Many gardeners often complain about having a poor site with deprived soil, but if anyone has ever been to The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada, they will see that this does not prevent one from having an amazing garden. The Butchart Gardens has an origin that is similar to many gardens, in the fact that it was originally created by a family and has been passed down through generations. However, the actual history of the garden is quite unique.
The Butchart family moved from Ontario to pursue the concrete business. The property was successfully excavated for limestone. Although this provided the family with wealth that enabled them to later create The Butchart Gardens, it left the site lifeless and in ruins. The land had been scraped to the bedrock leaving steep cliffs, which now define the landscape. Jennie Butchart began planting flowers around her home and was eventually challenged by a friend to create a garden in the nearby devastated landscape. Before any of the gardens could be established, topsoil first had to be trucked in. Without any formal training in horticulture, she then began the large undertaking and successfully created what is today the Sunken Garden.
Though it was Jennie Butchart who began the large task of creating the garden, it was her grandson, Ian Ross, who had the vision to elevate the gardens to what it is today. Under his guidance and marketing savvy, The Butchart Gardens became a popular tourist site. The gardens is now steered by a small board with fourth generation family members. Unlike many gardens which are not-for-profit, Butchart solely relies on profits for the upkeep and growth of the gardens. Additionally, they do not fundraise or have an endowment. Although running a public garden as a for-profit business is challenging, a major contribution to the gardens’ success is the loyal employees, who enjoy the empowering work environment.
Today, this one-time wasteland is now a rainbow of flowers that rest in a valley bordered by ocean on three sides and back-dropped by a nationally protected forest. As visitors enter the gardens, they are immediately struck by the surrounding vibrant colors. The colorful plants not only carpet the ground, but also drape the walls in hanging baskets. This color is paused as one enters into a small, naturally forested area that is a collection of green hues. This space helps the visitor to have a renewed appreciation for the role color plays in a garden, because soon, as the visitor exits this green space, they are immediately exposed to a bounty of color as they overlook the Sunken Garden. This overlook is like a preview of a painting that the visitor is about to enter. The Sunken Garden was the site where much of the digging occurred. A remaining old smokestack stands proudly in the distance next to the Lombardi poplar, serving as a reminder of the land’s history. The previously harsh landscape still maintains the irregular topography; however, it is now softened with a variety of plant material. It is obvious to the visitor that this garden is not natural, simply for the fact that nature is not this well manicured. This is pronounced in the meticulous maintenance of the precisely edged and striped turf. As visitors leave the Sunken Garden, they enter another overlook that presents a view of the Ross Fountain waving its arms of water for attention while it sits down in the another reclaimed quarry hole.
Another major garden is the Rose Garden. The picture perfect landscape is composed of picture perfect flowers. The warm colors of roses, poppies, and peonies are contrasted by the cool shades of delphiniums, all of which are encircled by a rose arbor. It is constructed of concrete, which is reminiscent of the gardens’ history and symbolic of the gardens’ challenge to overcome the effects of the limestone quarry.
Next to the Rose Garden is the large, sloping Japanese Garden. As visitors traverse the various petite bridges, they are led down to an area which overlooks the bay. Due to the culture of area, this bay serves as a second entrance into the garden for those visitors who arrive via boat or sea-plane.
The Sunken Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Japanese Garden are simply highlights of the 50 acres of manicured land, though there is a total of 150 acres. The Butchart Gardens is a display garden in the sense that there are no plant labels. To prevent some of the frustration that this may cause to some plant enthusiasts, the Garden provides a small, but thorough plant guide. In addition, the town square-like complex near the entrance, which houses a gift shop, restaurant, and cafeteria, also accommodates a plant identification area. This space contains photographs and cuttings of featured plants and is staffed by professionals to assist visitors with any remaining questions about the plant material.
The Butchart Gardens is a colorful garden that prides itself on over 1 million annual plants, which are produced from seeds, plugs, or cuttings on-site. This assortment of flowers, combined with concerts, fireworks, and a large Christmas display, attracts 1.2 million visitors each year. With these colorful and exciting displays, The Butchart Gardens continues to maintain this unique oasis.