Boston ivy in the garden of Iain Hunter. ‘It’s fun when it grows into the house

Boston ivy in the garden of Iain Hunter. ‘It’s fun when it grows into the house

Column: A wee nosey into a family legacy of land and trees

Christin Geall teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Victoria and is an avid Oak Bay gardener.

No writer wants to admit that one of the reasons people are drawn to the trade is that while one can live a relatively boring life, it’s a legitimate practice to expose the lives of others. Not that that’s my goal here (and there’s no way I’d get away with it anyway because my subject is a fine writer and would be on to me in a flash). But a garden does reveal much about a gardener, and this is a story of a man, his family, and their garden.

We’ll start at the beginning.

In 1936, Iain Hunter’s parents pulled up to a new house in south Oak Bay. Legend has it that when Dr. Hunter asked his wife if she’d like to go in, she replied firmly, “no.”

“Why not?”

“It’s good.”

“What do you mean ‘good’?”

“I like the tree.”

The tree was (and still is) very, very good – a widely branched Garry oak. The trouble was, it wasn’t technically on the property, so the Hunters bought the adjoining lot as well. Three generations of the family have lived on that acre of land ever since.

It was a windy evening when I visited, the sea breeze blowing in from the ocean. I noticed first the rustle of leaves and I thought of how rarely we consider that part of the urban forest, the soundscape trees create, the soothing ebb and flow of nature’s silence. Not a car could be heard.

Sitting by a small pond in the backyard, Iain told me that his mother planted the trees: birches, copper beech, Sequoia metasequoia (the ancestor of the great Californian redwoods), red maples, dogwoods, apples, a rambling Parrotia, a tall Eucryphia, Magnolia grandiflora, and a lovely flowering Prunus. A number of native trees and shrubs added a valuable wild side to the garden including a tall Grand fir, oaks, poplars, Nootka rose and Indian Plum.

The Scots have a great expression for taking a ‘look about’: having a wee nosey. As we ducked under the shrubbery and poked about, Iain (Scottish spelling, of course) told me how his mother had hired Alfred Edward Horner to assist with the early work of the garden. Horner designed what was once the Provincial Normal School’s campus – now Camosun College.

During Iain’s childhood, quail and pheasant skittered around the garden. More recently eagles, hawks and herons have made appearances. And in the last 10 years, deer: Iain uses a water spray system to scare them off of the roses and herbaceous plantings, but otherwise lets them ‘prune’.

The pond – a small pool set into a rockery of heathers – also carried a story of old Oak Bay: before the Hunters’ street was redeveloped in the ’60s, it was once a spring.

In many ways, the Hunters’ garden honours the past and so it was hard not think of the future, how such properties are increasingly under threat in Oak Bay. Iain revealed that his land was assessed as if the property were already subdivided – a structural disincentive (in my opinion) to protecting the living and built heritage of our community.

Now 80, Iain says he’s trying to keep the garden up for his wife and two daughters. He spends about two hours a day working outside. “If the weather’s nice,” he said, “sometimes five.” It was hard not to marvel at such a commitment to land.

Later, we watched his dogs lap up a bit of water from the pond and I listened to the trees singing in the wind. I asked Iain about his mother.

“What do you think gardening meant to her?” The low sun had forced his eyes into a squint, but he opened them with a kind of reverence.

“Oh,” he said. “Everything.”

 

 

Christin Geall teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Victoria and is an avid Oak Bay gardener.

 

 

Just Posted

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The Victoria woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Anita Troop officially turns 100 on Sunday and cards are pouring in from around the world. (Courtesy Marina Miller)
Cards roll in from around the world for West Shore 100 year old

About 100 cards have come for the woman who turns 100 on Sunday

A cardboard man bearing Queen Elizabeth II’s royal cipher has been placed in a window at the Royal Theatre for at least several days. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)
Mysterious cardboard figure appears in Victoria’s Royal Theatre window

The identity of the figure, which was moved there amid cleaning, remains unknown

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in Saanich parkland

The birds don’t often touch down in the south of the Island

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Most Read