“Jennie Butchart began to shape this magnificent landscape in 1904. She established, in the style of the grand estates of the period, several distinct gardens to evoke a range of aesthetic experiences. An abandoned limestone quarry was transformed into the dramatic sunken garden, a reflection of the early twentieth century beautification movement and an exceptional achievement in Canadian gardening history. Through successive generations of the Butchart family, this site has retained much of its original design, and continues the Victorian tradition of seasonally changing the outstanding floral displays.” (From Plaque in Butchart gardens.)
Butchart Gardens is one of the most visited and most beautiful gardens in the world. Many tourists opt for the specialised bus trip from Vancouver and end up spending a lot of time on the ferry to and from Vancouver Island in order to be back in Vancouver at night. However, like any visit to a formal garden, its better to be relaxed when you’re strolling the paths of Butchart Gardens so why not stay the night in Victoria. The gardens are about a 30 minute drive from the Capital of British Columbia so you can catch a bus from the city or even hire a car and see more than the Butchart Gardens on this lovely island.
Put aside the whole morning for a visit to the 55 acres of what is in fact four gardens. The largest garden and the one that probably has the most impact on the visitor is the sunken garden. From here the walk takes you through the Rose garden, down to the exquisite Japanese Garden and then back to the Italian Garden where it is definitely time to eat and drink and recover from the walking and the sensory overload.
One of the startling facts about the origin of Butchart gardens is that they were developed by a businessman’s wife who decided to takeover the limestone quarry that her husband’s business no longer needed. The huge hole in the landscape was then able to be turned into the sunken garden where Jennie Butchart let her imagination run riot. A pile of limestone rocks in the middle of the excavation was able to be turned into an island lookout.
The last thing a formal garden needs is roaming animals eating the foliage. However Canada is famous for its picturesque native animals so the sunken garden has installed its own moss topiary deer and bears to give a native flavour to this section of the garden.
The limestone walls of the sunken garden in the image below show the diversity of mosses, climbers, trees that have been incorporated into ever conceivable niche of available space.
If you follow the water trail in this garden you eventually reach the water jets of the spectacular Ross Fountain. From here you need to head back along the Bog Garden and climb out of the sunken garden.
I don’t think you have to have a great interest in plants, flowers or gardens to be fascinated and entertained by a great Japanese Garden. In this gardening tradition, the plants, flowers and trees are just the start of the experience. This is illustrated in the image on the right above. The Japanese garden is about flowing water, contorted mossy rocks, small temples lurking under bushes and hopefully a dragon
If the roses are in bloom, you would spend considerable time in this next section, the Rose Garden. However we visited in late winter so the roses were a long way off their summer blooming season. So it was off past the Sturgeon fountain, through the Red Gate and into the Japanese Garden.
I don’t think you have to have a great interest in plants, flowers or gardens to be fascinated and entertained by a great Japanese Garden. In this gardening tradition, the plants, flowers and trees are just the start of the experience. This is illustrated in the image on the right above. The Japanese garden is about flowing water, contorted mossy rocks, small temples lurking under bushes and hopefully a dragon great one) surprises you around every corner as the designer attempts to intrigue with the next pond, the next snaking tree branch or the next bamboo water feature. Unfortunately it wasn’t Autumn so the changing colours of the leaves was not a feature of our winter visit.
Like everywhere on Vancouver Island, the sea is never far away. Running along the edge of the Butchart Gardens is Todd Inlet which leads into Brentwood Bay. The gardens have their own small bay, Butchart Cove, that can be reached from the end of the Japanese Garden.
Walking back towards rest and recuperation in the restaurants is the Italian Garden. It is a very formal garden with gorgeous bronze statues decorating the shallow water features. On exiting this garden, you encounter a copy of the famous statue of a boar, the original of which is to be found in the Uffuzi Gallery in Florence and was created by Pietro Tacca in 1620. It was like seeing an old friend as another copy of the boar sits outside Sydney Hospital in Macquarie St. With a rub of Il Porcellino’s nose for good luck, we headed back to the beautiful city of Victoria after a wonderful day out in Butchart Gardens.
Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia