– Story by Erin McPhee Photography by Lia Crowe
JM Ledet has found his happy place.
It’s a place where the air is warm and moisture-laden due to the richness of lush, tropical greenery. It’s a place where hummingbirds hum and flit from place to place, and green frogs are both seen and heard. It’s his personal sanctuary and it is truly worlds away from his everyday: a fast-paced, business-oriented lifestyle as the new sales manager at Victoria’s Jim Pattison Volvo.
During a recent conversation with the 48-year-old Oak Bay resident, I’m shocked to discover that the magical destination he’s describing is not, in fact, accessible via lengthy plane ride, rather it’s located just a short jaunt up the Patricia Bay Highway.
“I have a nursery with over 1,000 palm trees,” says JM (short for Jean-Michel) with a twinkle in his eye.
Pressed for more details as to the greenhouse’s whereabouts, he keeps mum. He does, however, offer up a sense of its sheer magnitude, comparing it to the high-ceilinged dealership showroom, gesturing outside the office we’re meeting in.
“It’s just a mysterious place in Brentwood Bay where nobody can see it; nobody has access,” he says. “But there is a phenomenal facility out there.”
He adds, “For me, really good moments are to be in that very, very large greenhouse when it’s pouring out rain and I’m surrounded by tropical plants. Everybody’s out there running around with their umbrellas and I’m in shorts and a T-shirt in a heated greenhouse. The sound on the roof, the smell of the palm trees…It’s great.”
JM’s love affair with palm trees all started a couple of years ago when he went to a farm in Metchosin to buy a single palm for his yard. Through that interaction, he learned that his palm tree’s previous owner had recently passed away and his company was up for grabs. JM decided to buy the contents of the greenhouse, which contained two species — waggies and fortunei — and continues to lease a facility to house them. At last count, the greenhouse was home to 1,743 palm trees, as well as some other New Zealand exotic plants.
For the most part, JM says, the palm trees are for personal use; for example, he and his partner recently went to great lengths to transport a large number to their new waterfront property on the west side of Bamfield, accessible only by boat. However, due to an increasing number of people contacting him, interested in taking some off his hands, he’s beginning to consider the inherent business opportunities.
JM says his “crazy little hobby” offers a nice break from the automotive industry, for which he also maintains a strong passion — both professionally and personally. He’s spent his entire career working in automotive dealership management and ownership, and in his non-work hours, has devoted countless hours to the restoration of classic vehicles.
JM’s interest in cars was forged in his early teens. While his two older brothers and friends were picking up sports and travel magazines, he would instead pore over the pages of Auto Trader, interested in determining the best deal — an early honed skill that continues to serve him well in his daily life.
JM has recently gathered a small collection of French Citroën DS 21s, dating back to the 1960s and ‘70s. He currently has five that are all in various stages of the restoration process that he, for the most part, undertakes himself.
“The French car community is a small, tight, hilarious group of people,” he says. “They all have a little bit of a French background or obviously an appreciation for French vehicles, but through that online community and person-to-person interaction here in Victoria, I’ve generated some phenomenal friends.”
Driving around in his Citroëns, two of which are currently road-ready, JM tends to attract a lot of attention — especially when he stops for gas.
“The French [cars] are known for suspensions…” he says. “As you turn the vehicle off, it sits down on the ground so it’s easy access in and out. You have levers where you can crank the height of the vehicle up to be able to go over rough terrain. The objective back in France in the day was to build the vehicle to carry eggs from the farm to the market through the field without losing an egg. That was their advertising campaign. It’s hilarious.”
Apart from cars, JM has a strong passion for friends and family, and is grateful to have his parents and siblings similarly based in the Victoria area.
“Nothing is better than sitting down on a Sunday night for supper with friends and family,” he says.
JM credits his values with his upbringing on a hobby farm outside of Edmonton. His family was deeply embedded in its close-knit French-Canadian community there, which centred around the small, French Catholic school he attended.
“Not only did I know the kids, but we all knew the families. The families were intertwined,” he says, adding, “Still to this day, that is my preference: small, tight communities.”
JM’s family moved to Victoria when he was 19, and after trying out life in Vancouver and Vernon, he’s happy to have recently returned to what he has determined will be his forever home.
“I’ve worked very hard to come back to the island,” he says. “I don’t plan on leaving.”