George Patterson has put his Tofino Botanical Gardens property up for sale.
“I want to retire by the time I’m 80, so that’s four more years and I’ve decided to start the process now,” Patterson told the Westerly News.
“I was 57 or so when I started the project; I wish I had started it 10 years earlier. I’ve actually been thinking about the continuity and the succession of the gardens for a long time and, in the last two or three years, I’ve come to a lot of realizations of how much of the physical work I can or want to do.”
The roughly 10-acre property at 1084 Pacific Rim Highway is listed at $3.75 million and its real estate listing published last week touted the site as a “once in a lifetime business, real estate and lifestyle opportunity.”
“Concentrating on the natural and cultural history of Clayoquot Sound with a healthy injection of art, music and sculpture; the Botanical Gardens are a unique collection of plants and animals, buildings and shelters, and meandering trails that lead visitors through the rainforest to the water’s edge,” the listing reads.
The horticultural artscape is also a popular spot for public events, including the Tofino Lantern Festival, Tofino Winterlights and community Easter egg hunts.
The listing cites the property’s “multiple revenue streams,” including garden admissions, event rentals, the 12-room Ecolodge, Darwin’s Cafe and rental income from a variety of tenant organizations, like Surfrider Pacific Rim and the Raincoast Education Society.
“The Ecolodge is a 12 room B&B style lodge with a classroom, common area and kitchen, focusing on educational groups and retreats. Expansion possibilities include an additional restaurant, gift shop and gallery, nursery/greenhouse,” the listing reads.
The Ecolodge was a point of contention in Tofino council chambers last year as Patterson and the district disagreed on an interpretation of the property’s zoning, which allows for a student dormitory, but not a tourist commercial accommodation.
Patterson said that disagreement did not factor into his decision to sell and added that he withdrew an application to rezone the property last month.
“That was such a tiny little issue in the overall picture of 20 years of operating. It was a minor blip,” he said.
Patterson said the lot was “raw” and undeveloped when he purchased it 33 years ago.
“I actually bought the property over the phone,” he said.
He explained that he was running a landscaping company, along with several flower shops and a nursery, splitting his time between Boston and Florida when he and his then-wife decided to look into buying a cabin in Tofino, where she had been born.
“She described it to me over the phone and we decided to go ahead and do it,” he said. “We bought this piece of property that was bigger and more expensive than we really should have done and that triggered a whole set of decisions to sell my business and move up here. If we had this land we’d better do something on it.”
He said he did not consider creating a garden right away, but was inspired by the environmental issues unfolding around Tofino at the time.
“During that time, I got really interested in research and education and that was the motivation behind the garden,” he said. “Because, people forget history pretty quickly. There are lots of kids who live up here who know nothing about all of the arrests and the struggle to protect the forests. They’re enjoying the forest, but they have no sense of how hard fought it was to keep the whole area from being clear-cut.”
He said he began creating the gardens around 1996 and opened the property to the public in 1999.
“When I decided to do it, I knew I wanted it to be a public garden. I never built it as a private estate garden. It was designed to have visitors and show them the way through the forest. I’ve tried to provide an enjoyable, meaningful, peaceful experience for people. That’s an important thing these days,” he said. “It’s been 20 years of chipping away at it. I like to call it the mud, sweat and tears…This has been a 20-year art project. It doesn’t quite work as a business, but that’s because of me. I’ve never really focused on or put a lot of energy or attention to the business side of it. There are lots of things that could be done here to make it a business, but that’s not what interests me. It’s been a passion project. It’s been what I do pretty much everyday, get up, go out to the garden and look around.”
He said he hopes to find buyers who will continue a similar vision.
“I’m looking for people whose views and aspirations are conciliatory with mine, not identical, but complementary in some way,” he said. “I really think that however it pans out, that the gardens are going to be here 50 years from now. I think they’ll be very recognizable.”
READ MORE: A garden of earthly delights in Tofino
He added he’s also investigating potentially selling the property in shares and hopes to remain involved in some capacity with the property after its sale.
“I would miss it if I were going to be out of it completely, but I think I’m going to be able carve out a role working with some new energetic people,” he said. “I think I could be of use for another five years as kind of a part time garden designer emeritus.”
He added that he and his wife Josie Osborne, the mayor of Tofino, will continue living in their residence on a separate lot adjacent to the gardens, which is not part of the sale.
While the New Jersey raised Patterson admitted to being “a city person” and acknowledged the massive life shift he plunged into when he sold his landscaping company of roughly 250 employees and moved to the west coast of Vancouver Island, he said he’s loved his time in Tofino and would make the same decision again.
“I put any money that I once had into the project. I have never taken a salary from the project in 20 years. I’ve been mainly living on my social security, but I’m not complaining about that. This has been a great way to live for 20 years, especially as I’ve been getting older. What better place to be?” he said. “Almost all of my best friends I’ve met here, they’ve been visitors to the garden. I met Josie here and we got married here. I’ve had dogs live and die here. It was definitely worth it.”