the provincial capitol of British Columbia, and in effect is Canada's San Francisco. In recent years its growth has exploded. Bygone are the eras when it could be stereotyped as a quaint "little England" tourist town where old folks sipped tea, and tourists went sight-seeing in red buses.
    BUTCHART GARDENS is the most publicized place of this "Garden City." Actually, Butchart Gardens is 11 miles northward on the Saanich Peninsula, near Brentwood Bay. The thrust of Butchart Gardens is lavish color displays to thrill visitors in a carnival or circus atmosphere. So a small army of employees keep the gardens gleaming and radiant. Steep admission prices pay for the upkeep. It has been called the "Disneyland of the North." My first visit so revolted me that I have never returned (I returned in 1994). Other people, however, have been so impressed that they became instant converts to the joy of plants and gardening! If you either love swarms of tourists, or simply do not mind mingling with such company, by all means go. Admire the beauty, have a swell time.
    ROYAL ROADS or HATLEY PARK offers stimulating richness of plants, a beautiful setting, free admission --yet scarcely any visitors. This quiet wonderland may be the best kept secret of Greater Victoria horticulture. Like Butchart Gardens, it is not in Victoria proper. As the crow flies, it lies 5 miles due west of City Hall, beyond Esquimalt Harbor, in the city of Colwood. Set in a background of native trees in a far moister environment than Victoria proper, with commensurately richer soils, Hatley Park has a collection of big trees, half a dozen or so of which are larger than any of their kind in Seattle. The heart of the place is the Dunsmuir castle built early this century. In the grand style of architecture, with massive carved rock and plenty of arches, it inspires everyone who sees its monumental walls. A Japanese Garden set around a reflecting lake is tranquil, large, and mature. Around its fringes are perennial, shrub and tree beds wherein the caretakers have recently introduced new rare species --it almost seems as if space was found to test everything that could be obtained from nurseries.
    The PLANT QUARENTINE STATION, or former Canada Agriculture Research Station, is a third important tree mecca. Various names have been given to this place (now it is a park). It began as an agricultural experiment farm in 1912. It has been cited usually as a Sidney location. Sidney is 15 miles north of Victoria, and just south of Sidney is this station, in the municipality of North Saanich. It consists of a parklike arboretum and rows of trees on an unirrigated east-facing slope. Over the years thousands of species were planted. Today, the funding is squeezed to a trickle, so minimal maintenance and practically no research is carried out regarding the numerous trees and shrubs. Such labels as are present, are old. The station's chief value for us is to prove which species survive on almost no care. Noteworthy old trees that are comparatively rare if not nonexistent in Seattle include: the Greek Maple (Acer Heldreichii), Redbud or Caucasian Maple (Acer Trautvetteri), Persian Maple (Acer velutinum var. Van Volxemii), and Ohio Buckeye (Æsculus glabra). In the conifer line are an astonishingly silver-needled Cedrus Deodara selection named 'Deep Cove' and a treelike "dwarf" Serbian Spruce 17 feet tall: Picea Omorika 'Nana'. Conifers, oaks and maples are the three chief strengths of the station. One English Oak (Quercus robur) that was killed when a nearby housing development altered the drainage pattern, had been among the largest in North America. In 1989 it measured 98 feet tall, 104 feet wide, its trunk more than 15 feet around.
    ROSS BAY CEMETERY, within Victoria's city limits, is 1.5 miles from downtown, right on the seaside. Much of it is planted with a dozen pine species. It is poor for shrubs, but the trees are varied and some are exceptional. A rare Temple or Needle Juniper (Juniperus rigida) (SEE PHOTO ABOVE) with handsome weeping tresses of prickly foliage is outstanding and should not be missed; no other known to me is of equal stature and beauty. Camperdown Elm of a size surpassing any known in Washington is not far from it. The cemetery is by no means gloomy or unsafe; it is like a neighborhood park, complete with restrooms. Some of the tombstones are pleasingly ornate or cleverly inscribed.
    BEACON HILL PARK is practically downtown, and is so regal in extent, in its variety, and views, that it really must be awarded first place. If your time is very limited and you cannot go further afield, Beacon Hill Park will not leave you dissatisfied. What Central Park is to New York, or Stanley Park to Vancouver, is this park to Victoria. People can picnic here, play cricket, putt golf balls, feed ducks, visit the little zoo, etc. Gigantic native oaks centuries old are elbow to elbow with a fascinating array of foreigners. The list of trees is lengthy, with perhaps over 200 kinds present. A few highlights include: Cedrus Deodara 'Repandens' planted in 1945. This freak is the equivalent of the weeping Redwood, and has also been sold as Cedrus libani 'Beacon Hill'. The Mountain Ash collection is good, consisting of 8 kinds, including a record 50-foot tall Sorbus x thuringiaca, as well as Sorbus Sargentiana (died) and Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' --two excellent ornamental species, neither to be found mature in Seattle yet. Extremely choice yet amazingly rare is the flowering cherry Prunus 'Fudan Zakura' which bears huge whitish blossoms in late January or early February. It is unknown in Seattle. Deep green and lush is the California Nutmeg Tree, Torreya californica, larger than any Torreya known in this State, possibly over 100 years old. Giving fragrance and ghostly color are the Australian Snow Gum, Cider Gum and Spinning Gum Eucalyptus species. Bald Cypresses send forth knees from their roots near a lakeside that reflects their stately images.

    MISCELLANEOUS NOTEWORTHY TREES:
Æsculus glabra; Ohio Buckeye; One 55 feet tall at Stadacona Park
Æsculus x plantierensis; Damask Horsechestnut; Ryan Street, east of Shelbourne
Cornus mas 'Variegata'; Variegated Cornelian Cherry; One, at Government House
Fraxinus excelsior 'Pendula'; Weeping European Ash; 32' tall & 35' wide, at Stadacona Park
Morus nigra; Black Mulberry; Here and there, from England
Sequiadendron giganteum; Sierra Redwood; Bigtree; 155' tall at Moss & Richardson streets
Zelkova serrata; Keaki; Zelkova; Royal Oak Burial Park has big ones
Ulmus glabra 'Lutescens'; Golden Wych Elm; Belmont and Begbie Streets
Ulmus procera 'Variegata'; Variegated English Elm; One known, at St. Ann's Academy

    SOME RECORD-SIZE TREES ON PRIVATE PROPERTY:
Juniperus scopulorum; Rocky Mt Juniper; Nearly 75 feet tall
Liriodendron Tulipifera 'Aureo-marginatum'; Variegated Tulip Tree; Over 60 feet tall
Picea Breweriana; Siskiyou Weeping Spruce; Bigger than any I know in Washington
Pinus radiata; Monterey Pine; Bigger than any I know in Washington

    PUBLICATIONS:
Trees of Greater Victoria: A Heritage (1988) --buy this book if you buy no other
Flora of the Saanich Peninsula (1973) --out of print
An Evaluation and Record of Generally Recommended Trees and Shrubs Planted at the Research Station, Sidney, B.C. (1977) --out of print
Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern British Columbia --1987 1st edition; 1991 2nd edition
The Island Grower magazine --at garden centers
Heritage Tree listing from the Heritage Tree Society --available free
Boulevard tree-planting list from the Park Department --available free
    (Buy a map, too, the best $1.95 you can spend)

(originally written in 1991)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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