Cougar Annie: a ‘mad joy of gardening’

February 8, 2016

One of the most beautiful things in life is wandering around in garden anywhere in the world?

What pops into my mind immediately is a little university town in northern Germany named Gottingen, just a couple of train whistles away from Brule where I house sat two grey and white sibling cats.

I love university towns anywhere in the world. They tend to be the most forward-thinking and progressive towns no matter what country in which you land your feet.

Gottingen did not disappoint. It has a wonderfully wide walk on top of the walk around the entire town. The walk is also ‘walled’ with wonderful shade trees and the people, walking or biking by, tend to be happy. Why wouldn’t they be happy with the excitement of breaking away for an hour from work or studies to tend among nature and breathe in and out deeply.

In one place, adjacent to a university building (I believe zoological), is a botanical garden. It is tangled wildly in its plots and in the evergreens you need to bend down low in order to stay trekking on the path. The little white labels everywhere increase your plant knowledge while reminding you that you are in a venue of orderly higher learning.Europe 2015 , housesits, etc 1118

Herein lies the rub, as they say ( whoever ‘they’ may be but they are no doubt as learned as they are orderly). Gardenly is a habit started with white skinned people, I am sure, who wanted to invade the jungle and other wild places with their mark implying: “I own this.”

If nature is not something to get back at, we at want it to get back. I remember having a friend on Salt Spring Island who lived for years in the most witchy octagon-shaped cottage.

One day, someone, who I am sure was attracted to the island, as most of us are, because of its natural beauty, bought the property next door and proceeded to fell all the coniferous trees. My friend was as devastated as she would be with a death in the family. She picked up and moved, eventually right off island.

I have no idea if those people proceeded to plant a flower garden but, as artistic as this is, I also believe we love gardens because it is a way for us to control nature just like mowing the lawn is.

This is what Cougar Annie began to do shortly after she landed on an isolated island off Vancouver Island. I have yet to go to her island but those who have marvel at how gigantic everything has grown there. Almost as if the flowers and plants have enjoyed their wild counterparts so much that they want to grow as tall as the gigantic fir trees. I guess, you can try to tame the forest but at the same time you can awaken the wild in the domestic.

I like to think wild always wins. By a lot of accounts Cougar Annie was feisty in a wild way right from the start. Unlike the animals on and surrounding her property, she had no claws to kill but she did quite a job with her gun. Like wild animals, though, romanticizing her life does not work in remembering her.

To be fair to Annie, it was the man who eventually bought the property that really tried to hack the the unruly garden back, that the woman eventually allowed to wilder.

This following is an article I wrote when Margaret Horsfield, who authored Cougar Annie’s Garden, came to talk to a crowd on Salt Spring Island:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

November 10, 1999

Cougar Annie: a ‘mad joy of gardening’

by Tanya Lester

Nanaimo author Margaret Horsfield treated a breathing-room-only group of 100 on Salt Spring last Tuesday to two hours of vivid word pictures about Cougar Annie and “the story of a garden that refused to die.”

Horsfield, whose book called Cougar Annie’s Garden was published recently, used slides to aid in discussing the life of the woman who got her nickname by zealously hunting cougars. She killed 72 of the predators, Horsfield said, in order to supplement her income with the $40 bounty money received for each animal.

Cougar Annie made her way up to the isolated Boat Basin (still accessible only by boar or airplane) near Hesquiat Harbour, 34 miles north-west of Tofino as the crow flies, in 1915. Her first husband, a Scottish remittance man, and three children accompanied her.

According to Horsfield, whose diligent research efforts spanned from Victoria to England and Scotland, Cougar Annie cleared five acres of rainforest single-handedly. She was pregnant most of the time, said Horsfield, and her upper class husband did not “believe” in helping with manual work.

Cougar Annie’s “mad joy of gardening” was about planting “anything she could get her hands on,” including 23 apple tree varieties, dahlias, day lilies, tiger lilies, irises and daffodils.

She established a nursery business and shipped her plants across Canada.

Horsfield pointed out that even today most of the flowering plants are giganitc in stature. The rhododendrons are 25 feet tall. The moss that grows around them, though, creates harmony between natural and domestic growth. Skunk cabbage and ferns also contribute to this blend.

Peter Buckland, who bought the property from Cougar Annie before she died at age 97 in 1985, used “chainsaw gardening” to cut away the overgrowth that accumulated during the later part of her life. Horsfield’s slide presentation and her book boasts the beautiful, brightly illustrative maps of Salt Spring author, naturalist and Driftwood columnist Briony Penn.

Buckland used surveyor’s tools and a compass to capture on graph paper the garden’s dimensions before Penn was able to draw the map.

The Boat Basin Foundation and Cougar Annie’s Garden Club has been established to maintain the garden.


Tanya Lester can be reached to do psychic readings, write or house sit by emailing her at or calling her at 250-538-0086. Her web is at and she is on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Twitter.

Her books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader( that can be purchased from by the author or perused at, Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters, Women Rights/Writes. These books are available in some libraries and the last three in the Legislative Library of Manitoba.

Read other posts in Tanya’s blog at or







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