A small but intrepid group of Nature Nanaimoites met at Milner Gardens in Qualicum on Sat. April 28. The rain didn’t stop us from enjoying a tour of the Gardens and a presentation on phenology research being conducted jointly by the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI) and Milner through Vancouver Island University, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).
First we visited one of the research field sites. Heather Klassen, Research Ecologist from FLNRORD, explained that their team is examining relationships between microclimate and plant phenology, or the timing of seasonally reoccurring events such as bud break, flower and fruit development, and leaf senescence. They hope to learn how shifts in climate might impact productivity of tree, shrub, and herbaceous species, and the availability of wildlife habitat and food. Dorothee Kiesker, a citizen science volunteer on the project, showed us the different tree and shrub species that are assessed every week during the growing season. The volunteers note details such as number of leaves or flowers, or state of development of cones, for the different plants. Because it’s so labour intensive and tough to standardize measurements, the group is also studying the possibility of using field cameras to observe these developmental changes. Kidston Short, a VIU student helping on the project explained the camera set up. There are cameras in multiple locations at Milner and also up on Mount Arrowsmith. We visited one of the climate stations being used to measure air temperature, wind, humidity, and soil temperature and moisture, to see how these relate to plant development in these areas. Heather noted that all the data collected are sent to the US National Phenology Network – www.usnpn.org – and interested folks can even collect information on plants in their back yard, using prescribed methods, to contribute to this database. The phenology project at Milner also depends on volunteers. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to contact Heather at Heather.A.Klassen@gov.bc.ca or Geoff Ball, Executive Director of Milner at Geoff.Ball@viu.ca.
After our time with the research team, we enjoyed an exceptional tour of the Gardens themselves with our volunteer guide, Dorothee. Dorothee gave us a brief background on Veronica Milner, the development of the Gardens, and transfer of the property to VIU. The Queen stayed in the house at Milner at one time! We walked the west trail from the welcome centre to the pool house, and then the main house, learning both about the different habitats within the old growth forest here and the spectacular woodland gardens designed as outdoor “rooms”. Dorothee showed us an example of a culturally modified Douglas-fir that has been identified by anthropologists on the property. She explained the shifts from areas of dense salal at the start of our walk, through areas with more Oregon-grape and vanilla leaf, to wetter areas with more fern and finally the small sedge wetland with maples, alders, and salmonberry near the bottom of the trail. The woodland garden is famous for its spectacular hybrid rhododendron collection – there were some beautiful blooms out now. The new rhododendron garden, displaying species rhodos from five regions around the world, was just opened last week. The variability in foliage and flower of this diverse group was fascinating; we also saw intriguing trees like copper beech and paperbark maple, magnolias and chestnuts. A visit to the spring plant sale rounded off our afternoon. All agreed a return trip later in the spring (and in better weather) would be well worthwhile.