Over a million people visit The Butchart Gardens near Victoria BC every year. Four of those are my wife and I who make two visits annually: spring or summer and, our favorite, a winter visit in the Christmas season.
Since the summer months offer a dazzling array of colourful floral displays, concerts, fireworks and evening lights why should a winter visit appeal so much? Let’s take a look at what the Butchart Gardens offers year-round for visitors to Vancouver Island: what they call the 5 Seasons.
Massed tulips herald spring at the Gardens as Victoria’s mild climate does its work. A million bedding plants from their greenhouses come to life. It’s as if nature is smiling again.
Sooo much to see and do. Each themed garden is bursting with colour. Enjoy evening concerts followed by the summer illuminations. Saturday Fireworks sharpen the senses and afternoon high tea soothes them.
Autumnal colours are best appreciated in the Japanese gardens in Victoria. The Japanese maples here are the centrepieces, in yellows, oranges, reds and browns.
The gardens rest a little and quiet descends; a peaceful time to visit. Then there’s the Spring Prelude Indoor Garden and the Historical Display in the Benvenuto house.
The Magic of Christmas is that 5th season, a winter wonderland where millions of lights take the place of the flowers. The Twelve Days of Christmas displays take us through the gardens in December and early January.
There are many other gardens of Victoria to explore but if you want to be dazzled year-round the Butchart Gardens will be sure to delight.
The Gardens at HCP is not the most appealing of names but don’t let impressions fool you. “HCP” is the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific which sounds even worse unless you are an avid gardener. Its former name of Glendale Gardens is preferable in my view but whats in a name? as Shakespeare pondered… they are a peaceful charming place to visit. Here you can wander through nine acres just north of Victoria, away from the crowds, among 10,000 varieties of plants in over 30 themed gardens.
These gardens often overlooked as people flock to its big brother neighbour on the Saanich Peninsula, The Butchart Gardens. One of many gardens in Victoria open to the public, I appreciate its relaxed, low-key approach (you have to ask to pay the admission fee!). It is unquestionably worth visiting just to enjoy the Takata Gardens: Japanese gardens surrounding a stream which flows past the new Bonsai Garden down to a Zen Garden.
Special events at The Gardens at HCP include Arts and Music in the Gardens held on a mid-August weekend each year with 40 Vancouver Island artists scattered around the many themed gardens. These sections present Mediterranean plants, herbs, heathers, rhododendrons and hostas, lilies, winter, succulents, grasses, fuschias, and more. Special events apart, its a quiet place to wander through at leisure.
You might think the name of Blue’s Bayou Café is a reference to a genre of Louisiana music. Blue is actually the name of chef and owner Blue Benoit who operates Blues Bayou Cafe together with his partner Lorill Fraser. Together, they’ve imported authentic Cajun/Creole cuisine at its very best – right down to the ragin’ Cajun alligator sausage – to the Victoria restaurant mix.
And when we say ‘Victoria’, we actually mean a scenic little hideaway at a marina in Brentwood Bay, about 25 minutes from downtown Victoria but about four minutes from the Butchart Gardens. In fact, it’s so close to the gardens, on a summer Saturday evening, you can enjoy superb dining on Blue’s harbour-side outdoor deck and take in the Butchart Gardens fireworks display.
The restaurant’s genesis lay in a 1997 trip the Calgary couple made to New Orleans. The Cajun cooking inspired them so much that, after a move to Victoria, they established Blue’s Bayou Café. Since then, the two have been back to New Orleans many times with a mission to collect ideas and funky, wild bayou decor to adorn the restaurant walls. The marine character of the immediate area – a salt-water marina is next door – only adds to the ambiance.
Since Blue is the chef, the quality of what goes on the plate is always paramount. Victoria’s local daily newspaper has given Blue’s Bayou a four-star rating. Joining the alligator sausage on the appetizer menu is ‘Voodoo dippin’ cauldron’, Creole Queen crab cakes and ‘French Quarter’ fried green tomatoes. Of course, no Cajun menu is complete without Jambalaya, but other dishes with a creole character include seafood cannelloni, horse-radish encrusted fish, bayou chicken, ‘Southern Comfort’ loin of lamb and ‘Blackened Voodoo’ beef tenderloin. Po’boys are on the lunch menu, along with a superb ‘Big Easy’ shrimp melt, and gator gumbo.
If you’re headed to Butchart Gardens, Blues Bayou Cafe is a tasty stop before or after your gardens visit.