Last summer, while in Seattle, Bill, the kids and I visited Victoria on Vancouver Island and Butchart Gardens. I was told I should visit, so I did, and I dragged ASW and Bear along. Poor things.
This may make me very unpopular, but while I walked Butchart, I kept thinking about how it reminded me of the Disney World prototype of gardening. A riot of color and themed rooms all kind of plopped down around a winding path filled with visitors from every country. I think gardening can truly bring divergent cultures of people together in a kind of harmony so it was fun to hear all the different languages. But, I wondered how the Butchart gardeners kept all those annuals, roses and shrubs at their peak throughout the tourist season. Plants are living organisms. Annuals especially grow, bloom and die without constant tending. They must have a dead-heading crew like no other along with plants, like soldiers, waiting in reserve.
So, I’m trying to walk around and take photos while all of this is playing through my mind while trying to dodge people on the crowded paths. The numbers of people were staggering. Again, just like Disney. We rode a bus forever to get there from the docks, and I kept expecting Mickey and Minnie to come through an arbor waving. It wouldn’t have surprised me a bit.
All of the formal gardens were in conflicting primary colors with a strong emphasis on fuchsia and cherry red. You know I like color, but in my climate, the colors aren’t quite so intense. Not really my thing, but I did like this rose pillar because of how it held the rose up off of the ground. The color of the rose was very pretty, but like everything else, it was bright.
Finally, I made it through the Japanese Garden, the Italian room, the annual overload, and the rose parade. I stepped through some trees, and then, I saw one reason why Butchart is famous. The sunken garden, the remains of the limestone quarry planted by Jennie Butchart is wonderful, but I was mesmerized by the placards with photos of her in a bosun’s chair hanging from the sides of the limestone walls stuffing ivy in every crevice. I admire her spunk and spirit. She took the byproduct of their business, which was a supremely ugly hole in the ground and turned it into something extraordinary and beautiful. There’s a lesson there.
Some of the limestone was of an inferior grade and was not removed. Butchart used its raised platform to visualize her work as it progressed. A pair of arborvitae stand as sentries at the bottom of this platform. They are a signature of the garden, but not being long-lived trees, they have been replaced several times. I’m sorry, I didn’t get a photo of them that I can find.
You walk down and down further to the bottom . . . by this time I’d lost the men in our party . . . but Bear was trailing patiently behind me. Honestly, I think my family takes turns sending a watcher with me to make sure I return at a reasonable time.
Anyway, it was a very long walk around the former quarry, and at the bottom, the air was still, and the temperature hot.
Conifers, Japanese maples of every hue, evergreens, both variegated and cool green, or chartreuse bordered the path, and curves hid design and plantings behind every bend. This was the true wonderland, not the overdone annuals above. I bet a lot of visitors never make it to this part of the tour. The sunken garden is a hidden one, and many visitors were older making the climb out difficult. Not that the color of the formal gardens isn’t pretty. It is in sort of a Lady Gaga sort of way. Overdone, overblown, ever so over . . .
Part of the ravine garden was more naturally planted with fully mature specimens while another part was full of formal hedging and bulbs. I could have stayed in the natural section all day. That’s why my family sends a companion with me. Once Bear and I climbed back to the top, Bill was frantically worried because he couldn’t get cell service, and he didn’t know if I knew when our bus left. I laughed and said, of course I knew. I set my phone’s alarm to keep me on task. Otherwise, I would be lost in that kind of beauty forever.
If you go to Butchart, take in the Disney-like rooms, but then make your way to the sunken garden. Also, get tickets to the restaurant beforehand, and don’t take one of the tour buses from the Victoria clipper ships. It took forever to get our party together and on our way, and we could have easily taken some other convenience. Our time was cut short because of those in our group who didn’t get quickly on the bus. Also, take an extra day in Victoria because you can’t see everything in one day especially if you visit Butchart.