2015 PNW trip day 10: Victoria, BC

This morning we visited Butchart Gardens, with close to a million visitors a year one of the most popular public gardens in North America. Located in Brentwood Bay about 15 miles to the northwest of Victoria, the garden was started in the early 1900s by Robert and Jennie Butchart. They made their fortune manufacturing Portland cement for the West Coast building boom. When the limestone deposits in their quarry were depleted, Jennie turned the giant pit into a sunken garden—still the centerpiece of the Butchart Gardens. Over the next 20 years, the Butcharts added the Japanese, Italian and rose gardens. Word about the remarkable gardens near Victoria spread far and wide, and what had started out as the Butcharts’ private wonderland has become a major destination for tourists from all over the world.

Often called the Disneyland of gardens, Butchart Gardens definitely appeals to folks who love their flowers frilly and bright. A million (!) bedding plants are grown in 26 greenhouses, and 50 gardeners work diligently to keep the blooms going. For the spring extravaganza, 200,000 bulbs are imported from Holland every year!


“Over the top” is definitely the default here. And the recipe is hugely successful. I quickly lost count this morning of how often I heard exclamations like “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” I would love to know how many photos are taken here every day. I bet the number is staggering. Free Wi-Fi in several spots throughout the 55 acre (22 hectare) property lets visitors immediately post their snaps to social media.


Sunken Garden

I’ll do a separate post on Butchart Gardens down the line. That will give me enough time to figure out what I think. Right now I really don’t know. Fact: It didn’t take me long this morning to reach sensory overload from one relentlessly cheery planting after another. I was glad to escape to the Japanese Garden, which is dominated by soothing greens.


Ross Fountain at the far end of the Sunken Garden


Rose Garden


Every garbage can is topped with colorful annuals


Entrance to the Japanese Garden from Butchart Cove


My favorite combination of potted plants: Acacia pravissima (left) and what is possibly Alocasia × amazonica (right). Such a muted palette is not typical for Butchart Gardens.


This water bowl for dogs reminded me of a traditional Japanese water fountain


Humans of Victoria (III), with Abutilon megapotamicum

I just realized that some of the photos above are fairly muted in color. Fear not, my dedicated post on Butchart Gardens will have enough color to sear your eyeballs.


Tonight is our final evening in Victoria (and Canada). I’m sad to leave because it is a truly special place. I just wish it were easier and less expensive to get here…

We just got back from a leisurely two-hour walk along the harbor and through the city center. As always I took far too many photos. Here are some of them:


Evening stroll in downtown Victoria


Pontiac Parisienne and horse-drawn carriage in front of the Empress Hotel


Humans of Victoria (IV)


I’ll be taking a couple of days off because we’ll be staying with friends in the Seattle area for the Fourth of July (foreign readers: that’s Independence Day in the U.S.). I’ll be back on Sunday as we head to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.


2015 Pacific Northwest trip index


  1. You had an amazing road trip Gerhard, holiday may be ending but so many memories to cherish :) happy Fourth of July and enjoy your two days off!

    1. Thanks, guys! We'll spend the Fourth in Puget Sound on our friends' boat. Hopefully it'll be cooler on the water.

  2. Gerhard! There's water, falling out of the sky!!! Not sure where this front came from, I don't think it was predicted. Back to Butchart gardens, I think it's the wonderful setting that makes the place, all those flowers would look totally crass if the whole thing was flat. What a wonderful way to rehabilitate a quarry. It's like dressing a wound in the earth with flowers.

    1. Rain today? Seriously? I hope it was enough to water the plants.

      "Dressing a wound in the earth with flowers," what a great way to put it. From what I read that's exactly what Jennie Butchart set out to do.

  3. I've enjoyed your trip tremendously - thanks for sharing it. I, too, have mixed feelings about Butchart Gardens but I'll still be anxious to see it if/when I get up to Victoria. Even if the floral displays cause visual overload, as with Disneyland, you've got to admire the work that goes into planting and maintaining it. And that wide shot of the sunken garden is impressive.

    1. Thanks for coming along on our trip!

      I'm so happy that Victoria lived up to my expectations. Aside from a lack of succulents, it's a fantastic place.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Oh no, your comment is gone. Can you post it again? Your response to Butchart Gardens was similar to mine.

  5. They need to post a trigger warning about that riot of color and the sensory overload risk ;~) I'm kidding... sort of. It's me, not them: Butchart Gardens is wonderful, but I'd be in the Japanese garden, too, taking yoga breaths, and trying to visualize the golden-brown foothills of home...

    1. Most people are so taken with the in-your-face annuals, they don't even notice the remarkable backbone of Butchart Gardens: trees, shrubs, perennials, rocks, etc. They form the stage on which the Disneylandesque floral displays play out. I wonder how the gardeners feel, having to create such garish sweeps of color year in, year out...

  6. The grass is so green! That is what really makes my eyeballs pop. The quarry itself with the conifers--so beautiful, the annuals are hardly necessary. But it makes people happy--that is something. The Huntington Japanese Garden is a bit like that quarry--it was originally a reservoir for rainwater.

    Thanks again for sharing views from your fun vacation!

    1. Most visitors appear to be focused on the flashy annuals. To me they were the least interesting part of the gardens. The perennial backbone, on the other hand, is far more exciting. But to each their own.


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