Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Abkhazi Garden - the garden that love built

I've often thought that love and devotion are the two ingredients that separate unique gardens from fine ones; without them, knowledge and skill only produce superficial beauty that seldom resonates with our inner thoughts and emotions. So when a garden touches one's heart with its grace and beauty midst the leafless, numbing cold of late November, it is a sure sign that these two ingredients were abundant while it was created.

The story of the Abkhazi Garden in Victoria, British Columbia spans over seven decades, four countries and three continents. It is an exquisite tribute to the love and lives of its builders, Prince and Princess Abkhazi, who had originally met and learnt to know each other while living in Paris in the 1920s. Prince Nicolas Abkhazi had lost her home when his home became the Soviet state of Georgia, and lived in exile in Paris. Princess Abkhazi, or Peggy Pemberton Carter before her marriage, had grown up in Shanghai with wealthy adoptive parents, and she had been taken to Paris to learn more about European arts and culture. Her adoptive mother didn't want lose her to any suitor, prince or not, so Peggy was promptly transported back to Shanghai.

18 years exchange of letters was followed by a further separation caused by the Second World War, during which Peggy was imprisoned by the Japanese and Nicolas by the Germans. In 1946, both met again in New York and decided to marry briefly thereafter. The couple moved together to Victoria in Canadian British Columbia, where Peggy had bought a small but promising lot on a hilly slope filled with glacial cliffs. Soon they started to build their garden together. The couple remained childless and Peggy later admitted that the garden became the child they never got.
The Abkhazi garden soon became known for its exquisite plant collections and creative, artistic solutions that enhanced the natural, intricate beauty of the hilly site. Today, walking through the garden, moss-covered stone outcroppings reveals carefully installed, meandering pathways, and little ponds that mirror the clouds floating above, connecting the land to the sky. Every little crevice is filled with well-chosen alpines, bulbs and miniature conifers; below the cliffs, a lush grove of Rhododendrons, now with stems thick as thighs, spread their limbs above the accompanying woodland perennials. Thoughtfulness and calm seem to penetrate every corner of the garden, and there is a remarkable balance between the dramatic site and its planted companions. After Nicolas' and Peggy's deaths in the 1990s, high-density housing development threatened the gardens, but luckily some passionate garden lovers together with the Land Conservancy of British Columbia were able to rescue them.

A garden is a perpetual reminder that there are no shortcuts to the important things in life, wrote Peggy, Princess Abkhazi, once in her journals. No shortcuts were taken in the Abkhazi Garden, so lovingly and devotedly built over 40 years by Nicolas and Peggy who had experienced both ultimate splendour and extreme misery during their long lives. And so it became one of those unique gardens that are able to touch one's heart, even over a decade after its creators finally left its stone-clad, mossy hills and shadowy groves.
'The garden that love built' was a description that Peggy herself used of their garden.


nilla|utanpunkt said...

Vackert, känner igen stilen från engelska, äldre trädgårdar. Just det där med att bjuda på mycket vintergrönt och spara på de snabba, somriga excesserna.

Sophia Callmer said...

Vacker historia och trädgård. Detta med att det inte finns några genvägar är väldigt sant, trädgård tar tid om det verkligen ska bli formfulländat.

Hoover Boo said...

Took love to build it...and love to save it! Beautiful post, thank you for sharing it.

Ruben said...

Vilken historia!!! Och vilken fin trädgård. Dessa naturnära trädgårdar blir för det mesta de mest personliga. Tror knappast de lusläste trädgårdstidningar på jakt efter nya idéer, de visste nog vad de ville redan från början!
Ha en riktigt mysig advent!