Victoria's Garden of Love

It's heartwarming to read that a garden built by a Russian prince and his bride has been saved from a developer's bulldozer. The Abkhazi Garden, a 1.4-acre site that overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains, is internationally famous for its splendid collection of rhododendrons.

Abkhazi Garden with view of pond.
Abkhazi Garden with view of pond.

My interest in this story was triggered by an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail on January 10, 2000. Historically, the love affair between Prince Nicholas Abkhazi and Princess Peggy Abkhazi spanned over seven decades, three continents, and the Second World War. When they purchased this property in 1946, this long, thin strip of land was about to be subdivided. It was an overgrown, weed-infested lot! For over 40 years, the Georgian prince from Russia and his Shanghai born princess created a magnificent landscape that she would later call the "garden that love built". The couple was childless and the garden subsequently became their pride and joy. Prince Nicholas died in 1987 and Princess Peggy died in 1994. Their ashes were scattered over the garden.

  • Abkhazi Gardens.
  • Abkhazi Gardens.

Care of the garden was entrusted to the estate's two major benefactors – the couple's long-time gardener, Chris Ball, and their housemaid of 15 years, Maria Camosa. The sale of the property to the gardener was a long-standing source of dispute between these two people. When the gardener was unable to afford the $30,000 annual upkeep, he sold the property to a developer for the purpose of building townhouses. Maria Camosa indicated that "Princess Abhkazi never would have wanted her beloved garden to be destroyed. She always said she wanted it to continue. They wanted something left behind that would last". News of the impending demolition of "the garden that love built" captivated the hearts of horticulturists across the continent. The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, in an 11th hour agreement, signed a contract to buy back the property from the developer for $1.4 million. Donations from Canada, the United States, and England have come in, from as little as $10 to as much as $100,000. In addition to this, over $600,000 was raised by 12 donors who agreed to take out mortgages on the property.

Commendably, Ester Edwards, an 82-year-old pensioner, avid gardener, and retired Eaton's store clerk, donated $1000 when told that the garden would be saved. As of the end of January, the group still needed $175,000 to repurchase the garden and another $250,000 to set up an endowment fund for the gardens ongoing maintenance. The property was formally transferred to the Land Conservancy of B.C. on February 17.

Abkhazi Gardens.

When news of the gardeners reprieve reached the ears of Maria Camosa, the couple's long-time maid, she said that Princess Peggy Abkhazi "believed in the ever-after… I think she's around us… she is in the garden and she's very happy".

This garden was prominently featured in the book In a Canadian Garden in 1989. Photographed by Freeman Patterson and written by Nicole Eaton and Hilary Weston, it vividly "shows and tells" the beauty of this garden and how it evolved. Princess Abkhazi envisioned her garden like the Yangtze River in China. The garden, like this river, gently and peacefully flows from one "room" to another. Each room is a new surprise… a new adventure.

Take this book off your coffee table or make arrangements to see the Princess Nicholas Abkhazi Garden in person. It truly is one of the most beautiful gardens in Canada… Victoria's Garden of Love.

Abkhazi Gardens.

All photos copyright Freeman Patterson.


Eaton, Nicole and Hilary Weston. Photography by Freeman Patterson. In a Canadian Garden. Viking Studio Books, 1989.

The Globe and Mail. "Garden of Russian Prince in Danger from Developers". 2000.01.10

The Globe and Mail. "Deal Keeps 'Garden of Love' Blooming in B.C.". 2000.01.31.

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