Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

I spent years four through eighteen growing up on Saltspring Island, and only now at 26 do I realize how good I really had it. It’s a beautiful place with stunning coast lines, deep forests and an unsurpassed northern temperate climate. As a child the island seemed too small and limited but as an adult the place is looking more and more like paradise. Who would have thought that after spending an entire childhood and adolescence living there the island could still show me some surprises. Sure enough on my most recent visit homeward I was able to visit more then one new ecosystem. The first one we’ll talk about is Mt Maxwell’s Gary Oak Meadow.

This 350+ hectare ecological park is a bit off the beaten path, and generally unadvertised to the jovial masses of summer time tourists. The parks department is attempting to preserve this natural gary oak ecosystem as it’s quickly becoming one of the most threatened ecosystems in Canada. Not only are gary oaks on the decline but so are many of the sub species that make up the meadow. Due to fire suppression the grasslands are slowly turning into a shrub forest community. Mountain bikers and horses compact the ground and damage smaller species and mess up aquifers.

Still all grim things aside it’s a beautiful place to visit and we did our best to not disturb the area. We tread lightly down a leaf covered grassland, gold and sandy in color, dried up digitalis flower stalks lined the hillside. The south western slope is baked dry from the sun and at such a steep incline that one has to watch where they put their next step. Eventually after a good amount of adventuring we found what we were looking for. An old copper mine created long before it became an eco park. There on a grassy knoll lies a hole cut into solid rock, suprisingly enough it goes almost 150ft into the cliff. The sun was high and the air crisp, this has been the most beautiful winter I’ve experienced in some time. It was nice to get out and see something new.

It was a bit eerie coming across this old copper mine.

The walls of the mine seemed to be a mix of granite, quartz copper. What a texture.

There’s something very disheartening about being 100 feet under ground. The gentle echo of footsteps, wet mucky floor. In a world full of seatbelts and security fences it’s strange to have the freedom to explore such untamed lands.

It’s sunny and I’m out in a t-shirt on December 4th 2011, global warming? Or best winter ever?

While I’m quite excited to visit again when spring is in it’s full glory, there is something beautiful about gary oaks without their leaves.

The trees stand naked and let us see their amazed fractal of branches.

The lighting was perfect, a sense of calm was in the air, these ecosystems are more valuable then we could ever imagine.

A world before man.

What goes down must come up, a brutal vertical climb throw tall grass is enough to make anyone tire. What a afternoon.

6 Responses to A visit to: Saltspring Island’s gary oak meadow.

  • Gary says:

    Great shots! I’m just wondering where the trailhead is? Did you park your vehicle at the top carpark???

  • Gary says:

    Hi just wondered where you started your hike down the side of the hill. Where did you park your vehicle??

  • The Victoria Gardener says:

    Honestly Tom, I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to small dark places, but eventually everyone had gone in and I was standing out. I made a quick walk in and out, it was either by choice or after being harassed, I made it easy on myself haha.

  • Tom says:

    I love the branches covered in lichens. I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to go into that cave, but the texture and color of the walls looks so cool!

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.