After disembarking from the BC Ferry from Vancouver and on our way into Victoria, I saw signs for The Butchart Gardens, which I had heard was one of the most magnificent botanical gardens in the world. I didn’t know much about them, but my mom had mentioned it as the one place I couldn’t miss in Victoria. Without any plans for my first day, I decided that since we were in the area and had blue skies and sunshine (a rarity on the trip) that it would be a good time to visit the gardens.
The gardens were founded by the Butchart family on the site of their estate which was near a cement factory and limestone quarry that they owned. The garden was initially started by Mrs. Butchart as a hobby, but as it grew it eventually became an major attraction, visited by almost one million people per year. The gardens have since become so popular, they were named a National Historic Site of Canada and are recognized as a symbol of the country. In fact, the gardens were even emulated in the design of the Canada Pavillion at Epcot Center’s World Showcase at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Our visit to the gardens was during the early winter, and a significant portion of the garden was dormant, though the grounds were still spectacular. While the garden wasn’t in full bloom, there were some late autumn/early winter blooms that provided some color to the gardens.
One of the benefits of visiting in the winter is that it was nearly empty when we visited (mid-afternoon). I’ve heard that these gardens can get oppressively crowded in the summer with the cruise ship crowds and day trippers. But though we didn’t see many other guests, we did see many employees hard at work maintaining the gardens. They were all incredibly friendly, happy to give a smile or a wave and answer our questions.
There are four major gardens on Butchart Gardens’ grounds – the Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Italian Garden. Each is distinctly different and offers varying blooms based on season.
The sunken gardens were spectacular – I’ve never seen anything like it. The ‘sunken’ aspect comes from the fact that the garden is built in an old quarry from the cement operation the Butchart’s ran. After meandering through dense foliage, we came out to the sunken gardens overlook.
We descended a long flight of stairs down into the garden and marveled at the walls of the quarry now covered in plant life. This was easily my favorite aspect of Butchart Gardens.
The Japanese Garden is immaculate – small babbling brooks run under red bridges into tranquil ponds, expertly manicured trees climb over and up one another, and carefully placed rocks stand watch. The Japanese Garden is perhaps the least reliant on the seasons as water and rocks are a large part of its aesthetic appeal, and it also appeared to be the most popular portion of the garden on the day we visited.
Rose Garden and Italian Garden
The Rose Garden was almost completely dormant during our visit. Twisted, thorny vines were about all that remained, and not a rose in site. I imagine during the springtime it is a stunning sight, but unfortunately it was rather lackluster during our visit.
The Italian Garden is one of the smaller features at the Butchart Gardens, and like the Rose Garden, it was mostly dormant for the winter. It does sit near the former Butchart Residence and a grand lawn, and it was easy to picture it overflowing with flowers during the spring and summer.
Other Features of the Garden
Aside from the main gardens, there were several other features in the park. A number of fountains were installed in the park to add to the abundant water features found throughout.
One of my favorite features at the Butchart Gardens were the totem poles carved by First Nation tribes.
Also, there was a small path that led from the Japanese garden out to Butchart Cove, the gardens private pier located in a secluded cove.
The Butchart Gardens were great, but at $18 per person in the off season, they’re a little too expensive for me. As I mentioned earlier, my mom had been here a few years before and she was the one who recommended it to me as a can’t miss spot. I didn’t think about it at the time, but my mom is an avid gardener – no wonder she loved this place.
To be honest, they could be the best gardens I’ve ever been to – truly world class – but I’ve never really enjoyed gardens all that much to begin with. Since my Mom loves gardens, naturally she loved this place. If you’re into gardens, it’s probably worth the expense. If not, then I’d save your money for other attractions in Victoria. In the summer, rates go up to almost $30 per person – way too much for someone like me who’s not particularly interested in gardens, but maybe well worth it to green thumbs.
It’d be nice if they included a beer or two with the price of admission…I needed one after the sticker shock.