WHEN: April 7, April 11, May 26 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary
Call 250-479-0211 to register.

Most Victoria residents probably drive past Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary regularly without noticing. The marshland and forested highlands are tucked away near the intersection of Mackenzie Avenue and the Patricia Bay Highway. But this spring is the perfect chance to finally pay it a visit as their workshop Embracing the Wild: Gardening with Native Plants is back by popular demand.

Renée Cenerini, the program manager at Swan Lake, says this longstanding workshop is offered in partnership with the Capital Regional District and always has strong community interest. “There are lots of links to what we are trying to do here at Swan Lake which is basically to connect people with this land and gain a sense of stewardship.”

During this three-hour workshop, participants learn the benefits of planting, propagating, and harvesting native plants in their yards. They’ll also learn about edible plants, the importance of wildlife and water conservation, cultural history and get an overview of CRD’s water conservation programs. “Native Plants have a host of benefits such as providing habitat for wildlife, attracting birds, butterflies and other pollinators, increasing biodiversity, and helping to restore areas to their natural state,” she says.

Flowering purple camas
Flowering Camas

The workshops are taught by expert gardener Jay Rastogi, who is also the site manager at Swan Lake, and often act as a gateway for people to discover the nature sanctuary. “This is an introductory workshop,” says Cenerini, “so it tends to be a one-off for people, though we may see them back at our annual plant sale in April or throughout the year as visitors to the centre.”

Swan Lake Christmas Hill’s mission is to actively combat habitat loss and threats to Victoria’s wildlife. The sanctuary inventories species, establishes nesting and feeding opportunities for animals like birds and turtles by strategically using native plant species, and educates the public on the importance of sustaining habitat for wildlife. “We obviously want Swan Lake and the plants and animals that make it so special to be here for generations to come.”

The centre is also perfect for nearby teachers who want to take their students outside. “We offer a whole variety of field trip options for schools, matching many of our themes to outcomes in the B.C. school curriculum,” says Cenerini. “We deliver programs that are informative, fun, and designed to connect the children to many of our local animal species and the local environment. Our programs take place at Swan Lake and also at the schools when teachers are unable to bring students to us.”

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary offers a variety of other workshops throughout the year. You can see the full list at swanlake.bc.ca/adult-programs.php

Locals who want to learn about native plants and gardening are encourages to attend. Participation is free for CRD residents. You must call to pre-register. You can help support the nature sanctuary by visiting, volunteering, becoming a member or donating at swanlake.bc.ca

– Ryann Anderson