Looking down upon the lush greenery and riotous flower gardens in the sunken gardens at Butchart Gardens, it is almost impossible to believe that this was once a barren limestone quarry. In 1904, cement magnate Robert Butchart purchased the site and began to mine the native limestone in order to produce Portland cement for the Canadian Pacific Railway. When the limestone was exhausted, Butchart’s wife, Jenny, began restoring the bleak pit, hauling in topsoil from a nearby farm and planting seeds that eventually transformed the quarry into one of the world’s premiere gardens. Today the only surviving portion of the original cement factory is the tall chimney of a long vanished kiln, seen at the upper right in the photo above.
After descending into the old quarry via a long stairway, visitors follow meandering paths past expansive lawns, stunning fountains, exquisite bronze sculptures, and hundreds of meticulously planted flower beds in themed areas that include Japanese, Italian, and rose gardens. Each year over 1,000,000 bedding plants in some 700 varieties are used throughout the 55-acre gardens to ensure an uninterrupted bloom from March through October.
In the autumn, the Japanese garden becomes the main attraction as its red, russet, and golden maples join with dozens of varieties of chrysanthemums to produce a dazzling display of fall color. Each weekend during the month of November visitors are invited to tour some of Buchart’s 26 greenhouses, which are filled with mountains of Poinsettias and other holiday decor.
As enticing as spring, summer, and fall may be, the real jewel in Butchart’s crown is their Christmas display, which runs from December 1st through January 6th each year. Tens of thousands of colored lights and evergreen garlands line the walkways, festoon lamp posts, and rim the fountains throughout the park and “Twelve Days of Christmas” displays are tucked into niches around the gardens.
After dark, carolers and other musical groups perform in the Piazza as the reflection of the lights in the ponds and lakes turns the gardens into an enchanted fairyland. Even Waterwheel Square is transformed, becoming a seasonal ice skating rink for the enjoyment of the entire family.
Butchart Gardens is located on Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia, Canada, 14 miles north of Victoria and 12.5 miles south of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry terminal at Swartz Bay. The gardens are open every day of the year at 9 a.m. except for Christmas day when they open at 1 p.m.
In addition to Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island, which is an easy day trip from Seattle, Washington, offers a veritable treasure trove of activities and attractions for the family.
Photos courtesy of Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels