The Butchart Gardens

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

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.

Japanese Gardens in Victoria

There are three delightful Japanese gardens in Victoria which we thoroughly recommend to our B&B guests. Victoria gardens numbered by the dozen in the Japanese style but a curving bridge, stone lantern and some bamboo are mere incidentals to Japanese garden design. So here is a summary of three open to the public which were designed by professional Japanese garden designers. Each is quite different from the others.

The Japanese Garden at the Butchart Gardens

Isaburo Kishid was commissioned by Jennie Butchart in 1906 to built a Japanese Garden on the slope down to Tod Creek. Entering through a red lacquered torii gate meandering paths take you past descending streams, crossing stone or wooden bridges in a tranquil, though sometimes crowded, setting. It is easy to miss parts so take a different route back after you reach the inlet. I particularly enjoy strolling through these Japanese gardens on summer evenings when it is illuminated most romantically.

Takata Garden at HCP

The Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, formerly Glendale Gardens, is just 15 minutes south of the Butchart Gardens but never crowded. It’s rather delightful that you have to walk into the office to ask to pay the entry fee! There are about thirty themed areas containing over 10,000 varieties of plants, many with name signs. A favourite is the Takata Garden flanking a stream down to the Zen Garden. On one side is a section with Canada’s largest collection of bonsai trees.

Hatley Castle Japanese Gardens

The extensive grounds of Hatley Castle are now used principally as Royal Roads University but the castle and lovely gardens are open to the public. Please do not be put off by the inadequate Hatley Castle website. 100 years ago one hundred gardeners were employed by the Dunsmuir family to create the Italian, Rose and Japanese gardens on the 565 acre estate. The Japanese Garden is centred upon a lake, with distant views of the snow-capped Olympic Peninsula.

The first two Japanese Gardens in Victoria could easily be visited in a day, perhaps combined with Butterfly Gardens and a winery or two. A tour of Hatley Castle, further west, fits in well with a visit to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse followed by a drive along the west coast to Sooke.