Butchart Gardens and Victoria, BC
Spending the month of August on the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island, British Columbia has been an opportunity to slow travel this beloved part of the world and, most indulgently, to fully immerse myself in the beauty of the world-famous Butchart Gardens. I'm staying 25 minutes north of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia and only 10 minutes from Butchart Gardens. So naturally it made sense to purchase an annual pass to the gardens, especially since the annual pass is less than the cost of two visits. I plan to visit the gardens as often as possible during my stay.
The 55-acre garden features over 900 different varieties of plants, tree and flowers and is a National Historic Site of Canada. The property and gardens date back to 1904 when Richard and Jennie Butchart built their home near the site of Richard Butchart’s limestone quarry. In 1909, when the limestone quarry was exhausted, Jennie Butchart set about turning it into the Sunken Garden, which was completed in 1921.
Although I have viewed the gardens on previous visits in June and late November, being here in August is seeing the gardens in their full splendor. Everywhere you look are overstuffed hanging baskets, cascading urns and tastefully arrange flowerbeds.
There’s a large, shady Japanese garden with water views of the Butchart Cove, as well as a formal Italian garden, a rose garden, a massive variety of dahlias and impeccably maintained beds and baskets of the largest begonias I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not to mention the truly unique fuchsias and cosmos varieties. Throughout the gardens, cooling water features and fountains create a tranquil ambiance.
But the Sunken Garden is the showstopper, simply because of its expansive grounds with a seemingly never-ending cornucopia of florals. The view of the garden from above is always a highlight of my visit. Be sure to walk to the far end of the Sunken Garden so you don't miss the dancing waters of the Ross Fountain installed in 1964, decades ahead of its time. It's particularly fun to walk the garden after dark when you can enjoy the fountain's multi-colored water show. From June 1 to September 11, on Fridays and Saturdays, the gardens are open until 10:30 pm (must arrive by 9:30 pm) and are beautifully illuminated. Check the Butchart Gardens website for hours as they change with each season.
In July and August, admission includes free music every Friday and Saturday night on the immaculately manicured Concert Lawn. I’ve been going every weekend. It’s one of the best outdoor concert venues I've ever attended, as the ground is sloped so you can bring comfy, high lawn chairs and everyone has an excellent view, or sit in one of the rows of bench seats. The music is not overly amplified, so even if you are sitting close, you won’t go home with ringing ears. Best of all is the sweet, floral fragrance from all the flowers surrounding you.
This is my fourth visit to the island that draws visitors from around the world. I first came to Victoria with my family when I was twelve and fell in love with the island and the abundance and variety of flowers everywhere I looked. My mother and I visited the Empress Hotel and although we didn’t do the formal tea, we did have tea in the hotel’s Bengal Lounge, which had recently opened. It’s a moment I will always cherish. The Bengal Lounge, however, did not survive the 2016 remodel of the Empress Hotel. On this trip, I am looking forward to having a gluten-free tea at the Empress on Sunday with a friend from Portland.
There is much to explore in Victoria including a beautiful downtown, the Parliament Buildings (gorgeously lit up at night), the harbor, beach walks, kayaking, Beacon Hill Park, the Royal BC Museum and the country’s oldest China Town. I hope you’ll put a visit to Vancouver Island on your bucket list of future destinations.
Here's a few more shots of Butchart Gardens.