Friday, August 9, 2013


I have been to Victoria, British Columbia on three occasions. The first was in 1981 when we took the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria with our Volkswagen camper and 3 boys. We visited my cousin and his three boys who lived there. Gardener though I was, I had never heard of the Butchart gardens. The second time was 2 years ago, following the Seattle Fling, when we walked on the ferry at Anacortes for the foggy ride to Victoria, once again visiting my cousin! Yes, I had heard of the Butchart gardens, but with only a few hours, there wasn't time. The third time was last week. I finally got to visit the Butchart gardens. It took some effort to get there.

As you can see we are on a ferry again. The very same crossing we took in 1981. Port Angeles to Victoria. This time we are on foot, having arisen at 5:30am and driven over an hour from Port Ludlow, in order to arrive in time for the 8:15 am. ferry departure. Immigration/border patrol takes time! The journey takes 1½ hours, much of that time in dense fog, but by the time we arrived in Victoria harbor, docking opposite the Parliament buildings, the sun was out. We headed for an ATM machine and the bus stop for the 75 bus that would take us right into the gardens.

We paid our $31.70 entrance fee and joined the hundreds of tourists, who were pouring off the coaches, through the turnstiles and into the gardens. It felt a little like Disneyworld but with fewer children. First stop was the Plant Identification Counter. The colorful array of flowers gave us a taste of what to expect. Unlike our plant cart at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center, which boasts only natives, the flower selection looked to be mostly ornamental.

You can't help but be bowled over by the floral displays. The hanging baskets full of fuschia and begonias are unlike anything we could ever grow back in Texas. Do I sound jealous!

One helpful thing about the visitor map, the gardens total 55 acres, was a suggested directional route. We were not going to miss anything. From a pathway through dense tree cover we soon arrived at the place where visitors stand in sheer awe. Looking down into the sunken garden. The place where it all began, where Jennie Butchart began her quest to tranform the abandoned limestone quarry which had supplied her husband's cement works. Now a National Historic site, the garden welcomes close to a million visitors each year.

In such clear, bright conditions photography was not going to be easy. We made our way down the switchback steps into the bowl of the quarry. The Butcharts were world travelers and brought many of the exotic shrubs trees and plants home from their travels. Jennie herself planted the steep walls of the quarry suspended from the top in a bosun's basket. Now the quarry sides are covered completely with trailing plants. In the far distance on the right of the photograph can be seen the kiln stack which is all that remains of the cement plant.

The route now took us down to the far end of the quarry where a once deep pocket of limestone was turned into a lake. The magnificent Ross fountain, named for their grandson, plays a magical dance reminiscent of the Bellagio hotel dancing fountain and the musical fountain in Dubai.

Moss growing on roofs and trees belies the weather we are having today. There must be many days when fog shrouds the garden and rains blow in from the Pacific.

I will have to admit to some disappointment in the Japanese garden which I felt to be overgrown, blurring the structure of the garden. Having said that this little bridge I found delightful.

As was the Boar chaser which mesmerized many a passerby.

Below the Japanese garden is the Star garden. Between the points of the star the beds are planted with showy annuals. The pond once held Jennies collection of ornamental ducks.

Through an archway in a very tall evergreen hedge we entered into the Italian garden. This area with its planted beds and water feature was once the Butchart tennis court. The building on the left with cascading floral baskets and window boxes once housed the bowling alley!

Now passing by the show greenhouses we had reached the end of the tour.

Imagine how many gardeners they have employ to care for the garden and I'll bet they are not all men!!!

For me this is a one-time visit garden. I am satisfied that I have visited and on a day on which the flowers were blooming in all their glory. It certainly is a showplace.


  1. Oh I am so jealous! Even though I live just south of Seattle I have never been. But we've only been here four years. Some day soon, I will get up there.

  2. Wow! What a wonderful place. I can see why you were excited. It's so nice to get away from the Texas heat. Unfortunately, I'm still stuck here....but rain is on the way tomorrow. Yipeee!

  3. What magnificent displays! While inspiring to see how one woman's dream has become an enchanting place to visit for millions, I think I understand what you mean when you say it is a one visit garden. Those blooms all on display at one time are like a horticultural dessert cart. Lots to tempt the eye but once you've seen it all you're full up! Then again, maybe that is the result of my developing Texas Eyes - a tolerance for a leaner landscape and slightly less exuberant esthetic could be the eventual yet natural response to our hotter drier situation?

  4. Another wonderful garden tour.

    It is beautiful. But, like TexasDeb, I think I prefer our 'toned down' gardens. I guess it comes down to a sense of place. Things that thrive there, wouldn't here, and vice versa.

    Thanks for taking us along.

  5. I've talked about visiting this garden for years myself but haven't gotten there. While the pictures I originally saw in magazines impressed me, I guess my taste for heavily manicured constructions of bedding plants have waned over the years. It's still impressive - and the shots of the pond area are lovely - but Butchart won't be on the top of my list of gardens I have to visit. I admit I'm impressed by those fuchsias though!

  6. Very nice and thanks for sharing Glad you got to mark something off the garden bucket list!

  7. We went there in 2008. It is gorgeous! I just kept thinking how many people it must take to weed the place;) Glad you got a chance to visit such an enchanting garden.

  8. Jenny, I saw Butchart back in 1998 and it was indeed spectacular. The hanging baskets and other container plantings were stunning then too. But it's definitely more of a showplace than a garden, IMO. We also visited Van Dusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver on that trip and it was much more to my taste.

  9. I was able to visit this garden with my parents years ago (15?) and remember feeling a little let down. While it was an undeniably beautiful spectacle it felt a little forced and fake. I wonder how I would feel if I visited now?

  10. I visited Butchart a number of years ago and I remember thinking the abundance of flowering plants was almost obscene. I had a hard time relating to it, especially since at the time I was struggling with another droughty season in my garden in Texas. But it's definitely worth seeing once.

  11. Butchart Gardens has been on my places to visit list for some time. I came close about 4 years ago while in Vancouver, but with limited time we opted to see the more local sights. The whole area is so beautiful and the weather was ideal during our June visit. Thanks for sharing your photos. I'm glad you finally got to go.

  12. I think the Disney World comparison is apt. It's just too many annuals for my taste. What do you think? Is there more to it than that?

  13. @Pam: Panayoti Kelaidis has been known to call is "Butchered Gardens." The style is fun as a single Disney World visit but it doesn't have the return value that a collector's garden has.

  14. Like many here, I've wanted to see Butchart for some time now. It's just on the other side of the state, so there's hope! Now that I've read these comments, I'll be interested to see how my impressions of it stack up. When I get there, someday, that is.

  15. We skipped it when we were on the west coast and went up to Vancouver, BC instead. There we saw our favorite Japanese garden ever (Nitobe on the UBC campus which also has a great botanic garden). Also visited Van Deusen Botanic Garden and Sun Yat Sen, which is the oldest Chinese garden in North America. All well-worth a visit if you ever get up there again. And thanks for going to Butchart so I don't have to!