Cowichan Valley Showstopper [photos]

Attendees of the 2015 Rhodo Convention held last week in Sidney agreed: Peter Lewis’s Bright Angel Garden was the showstopper on an up-Island six-garden tour taken by the international delegates.

Lewis is an internationally acclaimed fountain maker by trade, having been commissioned to create works as close to home as the "Quench" centennial fountain at Duncan’s city hall and as far away as London, England, where one of his works featured at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games.

It’s no surprise then that his eight-acre garden located near Bright Angel Park is a stunning display of not only approximately 1,200 rhododendrons, but of fountains in all shapes and sizes. Visitors were wowed on Friday when Lewis opened his garden for public viewing for the first time.

As a member of the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society Lewis was thrilled to be asked to show off his collection.

"It’s a really big honour because they approached me," he said, tickled to be part of a convention program that included the likes of Jim Barlup, Marc Colombel, Kenneth Cox, Harold Greer, Guan Kaiyun, Lionel de Rothschild and Hartwig Schepker.

"These are the rock stars of rhododendron culture," he said.

Lewis hopes his garden will inspire others. Rhododendrons were a natural choice for him, having been born in Wales. There, some varieties grow 40 feet tall. Many edge lakes.

"There’s nothing nicer than seeing these balls of pink and mauve reflected in the waters," he said, explaining that "rhododendron" means "rose tree".

"In plant genealogy it’s the king of all shrubs," he said.

Rhododendrons really do bring the world together, Lewis said. When he and his wife were in Paris several years ago they were invited by a couple for a drink at their flat, which used to belong to Ernest Hemingway. As they sat in the living room, the owner remarked that he had been in Canada 20 years ago and what he remembered most was an "unbelievable" garden with thousands of rhododendrons. It was a garden belonging to a friend of Lewis’s, who has more than 6,000 of the shrubs.

"So we were discussing Ken Gibson’s garden in Ernest Hemingway’s living room, go figure," he recalls.

FUN FACT: the largest rhododendron in North America calls Ladysmith home. Of the Cynthia variety, it is 35 feet tall and 50 feet wide, according to Lewis. "IT’S LIKE a moving prayer," described Lewis.