On our last three-day “weekend,” Tom and I with our friends Val and Johnny, headed west on the ferry for Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Vancouver Island is the largest island off the west coast of North America. It is about the size of West Virginia. We decided to check it out and explore the southernmost (and most populated) part. We started with the Butchart Gardens about halfway between Sidney – where the ferry lands – and Victoria – the provincial capital.
TripAdvisor ranks Butchart Gardens as the #1 thing to do on Vancouver Island. 8,000 reviewers can’t be wrong! The gardens are absolutely breathtaking. We were there on a drizzly day where the high was 55 and the gardens were crowded. The gardens get over one million visitors per year. We were thankful for all the people the weather kept away. As it was, it was difficult to see things sometimes because of all the people taking pictures. I tried to be unobtrusive and stay out of the way while taking pictures but some people were so busy posing they continually blocked the paths.
The Butchart Gardens began in 1909 when Robert Butchart, a cement manufacturer, and his wife Jennie hired landscape architect Isaburo Kishida to design a Japanese Garden for them at their home. When the limestone quarry next to their home was exhausted in 1909, Jennie set about transforming it into the Sunken Garden. In 1926, the Butcharts replaced their tennis court with an Italian Garden and in 1929 they added a Rose Garden. In all, there are 55 acres of gardens. In 2004, Butchart Gardens was designated a Canadian National Historic Site.
Today all of these gardens thrive and give delight to visitors from around the world. The temperate and rainy climate is ideal for huge, colorful displays of flowers year-round. Ownership of the gardens continues in the Butchart family, with the gardens currently managed by great-granddaughter Robin Lee Clarke.
We spent five hours wandering around Butchart Gardens. Tom consulted the map frequently because it was easy to get lost among the meandering paths. I thought the Sunken Garden was the most spectacular. We descended stairs to the floor of the quarry and then walked past statues, fountains, and masses of beautiful blooms.
Tom carried the “Flower and Plant Guide” which helped us identify the flowers. The Information Center also has people who help identify flowers. We spent some time talking to the people there and watching people come up with pictures saying “do you know what this is?” Of course, they always had the right answer! Seventy gardeners are employed at Butchart Gardens. It would be a wonderful place to intern if you wanted to be a landscape architect.
We spent some time in the extensive gift shop where you can buy seeds for any of the flowers in the gardens. You can also buy purses, magnets, postcards, shot glasses, and the usual tourist kitsch. The only thing that really tempted me were the incredible glass bowls molded to driftwood holders. If I didn’t live in an RV . . .
My words cannot capture the beauty of the Butchart Gardens, so I will leave you with some pictures. If you ever travel to Vancouver Island, be sure you take time to see this #1 thing to do.