After living in Victoria for nine years, I have to confess I have never visited Royal Roads University, Hatley Castle and the gardens.
Royal Roads comes with a long history deeply embedded in Victoria's beginnings as it was originally built by the influential and very colourful Dunsmuir family. But despite all that, the castle still remains and the gardens are lovingly cared for by a large group of gardening staff headed by chief gardener Barrie Agar.
Ms Agar has worked at Royal Roads for twenty years, and as head gardener for fifteen. She lovingly tries to keep what was original. It was here that I met Barrie and it's only in talking to her that you truly understand the scope of the gardens and the workings of such a large estate, over five hundred acres of property.
How can you not be impressed by the Italian Garden with its clean lines, the meticulously manicured boxwood hedges and the flower display of vibrant colours that frame the castle in the background?
What I was most interested to find out is that most visitors to the castle rarely visit the gardens. In my opinion the gardens are outstanding. Yes, of course Victoria boasts the famous Butchart Gardens and there is no denying that they are spectacular, but in my opinion the Royal Roads gardens are equal in design and layout, the maturity of the plantings and the scale and variety of trees.
There is also a large pond area that is the central part of the Japanese Garden and this was original to the historic house. The gardener lived in a little cottage right next to the Japanese Garden. Over the years the plants have matured and some of the rhododendrons are now twenty feet high and cascade into the pond. There is also a restored pagoda and other original art pieces.
Royal Roads University is one of Victoria's hidden gems that is often overlooked, which is too bad. You should allow a whole day to explore this unique garden and property.