TLC top dog pours a cuppa at Abkhazi

The Land Conservancy's Bill Turner enjoys the view from the deck outside the tea room at Abkhazi Garden

The Land Conservancy's Bill Turner enjoys the view from the deck outside the tea room at Abkhazi Garden

Bill Turner talks about his 2009 ouster and The Land Conservancy’s future

On a grey, rainy day Bill Turner is talking about tea.“We’ve got looseleaf and it all comes from Silk Road,” says Turner, executive director of The Land Conservancy of B.C.Although the weather outside the Abkhazi Garden tea room is frightful, inside it’s cosy. There’s an urn-sized silver pot of tea on the linen-covered table. Through the picture window we can see a visitor walking along the paths.It’s the first time the garden, currently managed by horticulturalist Jeff de Jong, has been open year-round. Although there is no one else in the tea room, Turner says the new hours have been popular with visitors. The numbers increased from 12,000 in 2009 to 15,000 last year, with about about half of those being local residents.“We want to keep growing that number,” he says with no trace of irony. “It will take a while for the (tourist) guidebooks to reflect the changes we’ve made.” There will be a public open house at Abkhazi Garden on Sunday, April 3, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission will be free that day. The garden is just one of 46 properties belonging to Esquimalt-based TLC. Modelled after the National Trust of Britain, volunteer-run TLC was formed in 1997 and aims to protect plant, animal and human habitats. In Victoria, they own the historic Ross Bay Villa on Fairfield Road, but also the 63-hectare Sooke Potholes west of the city. They also have other properties throughout B.C.It’s been a tough couple of years for the organization and for Turner. Ousted in April 2009 by a board of directors critical of his land deals and accompanying debt, he was nevertheless reinstated after new pro-Turner board members were elected later that year.“This is what we do,” he says about increasing TLC’s inventory. “What we do is forever. None of these buildings will be here 150 years from now,” he says, sweeping a hand toward a neighbouring house. “But the Sooke Potholes will likely be here 400 years from now.”Turner is 67 and says he’d like to retire within three years. Already he is looking to see who amongst TLC staff might be ready to take over.But even after he retires he would like to stay on.“I may come back as the volunteer from hell.”vmoreau@oakbaynews.com

Did you know?• Abkhazi Garden, at 1964 Fairfield Rd. near the Oak Bay-Victoria border, was the private home of Shanghai-born Peggy Abkhazi and her Georgian husband, Prince Nicholas Abkhazi. They turned it from a scrubby woodland to a Garry oak and rhododendron haven. After their deaths, the one-acre property was almost turned into a condo development but was purchased by the TLC in 2000.