There’s no other place like the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, which has some in Saanich wondering if the 36-year-old gardens could be a little more popular, including general manager Anne Kadwell.
The gardens are immaculate and educational, HCP’s master gardener program is thriving, and the Pacific Horticulture College is renowned. Visitors are frequent and HCP offers a rich variety of programs, such as the junior gardeners summer camp. In fact, HCP overall is in decent financial shape thanks to about 100 regular volunteers, organized by a skeleton staff of four. The biggest challenge right now is booking fall and winter events in the new Mel Couvelier Pavilion, which is a tough place to get into during the summer months.
“If a bride makes a site visit (to the pavilion) they book it, they’re ecstatic,” Kadwell says.
Kadwell’s love for the gardens is unabashed. She worked there a decade ago and returned as general manager in October.
“As a facility, we find (most of) the people who book it are (already) nature-focused, so it’s a matter of bringing in other people,” she says.
The Couvelier Pavilion is a West Coast monument of windows and exposed wood, an ideal replacement for the popular but barebones greenhouse which preceded it. To help cover the pavilion’s $750,000 mortgage, management is introducing Christmas party packages for 2015, including catering by Food for Thought. It’s all led by new event and office manager Dana Gage, who is already booking the pavilion for the summer of 2016.
“The numbers for (2016) are strong, already ahead of where we were for bookings this time last year (for 2015),” Gage says.
The pavilion has some available bookings for this summer but not on Saturdays.
Kadwell says beyond Christmas parties, staff are looking to draw new events, such as corporate seminars and conferences.
“Maybe it’s seen as remote, but to have access to these gardens and be able to wander around here during a conference is quite appealing,” she said. “It’s not unlike the weddings we hold. At night the gardens close to the public, but the wedding guests are able to walk through the grounds.”
On July 6, Saanich Council approved HCP’s request for $70,000 to perform upgrades: $32,000 will shore up the roof and kitchen of Nourish Cafe, $30,000 will help upgrade a college classroom and support the program and, $8,000 will help convert the caretaker cottage into a student learning centre.
In addition to HCP’s popular Arts and Music festival (Aug. 15 and 16), the centre has partnered with CTV to offer Picnic in the Gardens, from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 26. “Bring your picnic basket, a blanket, family, friends and lawn games,” Kadwell says. “Just hang out on the grass and eat dinner.”
Entrance is by donation.