When you are looking at Hatley Park from the Esquimalt Lagoon, all you really see is a huge lawn, a parking lot, a castle, and a wooded area on either side of the lawn. When you approach the main building, however, you realise there is much more to see. The 565 acre park is essentially divided into 2 segments: the forest and the formal gardens.
Highlights of Hatley Park
- Extensive network of gardens and hiking trails
- Nearby migratory bird sanctuary
- Inexpensive admission to the gardens
- Guided garden tours available
- Spectacular views
The forest is largely old growth, with some newer trees as well. There is a ravine running through it, and a total of 15km of moderate-level hiking trails for those who prefer to wander through the type of forest that is typical of coastal British Columbia, instead of strolling through formal gardens. Here, among the towering trees, you get the sense of being far removed from the city.
The Gardens at Hatley Park
The Italian garden, the first of the formal gardens, is attached to the castle by a surrounding wall. If you stand on one of the castle’s terraces, looking down into this garden, you can see that it has a symmetrical layout, with straight paths and perfectly trimmed hedges defining the spaces. A pergola at one end of the garden is entirely covered with climbing wisteria with the most incredible scent. Looking around this garden, you’ll see that there are statues representing each of the seasons along the outside wall, and a series of urns decorating the garden beds. Any grass in this space is kept trimmed short, giving the feeling of everything being perfectly arranged, with nothing out of place.
Beyond the Italian garden, you’ll find the tranquil forest-like setting of the Japanese garden. The upper part of this area was constructed in 1909, when the castle was being built, and was designed by the Japanese designer Isaburo Kishida. The Japanese maples and flowering cherry trees were imported directly from Japan in 1909, making them now over 100 years old. Here and there, you’ll see stone lanterns peeking out from the foliage like little treasures, waiting there for you to find them.
The lower part of this garden was constructed later, between 1916 and 1919. It surrounds a small lake, with a pavilion in the center and clear waters that let you see the forest of plants growing under the water. Here, you can sit in the pavilion, or on the grassy banks of the lake, and blissfully while away the time watching some of the geese and ducks that like to paddle in these waters.
The furthest away from the castle is the Rose garden. This garden was based on a plan from Brett and Hall Landscape Architects, with a series of circles surrounding a sundial. There is also a pergola, on which you’ll find an abundance of climbing or rambling roses, giving off that token wine-like rose scent. The garden has several varieties of roses, including David Austins, Albas, Gallicas and Damasks, among others. Most of the roses grown here these days were not in the original garden, except for one: the American Pillar, which is a hardy deep pink rambling rose.
Although most of the garden flowers in the spring and summer, no matter what season you visit Hatley Park in, you’ll find beauty and peace. This is a place where you can go to relax for a few hours, or take the family on a picnic. A visit here is time well spent.