Cindy Swoveland does dead-heading in the Victorian rose garden at Government House. She is just one of hundreds of volunteers who are responsible for the maintenance of the 32-acre gardens.

Government House gardens a labour of love

Entering the gates of the rose garden at Government House is like stepping into a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

Entering the gates of the rose garden at Government House is like stepping into a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

On a sunny Tuesday morning, dozens of different types of roses line the walkways in full bloom in various colours such as pink, orange, red and white. Trees loom large in the background and a large water fountain, that has become home to three yellow rubber ducks, sits at the centre of the garden.

Visually, the garden seems to have an almost magical element, transporting people into another world, yet it also provides a sense of calm and serenity.

A handful of volunteers work amongst the bushes, deadheading — the act of removing dead flowers from a plant to encourage further blooming.

“It’s a really lovely group to be with and there’s a great satisfaction seeing something come out of nothing,” said Nairn Hollott, coordinator of the garden volunteers and rose garden. “To me, it’s giving back (to the community.)”

Hollott is one of hundreds of volunteers who help with the maintenance of the gardens at Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of B.C., on Rockland Avenue.

There are 16 gardens including the vegetable, rose, herb, country, rotary, and Rockland one and two gardens, as well as the woodlands that span 32 acres.

In 1992, then-Lieutenant Governor David Lam started a garden volunteer program, which began as a small group and has since blossomed into a cohort of dedicated volunteers called Friends of the Government House Gardens Society.

From March to October, volunteers (some of whom work year-round) are responsible for the maintenance of the hundreds of different types of plants, weeding, deadheading, fertilizing and planting.

Every Tuesday and Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and noon, roughly 245 volunteers gather in their respective groups, head to their gardens with their tools and continue with the maintenance of the area.

While Government House receives funding for shrub, grass cutting and tree trimming, all of the gardens are completely looked after by volunteers, who have put in more than 17,000 hours of work this year alone.

Volunteers are also responsible for fundraising and installing the paths and fencing around and through the gardens.

The work, while gruelling at some points, draws people from all walks of life who continue to volunteer anywhere from three years to more than 25 years, many of whom have become good friends.

The average age of volunteers is roughly 70 years old.

“We all love just being here in the atmosphere. We enjoy doing the work. We have a lot of hands doing a little bit each and it looks great,” said Ralph Rossman, who has been volunteering at the gardens with his wife Donalda for the past six years.

Janice Drent lives in the neighbourhood and has been volunteering with the gardens for the past 23 years.

“It’s a fabulous public park enjoyed by everybody. It’s great to feel a part of this community and the garden,” said Drent, a volunteer coordinator of the cut flower garden. “It’s a beautiful property that needs to be maintained and it’s fun to do that.”

For some volunteers, it allows them to garden when they don’t have one of their own, socialize with friends and stay active.

But like many gardens in Victoria, Government House is not immune to deer. In the past, they would get into the gardens and eat many of the plants.

Now with less deer getting into the gardens, giving plants the opportunity to grow again, and the warm weather, the gardens are back in full bloom.

“Everything has responded beautifully,” Hollott said, adding the gardens are as busy as they’ve ever been, drawing more tourists to the area, contributing to the local economy as well.

For more information about the Friends of the Government House Gardens Society visit fghs.ca.