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House Beautiful: Cordova Bay home's garden like a fairy-tale scene

Couple's 3,000-square-foot home with rampant West Coast garden continues to evolve

Nestled in a forest of large conifers, knee-high ferns and serpentine pathways encrusted with gemlike polished glass, this garden is like a fairy-tale scene and it’s hard to believe it’s located just steps from a busy thoroughfare in Cordova Bay.

It’s also just a short climb up from the water, and surprisingly free of traffic noise.

The home’s back door opens onto a sea of vivid green and wild nature, while on the street side the landscape is more formal. The latter features an arbour festooned with roses, honeysuckle, clematis and grapevines, which separates two distinct garden areas: one with lawn and the other featuring raised planters filled with flowers and herbs.

Diane and David Allan have lived in this 3,000-square-foot home and rampant West Coast garden for almost 40 years and explain that the property continues to evolve, inside and out.

“We’ve done so many repairs and renovations that we are repairing the repairs now,” said David.

Diane explained when they bought the house there weren’t a lot of choices on the market, “but this one suited them well because of their blended family of five children, including four teenagers.

The couple appreciated the fact their three boys could sleep in a suite downstairs while they and their two daughters could be upstairs in three bedrooms.

The Allans brought a big picnic table inside and the family soon discovered this home had hidden assets, “lots of areas where you can go if you want to be by yourself.”

The garden also became a haven for the whole family and today it is one of Victoria’s hidden treasures and being featured on the Victoria Hospice Teeny Tiny Tour. It will only be seen as a virtual tour, however, since street parking is almost non existent.

Diane and David work well together and have always enjoyed doing projects. One of his most challenging was taking out the former shag carpeting and laying new wood flooring when he was 72. He worked his way through the house gradually, one room at a time.

A man with a keen artistic eye and double arts degree, his career was in education administration. He was a school principal until he retired and soon afterward he returned to his love of art and now at 86 is going strong, having created most of the artworks in their home.

Diane, 78. has an artistic sensitivity too as an amateur interior designer.

“I’ve been into House and Home Magazines forever,” she said with a chuckle, and after working for 24 years in the federal government, she operated her own dried floral company called Earthborne Designs. She worked as floral designer for the Aerie Resort among other clients.

She then became a real estate agent for several years, before retiring a second time.

Now with more than 30 years of gardening experience and many courses under her belt, she has started writing and recently wrote a book of whimsical rhymes and poetry featuring her garden setting.

Together the two have enjoyed developing their landscape, which includes many whimsical touches including a gazebo, Corvette mobile, greenhouse, a variety of sculptures placed among the ferns, forest pathways and even a wee garden for elves — something the couple’s nine grand children have found irresistible over the years.

Clearly the Allans never need to escape to a cottage as they have combined both a city home and country getaway all in one.

“When we bought the house the front was mostly lawn and a vegetable garden, which we continued to use for some time,” she said, but now it has become a luscious herb and flower garden defined by a long trellis which David built.

She noted the trellis has been up so long they will need to replace it soon, and added she has also had to adapt to working with with raccoons, rabbits, deer and river otters.

Because the property is mostly rock on the water side, they grow almost everything in pots, and what isn’t in a pot is a “volunteer” that just grew naturally, spread by birds or wind.

Inside they have done a major renovation in the kitchen, transforming it from a previous galley style with a U-shaped counter into a much more usable workspace

They chose to open it up and put in a stainless steel countertop — long before it was trendy — as well as a long wooden table. They eat at the counter and say the stainless is a marvel and they have never regretted the choice.

Because the ceiling is slanted, they couldn’t take cabinets to the top, but that has been a bonus in disguise as it allow space to hang more of David’s abstract art.

They love the kitchen because they each have their own space, thanks to two separate cooktops. Diane notes that David is the chef and she is the sous chef, prepping. chopping, and cleaning up. “David rarely follows a recipe, he improvises and is a great cook.”

Together they have had a busy, productive and fun retirement with creative projects in the home and garden to keep them busy and engaged. And it definitely does not look like a granny house.

Victoria Hospice Teeny Tiny Garden Tour

When: Sunday, June 12

Where:  Five gardens in James Bay, two in Fernwood, two in Vic West and 2 in the Maplewood area of Saanich

Tickets: $25 at Capital Iron in Victoria and the West Shore; GardenWorks on Blenkinsop, in Oak Bay and Colwood; and Heirloom Linens in Broadmead Village

NOTE: See full details on the Victoria Hospice website.