With Dahlia Show Garden, Missions’ Ferncliff Gardens celebrates 90 years

September 19, 2010


Santiago Morales enjoys the views of Mission and the Fraser Valley from Westminster Abbey.

As featured in our guide “52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver”

ACCESS: Mission lies 80 kilometres east of Vancouver on Highway 7. The Mission Visitors’ Guide, with detailed street maps of the area, is available from the Travel Info Centre on the north side of the highway. Information on Ferncliff Gardens is posted at FerncliffGardens.com. The Dahlia Show Garden is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until October 3. Neilson Park lies just north of Ferncliff Gardens. From the gardens, turn left on McEwen Road, then immediately right on Edwards Road and follow the signs to the park. To reach Westminster Abbey from Highway 7, take Stave Lake Road to the Dewdney Trunk Road. Turn right and go east just past Goundrey Street.Despite a widespread inclination to write off the sunny season come back-to-school time, rest assured that there’s still plenty of time to follow Virgil’s advice: “If thou art wise, lay thee down now and steep thyself in a bowl of summertime.”

This month and next, there’s no finer bower in which to comply with the Roman poet’s advice than the Dahlia Show Garden in Mission.

Now in its 90th year, Ferncliff Gardens, which hosts the display in the north Fraser Valley town’s Hatzic neighbourhood, was originally planted by proprietor David Jack’s grandfather, Milton.

When contacted, Jack explained that during the past 44 years, he and his wife, Sheila, have carried on the family tradition.

Although they cultivate other varieties, such as irises and peonies, the couple’s first love is dahlias. “It’s our favourite flower,” he enthused. “Unlike irises, which only last two weeks, these bloom for three-and-a-half months throughout the summer and into October. No other flower can boast lasting that long. And the shapes, sizes, and colours are extraordinary. The only shades they don’t come in are blue and green. Dahlias don’t emit a perfume, either, so [they] make up for it in other ways.”

Currently, the Jacks have 150 varieties on display, which gives visitors a chance to see a full array, including several new ones. “Over the years, I’ve developed about 30 varieties. These days I usually put out five or six new ones each year, such as a purple one I named Ferncliff Mystique and two yellow ones, Sunbeam and Moon Mist. Dave likes yellow,” he added self-referentially.

Earlier this summer, the Christies  stopped at the Jacks’ Tudor-style farmhouse, which sits sheltered behind a cedar hedge; the main barn and show garden lay just beyond, at road’s end.

Rows of irises were all but finished in the fields.

Although the Jacks still market irises to buyers across the continent, flagging interest means they no longer open their garden to the public in spring as they once did.

“Iris sales are down,” Jack said. “The generation below us isn’t gardening as much. At $6 to $8 a root, dahlias give you more bloom for your buck.”

Meanwhile, on the skyline above Ferncliff Gardens rises Westminster Abbey’s bell tower.

The abbey’s well-tended grounds offer a pastoral place to enjoy a panoramic view that not only takes in nearby Hatzic Lake but also the Fraser River as it carves through the valley, with Mount Baker’s distinctively shaped snow cone rising in Washington state to the south.

Santiago Morales, a Chilean foreign-language student visiting the abbey, commented the sight was reminiscent of his home at the foot of the Andes.

“It’s the only mountain around Vancouver that looks like a volcano,” he said. “This beautiful location makes me homesick. But there’s also nothing like this that I’ve ever seen before, either in Chile or here in B.C.”

Although the interior of the abbey’s chapel is off-limits except during afternoon choral vespers services, visitors are always welcome to stroll the pathways that loop through a forest dominated by tall rhododendrons and that lead to one of the valley’s most commanding viewpoints, high above Mission.

As well as being home to an order of Benedictine monks, the abbey is also a working farm; its produce and livestock supply the mostly self-sufficient monastery with much of its needs.

As summer days arc towards the autumn equinox, here’s another suggestion: pack a picnic and head east to Mission for a different local attraction.

As the Lougheed Highway enters the north Fraser Valley, it passes a few of the remaining cedar mills that once dominated the local logging industry.

Before or after a stop at Ferncliff Gardens, seek out nearby Neilson Regional Park, tucked away on the western shore of Hatzic Lake. (Note: no pets allowed.)

A wide swath of grass runs downhill to the lake, where there are several picnic tables in a shaded grove.

If you’ve brought a canoe or kayak along, launch into the waters of the warm, shallow lake that stretches north toward the folds of the Coast Mountains.

Views from out on the water surpass those in the 10-hectare park as the abbey’s signature bell tower appears yet again.

If you’re there mid-morning on Sundays, you’ll be treated to the ringing of the tower’s 10 bells.

To further steep yourself in bounty, continue east to Agassiz, where you’ll discover an abundance of fresh produce and artisan cow and goat cheeses on sale at local shops and farms, including the popular Sparkles Corn Barn.

Endless summer, indeed.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie