September 5, 2016


Sunken Garden - Jenn Butchart planted a pair of Arbor Vitae (trees of life) in 1920 on both sides of the walkway - see left and see picture below of quarry then.  It has been replaced three times.

If ever there is testimony on how man, in this case a woman, can restore nature, it is The Butchart Gardens.   Jennie with her husband Robert Butchart owned a Portland cement factory that excavated limestone in the Saanich Peninsula in Vancouver Island British Columbia Canada.  Their home was in close proximity.  That was in 1904.   

In 1906, Mrs. Butchart created a Japanese garden between their house and the Butchart Cove.   

In 1908 on the opposite direction, about a hundred yards away, the limestone quarry was exhausted.  
The limestone quarry in the 1920s - slowly being rehabilitated to what is now called the Sunken Garden.  See those pair of Arbor Vitae trees of life (framing the two men) - their third replacements can be seen in the picture above of today's Sunken Garden.

A teasing taunt of a friend, “Even you would be unable to get anything to grow in there” egged Jennie to turn the barren pit into a large Sunken Garden.  Planting began in 1910 and was completed by 1921, the centerpiece of now a popular tourist destination north of the provincial capital Victoria.  

That is a live plant inside the hole on the signage

From the elevation at the original ground level, now a look out, it is a marvel to see the Sunken Garden - the excavation transformed by the loving attention of a cadre of gardeners (70 for the entire complex), imported top soil (from local farms), and added nutrients.   As I stepped down the steps  to the Sunken Garden, I was amazed at how shrubs can be clustered and nourished, layered with other kinds, into a wall of beauty. 

Along the steps down to the Sunken Garden, Bergenia commonly called Pig Squeak makes a squeaking noise when you pull a thumb and forefinger along a leaf.  It produces flowers in early Spring.


The once harsh terrain has been reborn with a carpet of green, beds of annuals, and shady flowering trees to the delight of  hundreds of bees.  Don’t worry the bees are busy happily sucking on an expansive feast of various flowery nectars.  I wonder whether the bees stick to one kind or sample as many as I do when I am in an All You Can Eat Buffet (redundancy intended).    In the center of the Sunken Garden, steps lead up to a rock mound, also gilded with foliage, giving a 360 viewing.  

A bee sucks nectar off a Dahlia ‘Bishop of York’

Further down, beyond the view of the Sunken Garden, in the flooded reservoir flanked by forested crags on both sides, is the Ross Fountain (installed in 1964) – translucent flumes of water shooting up 70 feet (21 meters) to the sky forming a natural gate, then swaying,  swirling, criss-crossing in the air like carefree flamingos necking and puckering at each other.  

Ross Fountain

From there, the slight uphill takes you to the Rose Carousel (opened in 2009) where adults are welcome to ride.  For CAD$2.00, the 3-minute merry-go-round mounted on a white horse festooned with flowers, or a cream-colored lion (I did it twice) was giddy fun.   

Traipsing through the Concert Lawn grass (Pacific Sports Mix. Golf courses use this type of grass and it is a mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Rye and Fescue), one courses through a border of  Dahlias.  Occasionally Butchart Gardens has musical performances in their open-air concert hall.  
Pacific Sports Mix grass lawn grass in the Rose Garden and throughout The Butchart Gardens

Then the Rose garden  - the only area where there are name markers for the different breeds.    It was September Labor Day weekend, roses come out in full force in July and early August – so there was not much to see.

To me a Rose is Red
A Japanese Torii gate marks the entrance to the meditative Japanese Garden started in 1906 by Isaboru Kishida, a Japanese landscape artist- commissioned by Mrs. Butchart -years ahead of the Sunken Garden.   

Torii Gate to the Japanese Garden started in 1906

Wisteria Wrapped Arbor in the Japanese Garden - they are beautiful in late Spring or early Summer (May or June) with their hanging blooms

This is the shadiest part of Butchart.   The elements are there: rocks, pebbles, sand, bridges, and ponds.  I didn’t see any carps or goldfish though.  Some trees were fashioned into a cascade of green balls - called the  ōkarikomi  technique.  

Japanese Garden started in 1906

Center: Sawara Cypress or Chamaecyparis Pisifera ‘Squarrosa’  
using ōkarikomi technique to create globules

A star-shaped foot-level fountain with stone frogs  in the center spitting out water is the opening act to the Italian Garden (started in 1926) with its  bronze statue of Mercury and a flower-profused cross-shaped pond. 

Star Pond
Italian Garden started in 1926 on the former tennis court at the back of the Butchart's Home (open during Winter)

You would think the tour is over since by this time you would land at the open plaza the Piazza  near the entrance gates.  But wait there is one more: the Mediterranean Garden.  Like a moon to earth, the Mediterranean Garden with its Windmill Palms and Basjoo Bananas, located facing the car parking lot, is out of sight for many.  

Windmill Palms (l) and Basjoo Bananas (r)

Unlike most botanical gardens where every plant is labeled, the Butchart considers itself  as a display garden - hence no name tags popping up (you will never see the word “botanical” anywhere even in its web site).  Their brochure says  “To maintain the graciousness of  a private garden, we leave most plants unlabelled.”  In a way it makes the exploration less stressful, more leisurely without being drawn out,  not having “the need” to know.  If you want to identify a flower or plant, snap with your phone, and show it to a Plant ID specialist inside the Visitor Centre.  Some varieties’ seeds can be purchased in the Seed & Gift Store.  

Snap an image with your phone and ask the Plant ID specialist to ID

For hours, rates, and directions , see their web site .    There are no family passes, or seniors discounts.  There are youth and children rates, those under 5 are free.    No period costumes allowed.  NO SELFIE STICK will be allowed beginning January 2015.  Management says it impedes foot traffic and can cause injury by careless posing - since the Gardens have some fall-offs.  Tel# 250 652 4422

Need more time?  Return the next day with a heavily discounted re-admission ticket. See web site for conditions.

Gazania Flowers

Wondering what are blooming?  Then wander to The ButchartGardens blog (there is a link in their website).  The Butchart Gardens is open year round, including Christmas Day.  During winter, there is not much color to see, so they open up the Butchart’s home, convert the plaza into an ice skating rink, and transform the Blue Poppy Restaurant into an indoor arboretum.  

If you are taking public transit from Vancouver, make sure you call Translink as to when the last return bus from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal to Canada Line Skytrain station - so you can plan your return ferry trip.   Also ask the Bus # 81 driver at Butchart Gardens, the schedules later that day back to Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal  so you can make it for the boat that berths back in Tsawwassen ahead of time of the bus to the Skytrain.

Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal on the Mainland side - you can see Vancouver Island yonder

Going to Vancouver Island earlier that morning, I had an All You Can Eat breakfast, around CAD$21.00 including tax which filled me up for the rest of the day.  No need for lunch or snacks or dinner.  A water bottle sure helped with the heat during the day.  Check with BC Ferrieswhich boats offer an AYCE service.

The PeeGee Hydrangea which looks like a tree is actually a deciduous shrub that can  be trained as a small single trunk tree as in this case.  It is underplanted by a ring of New Guinea impatiens.

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