Story by Kathleen Kenna
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
We heard so many languages spoken while wandering the 22 hectares of flowers that we understood instantly why maps are available here in 21 languages. Hindi, Japanese, Arabic, Italian — we heard these and more within minutes of entering the national historic site.
Butchart Gardens, opened in 1908, is one of those national treasures Canadians can be smug about — gardens, how old school — yet 1 million visitors pass through its gates every year.
“It’s one of the world’s largest,” says Maureen Kelly-Matyczuk, guest services manager. “We never close.”
The gardens are open every day, and are gorgeous in all seasons. In August, all of the gardens are at their peak, from hydrangeas the size of women’s hats, to delicate water lilies floating on still ponds in the Japanese Garden.
Flowers (and Visitors) Galore at Butchart Gardens
Visitors can grab a free, 24-page Flower and Plant Guide with photos and growing tips on everything in the gardens. For novices, there are surprises like white Nicotiana (tobacco plant), orange Lilium (Turkscap Lily), Helenium (Sneezeweed), pink-purple Dierama (Angel’s Fishing Rod) and red Amaranthus (Love-Lies-Bleeding). Flowers such as Whirligig Daisy, Himalayan Blue Poppy, and Painted Tongue are a surprise in shape and colour.
We liked reading labels of some of the 2,500 roses: Touch of Class (from France), Fame (US), Pride of England, Deep Secret (Germany), and Voodoo (US). Along paths edged with fragrant alyssum, it was romantic to find purple roses known as Sweetness and Lasting Love (France). Among the 250 varieties are specialties from Belgium, Denmark and New Zealand.
A grove of ancient trees fascinated visitors from Japan, who said they were amazed to find coast redwoods planted here in 1934. They were equally fascinated by hummingbirds, deep in the gardens, and plentiful, especially around the flashy “Bonfire Begonias.”
We were intrigued by the “monkey puzzle tree” and hidden koi ponds in the tranquil Japanese Garden. Visitors splashed each other at the Sturgeon Fountain, where water spills from a large sculpture of leaping fish.
Children gravitated toward the historic carousel, with hand-carved horses, giraffes and other animals.
There are fireworks — some bursting in floral shapes — every Saturday night in August. Summer concerts are held at the floral-edge amphitheatre every night too. Tour boats take visitors from Butchart Cove along a sheltered inlet, where coal ships once docked. Birdhouses now sit on the pilings.
In fall, Butchart’s gardeners plant 1 million bulbs for the popular spring displays of tulips and other annuals. It takes 600 staff during the high season (May-October) to keep this place looking so fresh, including 70 full-time gardeners.
Victoria’s Mediterranean climate allows for different plantings all year, then lights and Christmas decorations in December for the annual “12 days of Christmas” festivities. Here, Christmas is counted as one of the “five seasons.”
Butchart Gardens was declared a national historic site at its centenary in 2004. It’s still family-owned, a legacy of Jennie Butchart, who started a simple garden in the 1800s with a single rose bush and some sweet pea seeds. She and husband Robert called their home “Benvenuto” — welcome in Italian.
The garden Jennie Butchart started is now one of the most popular features of the family’s 53-hectare estate. It had been a limestone quarry — for a nearby cement factory, long gone — and generations of Butcharts transformed it into a sunken garden, with meandering paths, shade trees and flowers in every colour.
Gardeners excited by the many types of plants and flowers they discover here, can buy seed packets from the Seed & Gift Store, or online. Seeds have been individually packaged at Butchart since 1920, making this a true made-in-Canada enterprise.
Kathleen Kenna blogs at tripsfor2.net.
MORE ABOUT BUTCHART GARDENS
Address: 800 Benevenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay, BC. It’s about 20 km north of downtown Victoria to the gardens (see map below).
Admission: Rates change with seasons. Until October 1, 2012, it’s $29.60 for adults 18 and over; $14.80 for youths 14-17; $3 for children 5-12. Parking is free.
Hours: The gardens open daily at 9 am, except Christmas (open at 1 pm). Closing times change with season.
Contact: Toll-free telephone, 888-824-7313 or butchartgardens.com.
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