Earlier this month, Jon and I took some time off to visit Cape Scott, a provincial park at the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. We mentioned the trip to artist dea Kearns and her partner, and we learned that we would be passing the Bernt Ronning Garden, the site of the image on the New Generator journal cover.
After driving about 60 kilometres along a logging road, we spotted the entrance to the garden. It was marked by a wooden sign almost hidden behind foliage. Cape Scott was another 5 km along the road, and it was getting late. We decided to visit the garden on our way home.
After several days of hiking and taking in some of the most stunning beaches on the west coast, we found ourselves back at the entrance to the garden. Jon had some minor injuries from our epic hike the previous day, so I went to the gardens by myself.
I walked the Old San Josef Wagon Road, a grassy track through the wilderness, to the site of the gardens. This area was settled in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but due to the remote location, the settlements failed.
The garden was started in 1910 by Bernt Ronning, a Norwegian settler. Over the years he sent away for seeds and cuttings and transformed the forest into a garden that was a favourite stop for visitors to Cape Scott for years. Ronning lived on the property until the 1960s.
My first sight was a few small monkey puzzle trees. I was unsurprised to see them, as the giant monkey puzzle tree is a well-known feature of Ronning Garden. Bernt Ronning had one of the only pairs of monkey puzzle trees that produced viable seeds. Most of the monkey puzzle trees on the north island are descended from the trees here.
The forest has taken back much of the garden, but I spotted many exotic species. there was a golden Yew from Ireland, a robust stand of bamboo, and tiger lilies to name just a few.
I did not find the piece of equipment that is on the cover of dea Kearns’ New Generator. Perhaps the forest has finally fully concealed the generator. Or maybe I simply missed it. I did find an old push mower and a bicycle.
As I wandered the gardens I understood why Kearns was compelled to paint this. The forest pushes in on the gardens, and the introduced species and the man-made machinery and structures are slowly merging with the coastal rainforest to create a landscape unique to this one location on the planet.
Once again, I finished a trip this summer feeling honoured that Crwth is publishing books that celebrate the Canadian landscape. This magical piece of Vancouver Island is definitely worth celebrating.
Want a little Ronning Garden magic for yourself? New Generator by dea Kearns is now available for sale.
I spent 17 years in Holberg and I remember when Bernt Ronning’s house was still standing, though in rough shape. This would have been in the late 80s or early 90s.
I met the last of the early settlers living up there in the woods – a fellow nicknamed “Potato” Kelly. He would visit the old CFS Holberg site and they would provide him with food etc..
The base closed down and was automated in 1990.
Today I live in my home town of Port Alberni with my wife who is related (Great Granddaughter) to another famous Vancouver Island pioneer – Cougar Annie of Boat Basin near Hesquiat Harbour.
So interesting, Bruce. Cougar Annie is a fascinating character. There are so many great stories around Vancouver Island, aren’t there?
how may I contact the current owners to arrange a visit?
You don’t need to contact anyone. You can just go there. It’s open to the public.