In July I was fortunate to visit Butchart Gardens near Seattle, WA while visiting my son. Butchart (pronounced like “butch” with an ART on the end) Gardens is actually located in Victoria, BC, Canada. Every gardener should make a pilgrimage there once in their life! How beautiful!
Butchart Gardens were started by Mrs. Jennie Butchart, whose husband moved to the current garden location in the early 1900s. They moved there to take advantage of a limestone deposit on the property, as Mr. Butchart was a supplier for a concrete manufacturer. They lived on a quarry. Mrs. Butchart was a hobby gardener, and she started with a Japanese garden on the premises. She had garden club meetings at her house and overheard someone mention how unsightly the quarry was. That was a challenge to Jennie, and she started to transform the now dormant quarry into the beautiful sunken garden.
The gardens are still family owned and managed. Over the years, they’ve grown to include five gardens; a Japanese, rose, Italian, sunken and Mediterranean garden. The Japanese garden is the oldest, completed in 1906. They are continually updated immaculately groomed. One of the influences on Butchart Gardens comes from DisneyWorld, where some collaboration took place during the DisneyWorld creation.
Butchart Gardens is an ornamental garden as opposed to a botanical garden. The difference is that a botanical garden will have garden sections by perennials, annuals, succulents, or some other such bro category. The plants will be labeled with their scientific names. A botanical garden is science based. An ornamental garden, however, is one that is constructed just for the beauty of it. These gardens had large swaths of brilliant annuals interspersed with perennials or succulents just for the beautiful color combinations created.
the sunken garden
After the spectacular entrance, laden with hanging arrangements like the one in the title photo, tours start with the sunken garden.
Descent into the garden draws the visitor by swaths of brightly colored beds with brilliant combinations. The quarry walls are visible on both sides of the sunken garden. No ground is visible, it’s all plants. In the photo above, the variety of colors and texture is clear. Conifers are interspersed among the beds for added structure. There is a pond as part of the garden an an overlook into the Pacific Northwest forest where a fountain runs in a small pond at the deepest part of the quarry.
A shade garden is the last portion of the sunken garden, with Hostas, Hellebores and other shade ornamentals in varied textures
the rose garden
The perfect climate exists for the rose garden. The roses are largely tea rose varieties, and otherwise are unclassified. They were marked with the variety. Of course, it is kind of cheating because the climate in the Pacific Northwest is perfect for growing tea roses. Long, not overly hot, dry days during summer combine with limestone soil to create a rose haven. Butchart makes no excuses, they are not organic and they do use pesticides, fungicides and fertilizer. They do make an effort at integrated pest management, but this is an ornamental garden, grown to look like perfection. And these roses were perfect. Set in an oval lawn, the rose garden contains some climbers over trellises and rails that surround the main gardens of roses. I was lucky to be there at peak blooming time.
The oldest of the gardens is the Japanese Garden. Pictures do not do it justice. The maples are now more than a century old. Moss grows along constructed waterways with ornamental stone steles and objects.
The italian garden
A smaller garden that focuses on stone work, a terrace, and with a more clipped appearance, the Italian Garden is closest to the original house and is a great spot to take a break. Enjoy an iced tea or ice cream cone while admiring the vista that is the Italian Garden and stretches up to the Rose Garden. We were fortunate to have picture perfect weather the day we went. The star pool is one of the most famous features of the garden.
the mediterranean garden
The last garden is on your way out. The Mediterranean garden is the smallest and least developed. Succulents are more prevalent, with salvias and other perennials. This was the only place where ground was visible, and even then, creeping fig lined the stream feeding this garden.
take aways from the garden
A gardener can feel overwhelmed and a bit intimidated by visiting Butchart. The lessons I took away are these: Gardens are a lot of work. Butchart had many employees working to keep everything deadheaded, tidy, weed free, and lush. Gardens are a work of time. Butchart is now more than 100 years old. By contrast, my garden is 6 years old – an infant in the world of gardening. Gardens need some help from nature. British Columbia’s climate and soil are way more garden friendly than the Famously Hot Midlands of South Carolina.
The most important take-away is that gardens are things of universal beauty. Visitors from all over the world are moved, awed and delighted by the beauty of Butchart Gardens. I believe that it is part of God’s plan. We are created in the image of our Creator, born to appreciate and love the beauty of creation and compelled to create our own havens of beauty and peace. What a blessing it is to be able to see and appreciate this beautiful garden, and to be a gardener myself!