Abkhazi Garden - Victoria, BC
... the Garden That Love Built

This true-life story of Abkhazi Garden is far more engaging than any fiction.

It's not a bustling shoulder to shoulder, shove-your-way-through tourist attraction... thankfully! No, the energy hovering over this garden is peaceful and serene.

And for that very reason, this 1-acre slice of nirvana draws flower and garden photographers like hummingbirds to sweet red petals.

I'm surprised that the movie hasn't been made yet. When Peggy met Nicholas would have given When Harry Met Sally a run for the money at the box office. The story is just that riveting.

A Little Background to Abkhazi Garden 
... hardship and romance

Prince Nicholas Abkhazi was 21. He fled Georgia during the Bolshevik Revolution with his mother in 1919. His ruling father was executed in Georgia in 1923 and in one fell swoop, Nicholas lost both his wealth and his father. 

A born-in-Shanghai Brit, Peggy Pemberton-Carter met her Prince Charming in Paris in the 1920s. At 18, she was travelling with her adoptive mother.  Both her parents had died when she was 3.

The two young people had a lot in common and, inevitably became tried and true friends. But, as War overtook the world, their relationship was swept up in the madness.  

In Shanghai, Peggy was interned in a Japanese POW camp. She chose to take on the job as camp gardener. In a rather twisted way, life was preparing her for the garden she'd eventually leave as her legacy. 

On the opposite side of the globe, Nicholas, a French soldier, was also interned as a POW in a German camp.... 

And so, their liaison faded into a 13 year intermission.

While she was a prisoner, Peggy hid her diary and some money orders from her captors. A very lucky - and smart lady - since they weren't discovered! At the end of the war, the money bought her passage to Victoria, Canada where her close friends, the McKenzies,  could hardly wait for her arrival. 

She recovered at her friends' home and planned out her future. 

She sold her property in Shanghai and bought property in Victoria... the Fairfield Estate. Just a rocky, weed-rich acre of land that begged for Peggy's transformational touch. 

She didn't waste any time! Soon, the summer house, lawns and fruit trees appeared... and, lo and behold, so did Nicholas! Well, at least a letter arrived from her long lost love.

To make the book version a whole lot shorter... they promptly met in New York, became engaged and then married.  How's that for crackerjack movie material?

For information about the history and garden, visit the Land Conservancy of BC website. 

Photo Editing - Express Yourself

Make your photography a reflection of who you are. Be what you want to be. If you're a realist, why not let your creativity loose and try photo editing beyond just the basic tweaks?

Now, most of my photographs are impressionistic.  'Painting' my photos means they reflect what I feel and see in my imagination.  It makes my images unique and I enjoy the process.

The software I use is Lightroom, Photoshop, Topaz Impression and ON1.

Don't be afraid to use an editing program. You computer comes with one and if you grow beyond it, there are so many to choose from.  Go through the lessons that come with your photo editor or search on YouTube.  The point is to enjoy the process while you learn.

Apply a Sepia Tone 
... age your photos instantly

One of the joys of visiting Abkhazi Garden is relaxing over lunch or tea. This was my table on the patio. A wonderful view of the gardens below and time to review the photos I'd taken so far.

I didn't realize how much I'd love this garden. And oh, how I wished there were a few more hours in that day! 

After I ordered lunch, I walked back down the stone steps and visited the turtles in the pond. Serenity followed me everywhere. 

The original image is in RAW and with the bright sun, there's plenty of colour. But I'm such a romantic and I was swept away with the history of the garden... I wanted to give at least a few photos the impression of age.

Sepia toning is one way to achieve that.

Experimenting With Your Photo Editing
... go wild - just be sure to save your original files!

I experiment with new photo editing techniques, though there are a few looks I call my favourites.  

I make 'actions' or 'presets' so, with a click of the mouse, Photoshop or ON1 Perfect Effects does the major work for me. All that's left is to make minor adjustments to the layers for that particular image. 

Sometimes, the preset works perfectly with no changes required! How easy can life get? You don't need to reinvent the wheel... when you get a look you like, save the steps as a preset.

This is a photo of the large terra cotta planter on the patio, right beside the table where I ate lunch. It's edited using a preset that toned down the brilliant colour.  Because of the bright sun, I turned the file into a smart object and toned down the dark shadows in Camera Raw filter.

Lavender is appropriately named (Latin 'lavare')
... it refers to the lovely scented bath infusions 

English, French or Spanish... no matter. Lavender's essence is luxurious, the blue-purple scented whorls of petals draw bees and other pollinators en masse. It's one of my favourite fragrances as well!

Did you know...  that lavender's fragrant oil is also
antiseptic and anti-inflammatory?

It's not just another pretty petal!

And it's magnificently photogenic. Google 'images of lavender' and you'll come up with millions of pictures. 

This landscape composition of Abkhazi Garden takes advantage of all the curved shapes...

  • the rock
  • the lavender clumps 
  • the cluster of white flowers behind
  • the grasses arching over the white flowers.

Need a bit of help with your photography composition?

Approach It From Vertical and Horizontal
... for a new point of view

I bet that you shoot most of your photos one way:  either horizontal or vertical.  That becomes a bit boring and it doesn't always capture the best composition.  

We're creatures of habit. We have to train ourselves to turn the camera on it's side and look at life from an entirely new viewpoint. 

If you take most of your photos with your cell phone, you probably take them vertically like the image of the Abkhazi Garden stone bench above. And videos, too!  Videos are much better in horizontal mode.

Be mindful when you use your mobile camera. Just because it's a phone doesn't mean that you can't get totally amazing photos. All the same rules of photography apply

If you use a DSLR, you most likely have a ton of horizontal pictures like the one below. Try looking at life in vertical.  Turn that camera on its side and look at life in a new way!

Some scenes will just look better one way or the other.  In this case, both pictures of the stone bench have good composition and I don't have a preference. 

I placed the bench in the frame using the Rule of Thirds, so it isn't in the centre. If you want your grid to guide you, get out your manual and find out how to turn it on.  I always use mine but some photographers find them distracting..

Harsh Light
... Really?! She's complaining about sunshine!

The day was gorgeous. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky and 24 C. It can't get any better than that. 

Photographers are a different sort, though.  That's because direct sun makes for harsh shadows and blown out highlights.... too much contrast.

You could take your circular polarizer with you and cut down the glare but face it... no fix is as good as a light cloud cover. If you carry some "shade-making" fabric or sheet of styrofoam... yes, it solves the problem for close-up shots of one or a few flowers...

But it's a pain to carry all that stuff around and it won't help with landscape photography.  So, if you can't come back on a day that offers more even light, just make the most of it and enjoy yourself.

I did!

For an absorbing read, get Peggy's book A Curious Cage, published in 1981. She used her journal to write it and recounts detailed experiences as a POW in a Japanese camp. As well, she describes her life in Shanghai around that time.

If you love reading about history, get her book on Amazon. There's a link just below.

A Happier Ending to the Story

It was 1946, a year after Peggy purchased the property, that Prince Nicholas moved to the Fairfield property with his new wife.

Peggy had set the garden in motion but now, under the care of two loving "parents" and several of Victoria's distinguished horticulturalists, the garden was transformed into a showpiece. 

It was their sanctuary for the rest of their lives and they lovingly referred to the garden as their "child".

Nicholas died in 1987 and Peggy stayed in their home for 2 years after his death. She died in 1994 and beginning in 2000, the Land Conservancy of BC purchased and oversees the garden that love built.

Wrapping It Up

I visited the garden well after all the rhododendrons were finished blooming and they're said to be spectacular. I haven't included any photos of the lower area of the garden here with a lawn, lovely irises and countless other plantings. 

This garden was truly a gem and not to be missed if you're in the Victoria area. TLC website gives directions to Abkhazi Garden from downtown Victoria either by car or bus. 

Abkhazi Garden is a  scrumptious  choice for afternoon tea or a light lunch... served either in the elegant house or outside on the patio. They use locally sourced produce in their menu choices.  

There are special events throughout the year and bookings are available for weddings and all kinds of special events.  

Look up all the information you need on their teahouse webpage.

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