Nothing short of spectacular describes these famous formal gardens, covering 55-plus acres in lawns, paths, trees and above all, flowers, flowers, FLOWERS. Don’t sell yourself short and spend less than a full day here. The four major gardens are the Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and Italian Garden.
Two restaurants, a coffee shop, and several snack bars keep crowds well-fed. Afternoon plays and evening concerts provide entertainment. During summer, the gardens are lit up after dark, and fireworks take place on Saturday nights.
We easily find the gardens, a leisurely 30-minute drive by car from Victoria up west Saanich Peninsula. At the entrance gate, we’re welcomed, charged C$22 (C$23 as of 2006), and handed a visitor guide and flower guide. Beyond, white-gloved traffic managers direct us to the large well-marked parking lot.
Walking past coffee shop, gift store, and visitor center, paper guide and signs clearly indicate where to begin. Posted here also, the events of the day and evening: an afternoon play in Waterwheel Square, evening concert performance at the outdoor band shell, night illumination of the gardens after dark, and plant identification center at the end of the tour. Plants are unlabeled as part of the effort to maintain "the graciousness of a private garden."
A brief history is in order here. Robert Pim Butchart of Ontario, and his wife Jennie Foster Kennedy of Toronto, married in 1884. They moved to Vancouver Island with two young daughters in 1902, to manufacture Portland cement. R.P. recognized the Tod Inlet area as ideal for cement production. All the materials—limestone, gravel, rock, clay, running water, and coal within 50-water miles—were present untapped and in abundance. Thus, an idyllic location was transformed into a rather ugly quarry and cement plant, filling the air with powdery, corrosive cement dust.
Yet out of this economically profitable ugliness, seeds of beauty eventually began to sprout. Jennie planted a rosebush and some sweet peas by their house, and was amazed by how well they flourished, apparently far enough away from the pollution. Her first major project was a Japanese garden in 1906, planted with the expert assistance of Isaburo Kishida on the slope down to Butchart Cove.
Three years later, the limestone quarry was played out, a ravaged and barren pit. For five years, Jennie and the Butcharts’ Scots head gardener, Hugh Lindsay, put their heads together to plan a sunken garden in this denuded depression. Gardener William Westby helped in the implementation stages. Tons of topsoil were brought in and Jennie herself, perched in a bosun’s chair, planted ivy in the cracks and crevices of the stark, rocky walls.
The cement business did well enough that R. P. and Jennie were able to expand their home, named Benvenuto, continue to add more extensive gardens, and frequently entertain on their estate. Though the Butchart home is now a restaurant, teahouse, and museum of sorts, descendants of the Butchart family own and continue to manage the Gardens.
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