(The Sunken Garden seen from overlook)
If you’re visiting Victoria, whether for a long stay or a short one, the Butchart Gardens are pretty much unavoidable. Not that you would want to avoid them. The Gardens are virtually synonymous with the city, far and away the most popular attraction in the area, receiving close to a million visitors per year, and for good reason. Butchart is one of those rare tourist magnets that actually lives up to the hype. So, yes, it has to be said, if there’s one place you don’t want to miss in Victoria, it’s the Butchart Gardens.
The first thing to know is the Gardens are not actually in Victoria at all. They are located about 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of Victoria in Brentwood Bay. If you have a rental car it’s an easy drive, or you can take one of the many tour buses if you’ve selected that option. You could also ride one of the local municipal buses, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really enjoy spending ninety minutes for a fourteen mile ride and making about a hundred stops along the way.
(The Star Pond as seen from across the lawn)
Once you arrive at the Gardens it’s pretty simple. Cross the parking lot, buy your tickets and head on in through the main turnstiles. Like any such attraction, the timing of your visit will have a major effect on the crowds – or lack thereof – which you encounter. We felt fortunate to come on a sunny weekday in May and although there were certainly plenty of other people, it never felt overcrowded. Come on a summer weekend, however, and be prepared to shuffle along elbow to elbow in many of the gardens more popular areas.
(The Ross Fountain)
(Ross Fountain, another view)
The Butchart Gardens is really a series of smaller, interconnected gardens spread around the sprawling, 55 acre site. There are four main gardens: the Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden, the English Rose Garden, and the Italian Garden. Interspersed with these four are a variety of fountains and statuary. Meandering pathways weave throughout the grounds with lots of benches for the footsore and leg-weary to rest beside the eye-popping profusion of plants and flowers. I can honestly say there isn’t a step to be taken in the whole place without something of beauty within your line of sight.
(The Carp Statue, near Japanese Garden)
(This little piggy went to…Butchart Gardens)
The history of the Butchart Gardens is a fascinating story and well documentd elsewhere, so I won’t go into a great deal of detail here. The basic facts are that it all started as a limestone quarry for Robert Butchart’s cement business back in the early 1900’s. His wife Jennie then had the idea to reclaim the abandoned quarry pits as a garden, and what began as a hobby/beautification process slowly evolved over many, many years, into something I’m sure she never envisioned at the outset: a massive, spectacular, world renowned mecca for plant and flower lovers.
Each of the four main gardens has its own unique identity and focus.
(In the Sunken Garden)
(More Sunken Garden)
The Sunken Garden is the largest of the four in area and if you approach it from the direction of the main entrance it can literally take your breath away as you emerge from the dense canopy of evergreen trees and view it from above for the first time. After snapping a half dozen or more photos we descended the stairs and took a liesurely stroll around and through the garden. This area was where it all began in 1909 when the limestone quarry was exhausted and Jennie Butchart set about turning it into the Sunken Garden, which was completed in 1921.
(In the Rose Garden)
(More Rose Garden)
(Still in the Rose Garden)
(Eye-popping color wherever you look)
Next up for us was the English Rose Garden, and if anything proved a disappointment during our visit, this was it. Not because of any lack in design or beauty, but simply due to the timing. May is just too early for most of the rose bushes on display to be in full bloom. However, enough of them were already showing to still make it worthwhile viewing.
(Looking down toward the Japanese garden)
(Inside the Japanese Garden)
(Pool of water and light in the Japanese Garden)
(A well groomed tree)
(Watch your step)
We moved on next to the Japanese Garden, and like most gardens of this style it is a masterpiece of understated, formal beauty, very green and lush and radiating a peace and serenity that’s difficult to put into words. We stepped lightly over small bridges spanning quiet ponds and enjoyed the many artfully pruned trees and ornamental bushes. The whole thing made me feel like writing a haiku and bowing to everyone I met on the paths.
(Inside the Italian Garden)
(The Italian Garden)
(More Italian Garden)
Last of the four main gardens is the Italian Garden. If the Japanese Garden is all shade and circumspection, the Italian is a perfect contrast, open and airy and full of light. The Star Pond made me want to jump in and cool off (the sun was getting pretty hot) or at least take off my shoes and dip my toes in the water. Not to worry, I restrained myself from doing so.
Next came a little ice cream and poking around in the gift shop and all too soon, our time was done. Definitely a place to put on our come back again sometime list. That’s another of the great things about Butchart’s. With such an astonishing variety of flora, you can come at different times of the year and there’s always something worth seeing and it will always look a little different. Don’t miss it!
(One last riot of color)