I have a confession to make. I have lived in Vancouver for nine years. I have visited my mother in nearby Sidney – a 10 minute drive away from The Gardens at most – for an additional four years. But up until last week I had never been to the Butchart Gardens, located just outside of Victoria on Vancouver Island. I have no excuses.

They are so much better than I imagined.

I think what put me off going was the fact that just about every tourist that visits Victoria, visits the Butchart Gardens. I don’t think of myself as one of THOSE people. I am not one for tour buses and crowds – and yes you can find both of those at the gardens – but do not let that stop you from going. The Butchart Gardens are big – 55 acres big and because of the size, people are dispersed.

Fifty full time gardeners, 12 part time gardeners and 550 staff in peak season keep these gardens in stunning condition. There was nary a weed in sight. I was lucky enough to catch them in their full spring glory on Mother’s Day.

"A planting at the entrance to the Butchart Gardens"

A planting at the entrance to the Butchart Gardens

"Blue and purple flower combinations"

Blue and purple flower combinations

History of The Butchart Gardens

The year is 1904. Mr. Robert Pim Butchart, the original owner, has been mining the limestone quarry for his Portland cement business. His wife, Jennie Butchart, who obviously knows a thing or two about design, has the brilliant idea of turning the quarry into a garden. He obviously shares her vision and so begins the transformation of the quarry into one of Canada’s premier tourist attractions and a National Historic Site – though that didn’t happen until 2004.

Jennie Butchart was a gifted garden designer. She used the rock outcropping to great advantage. Then the bones – the permanent and structural components of the garden – like the trees, shrubs and walkways were so well thought out that they have survived to the present day. The photo below illustrates how the garden looked early on and the one below that shows how it looks today. These gardens are the world famous Sunken Gardens – and in my opinion the highlight of the Butchart Gardens.

Over the years The Gardens have been expanded to include the Rose, Italian, Japanese and Mediterranean Gardens. Plants from their travels – both rare and exotic, have been added over time. Then throw in thousands of bulbs, annuals, perennials and roses and voila – the stunning garden you see today.

By the 1920’s, 50,000 people visited each year. Today that number is closer to one million people per year.

"The Sunken Garden - before the transformation"

The Sunken Garden – before the transformation

"The Sunken Garden"

The Sunken Garden

"Limestone hill in the sunken garden"

Limestone hill in the Sunken Garden

"Ponds in the Sunken Garden"

Ponds in the Sunken Garden

"At ground level in the sunken garden"

At ground level in the Sunken Garden

"Ross Fountain"

Ross Fountain

A Visit to the Butchart Gardens

There’s been some thought put into how to manage people and get them moving in an orderly direction. When you buy your tickets you receive a map and guide with a suggested walking route. Follow it, because it makes sense and you won’t miss any of the gardens.

The average suggested time in the gardens is 1½ hours – but if you’re a photographer or keen gardener I think you could easily spend a half day. There are places to pick up coffees and snack along the way plus two restaurants at the start. There’s even a Children’s pavilion and Rose carousel – and if I was a kid I’d be making a beeline right to the rides.

"Children's Pavilion and Rose Carousel"

Children’s Pavilion and Rose Carousel

"Giant bumblebee decoration"

Giant bumblebee decoration

"Totem poles near the children's pavilion"

Totem poles near the children’s pavilion

After walking through the Sunken Gardens and past the Rose carousel you can saunter through the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden. Paths lined with awesome spring bulbs in great colour combinations lead the way.

"Visitors admiring flowering trees"

Visitors admiring flowering trees

I loved the enormous redwood trees – planted 77 years ago. Look up as you walk by.

"Coast Redwood planted in 1934"

Coast Redwood planted in 1934

"In the vicinity of the rose garden"

In the vicinity of the Rose Garden

"A view to the dining room through a row of tulips"

A view to the dining room through a row of tulips

"A moss covered Japanese lantern in the Japanese Garden"

A moss covered Japanese lantern in the Japanese Garden

From the Japanese Gardens you can do a quick side trip down to the waterfront. You might see the odd kayaker, or seal or even a float plane landing with guests.

"A view of Butchart Cove from Butchart Gardens"

A view of Butchart Cove from Butchart Gardens

"Stairs to nowhere"

Stairs to nowhere

Near the finish of the walk you pass through the Italian Gardens. In May they’re a colour coordinated delight of pinks, blues and whites.

"The Italian Garden"

The Italian Garden

Colour and Plant Combinations at the Butchart Gardens

The rest of the photos are samples of plant and colour combinations I loved.

"An orange and blue combination - one of my favourites"

An orange and blue combination – one of my favourites

"Another great flower combination"

Another great flower combination

"Great texture and colour in this combo"

Great texture and colour in this combo

"A potent spring combination"

A potent spring combination

If you live in Vancouver, Victoria or Vancouver Island – do not be like me. Visit these gardens now because you’re going to want to return and see what’s happening in the other three seasons. These gardens are a delight to the senses. Awaken yours.

I think this quote says it all. Bad Gardens copy, good gardens create, great gardens transcend. (Ken Wilbur) The Butchart Gardens belong in the great gardens category!

Useful Information about the Butchart Gardens

  • The gardens are open year round. In the summer (June 15-September 3) you can visit from 9 am until 10 pm. Visit their website for information on the other months.
  • Summer time admission prices are $29 for adults, $14.50 for youth 13-17, and $3 for children 5-12. Plus tax.
  • Plan on a trip to see the fireworks in the summer.
  • Every night in July and August concerts are offered – from Jazz to Folk to Celtic to Vocal… (I can’t believe I’ve missed this too!!!)

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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