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House Beautiful: Green thumb cultivates garden on a mountainside

A stop on the Sooke Secret Garden Tour features a beautiful oasis carefully designed by the homeowner on a property which is one quarter exposed rock.

Sharon Brindley doesn’t normally design houses or gardens, but about five years ago she did just that.

The attractive results caught the eye of Sooke Secret Garden Tour organizers, who asked her to open her garden for the tour.

She was both surprised and delighted to fulfil the request.

“I am certainly not a house or landscape designer,” she explained, adding she is more familiar with designing hearing clinics from coast to coast.

“I used to work for a retail hearing company with offices across Canada and I looked after all the company real estate.

“I found locations, designed clinics and oversaw construction, and over the years I oversaw brand new construction, total renovations and clinic refreshes for about 90 different properties.”

After immigrating to Calgary from England and then moving to Vancouver in 1987, she and her partner, Stephen Margate, moved around the province, from Squamish and Kamloops, back to Vancouver and then to Victoria.

But they fell in love with Sooke and moved there five years ago to create their forever home.

Brindley is now an impassioned gardener.

In the first year, she had landscapers help with hardscaping, the planting of larger trees and lashings of lavender.

“But after that it’s pretty much been me,” she said, “although I have someone help me weed for about four hours a month,” and her husband is a marvel with the mower.

She likes symmetry in her home and similarly in the garden, but with an English country twist.

“It’s all about the plants, which are still young but starting to fill in now that the garden is in its fifth year. It’s coming along, and like all gardens it’s constantly changing.

“It was bare land when we bought the property, which was in a new small subdivision in Sooke where the developer had just put in roads and sidewalks and marked out the lots.”

Instead of trying to build it up their sloping, rocky lot and make an artificially flat area, they worked with the natural topography.

“We washed off a lot of the rock and now have some massive expanses. With the blasting to place the house, we got more rock so we saved some to create small walls and divisions to delineate gardens beds..”

About a quarter of the property is exposed rock.

“Basically it is the side of mountain. We have created a winding gravel path that circumnavigates the house, so when people come for the tour they can walk around easily.”

This past winter, during the cold spell, she was surprised at some of the plants she lost, especially those which were supposed to be hardy perennials. “I even lost some lavender and daphne, although we have cut some right back and there are some signs of life.”

She explained that she and her spouse decided to come to Sooke because it is so community focused.

“When we lived in Victoria we used to drive out here and we loved it. All through the summer, there is something going on in Sooke and with retirement approaching, we thought it would be a nice place to live.

“It’s close enough to Victoria for a city feel, but we really like the community here. It has proven to be exactly what we thought it would be.”

Sooke Secret Garden Tour

WHEN: From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday June 1 and 2, with a free outdoor garden concert at 4.30 p.m. June 2 (donations encouraged.)

TICKETS: $40 per person, children under 10 free with adult. Available at Pharmasave Sooke (cash only), on the day of the tour at Sooke Region Museum (cash and e-transfers). More info at

WHERE: The tour features eight private gardens, some of which will include performances, artists, artisans, vendors and master gardeners.

NOTE: Proceeds benefit the Sooke Philharmonic Society and wellness access in the community.

For the first time since the pandemic, the Sooke Philharmonic Society is holding its colourful and fragrant fundraiser.

The two-day, self-guided Secret Garden Tour includes several extra destinations this year — the Sooke Region Museum, the Artisan’s Garden centre and Woodside garden — and some gardens will have plants for sale.

“It will be a journey through many different landscapes, each with a unique design,” said tour committee chair Bonnie Sprinkling.

“Visitors can explore a diverse array of gardens, from sprawling sanctuaries to intimate urban havens that have all been lovingly cultivated by passionate gardeners,” and she added the event is not only a celebration of gardens but also an opportunity to enjoy music, the work of local artists and artisans and the wisdom of master gardeners.

Homeowners can offer tips for plantings and arrangements while master gardeners dig deeper into more technical or detailed questions.

“This is our first tour in four years,” said Sprinkling, who said they are pulling out all the stops to make it special. “It’s a two-day event for the first time, and we have a first-ever concert on the Sunday, with more than 40 musicians and a large chorus.”

She noted that many gardeners enjoy the tour but others might be more interested in meeting artists and listening to music. “This year is a bit of an experiment with so many new elements.”

The event culminates in a free garden concert at 4.30 p.m. on June 2 with members of the Sooke Philharmonic conducted by Yariv Aloni.

Everyone is welcome and visitors are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket. Food will be available for sale from Bull & Sons.