Where the joy of Christmas is alive and well
It’s the first word you’ll see as you walk through the door of the Christmas Cottage and it’s the motto that sisters Linda Ronald and Janice Vincent live by.
As you walk through the door of the year-round Christmas store and are greeted by the twinkling lights, the bright reds, greens, golds and silvers of the holiday season, it’s easy to believe the joy of Christmas is alive and well. No matter how young or old you are.
And that’s the whole concept behind The Garden Party’s Christmas-themed cottage and greenhouse – that Christmas is for everyone and no one is left behind.
Ronald and Vincent know only too well what it’s like to feel excluded at Christmastime.
“We come from an impoverished background,” Vincent says. “I think it’s an opportunity to fix what we didn’t have as kids. For us, it’s an opportunity to give back to the community. You always draw from your own personal experience. We did feel excluded as kids and we’re able to empathize with families that are excluded.
“It’s a real, family feeling for us and a chance to re-visit Christmas and make it a good experience for us.”
Certainly, the glittered-covered ornaments decorated as gift boxes and sparkly ice skates, the red, green and gold nutcrackers, the nativity scene and the beautifully decorated wreaths and garlands, are cheery and can brighten up even the darkest of days.
“All the warmth and fuzzies,” get to people who come through the cottage, says Vincent. “We get a lot of people come in and get a real emotional experience. We’ve had people come in here and burst into tears.”
Vincent says some of the stories people share are just “heart-wrenching.”
In one case, a woman brought her friend to the Christmas store to cheer her up after the loss of her husband. Another came by The Garden Party wanting to take in all of the holiday cheer, knowing this will be her last Christmas.
People open up because of the sense of family and camaraderie that’s in the air at The Garden Party.
As you walk through the greenhouse, guests are invited to make a donation to the food bank, if they wish, and help themselves to a cup of coffee, tea, hot apple cider or hot chocolate.
“For us, it’s about community,” Vincent says. “Sales keep the door open but there’s more to it than that. It’s about bringing happiness to people and that makes us happy when we can do that.”
Ronald says there’s nothing better than seeing the huge smiles on the children’s faces when they see the giant toy train coming down the track or the first time they spy Santa Claus waiting for the kids to come and recite their Christmas list.
“We get to experience their happiness through their eyes,” Ronald says.
It’s what makes all the hard work and investment worth it.
What started as a retirement plan has turned into a full time job for Vincent and part-time work for Ronald to supplement her day job.
The two purchased the rural property along the Old Island Highway (just past York Road) five years ago. At the time, it was covered in old growth.
But with the help of their brother, Stan Ronald, the land was cleared and the old house on site gutted.
“We saw the potential in it,” Vincent says. “And we did a soft opening for Christmas last year.”
But Christmas is not where the business originally got its roots. It began with a 10-by-12-foot greenhouse purchased on a whim in Chemainus.
It was Ronald who got the inspiration to sell hanging baskets.
“We sold 75 moss baskets that year,” Ronald says.
“It was almost an adult-version of a Kool-Aid stand,” Vincent says of the modest greenhouse.
Since then, the pair erected the current 30-foot-by-48-foot greenhouse and from May to July the greenhouse is open for hanging basket shopping. The pair then morph into Fairy Gardens (miniature gardens with a combination of plants and structures said to attract fairies), before transforming the greenhouse into a Christmas village.
The cozy wooden cottage, however, will remain a year-round Christmas store this year.
“We made the decision we don’t want to take it down and put it up again. Mainly we don’t want to have our living room full of Christmas decorations anymore,” Ronald laughs.
And when the sisters aren’t busy with Christmas and keeping up the Garden Party, they’ll be spending time at Mountain Ridge Tree Farm in the Comox Valley where the owner has agreed to have the pair take over one of his greenhouses to sell hanging baskets.
And in the blink of an eye, it will be Christmas once again.
“Each year we add a little more, just to make it different,” Vincent says. “It’s always evolving.”
The Garden Party is located at 4068 South Island Highway.