Succulents at Butchart Gardens—and bananas and more

When we visited Butchart Gardens in July 2015 I was bemoaning the dearth of succulents. After revisiting the garden a couple of days ago, I’m happy to report that I found several beds right next to the parking lot (marked as the Mediterranean Garden on the map) that have a small but well curated selection of spiky plants. Proof that succulents do indeed exist at Butchart Gardens!

The larger bed has five or six outstanding specimens of Yucca rostrata underplanted with agaves, echeverias and other yuccas.


The bed is slightly raised, no doubt to improve drainage. Cold hardiness is not as big an issue since the Victoria area has mild winters and even nights below freezing are not all that severe. The BG website lists 14”F (–10”C) as an extreme. I read somewhere that Victoria has had winters that were entirely frost-free.


The agaves in this bed are still relatively small so they must have been planted quite recently.


Looks like Agave salmiana ‘Butterfingers’


And possibly Agave gentryi


Variegated Yucca gloriosa


Another bed nearby featured the largest agave I saw at Butchart Gardens. As with everything else, it’s a virtually flawless specimen. I don’t know what species it is. It looks a bit like Agave americana; possibly it’s Agave americana var. protoamericana. In hindsight, I should have had all these agaves ID’ed at the Plant Identification Center (yes, they have one).


More agave goodness in the same bed:


While I wish they planted more agaves and other succulents within the actual garden, I do realize that it would be challenging to incorporate such “unfriendly” plants into a garden that is known primarily for its colorful display of flowers and its traditional design.

The other beds in this area off the parking lot were filled with flowering annuals and perennials as well as large-leafed exotics. I found the bananas particularly impressive.



One even had an inflorescence! I wonder how common that is in Victoria, considering bananas love heat.



The gardeners at BG have mastered the art of combining contrasting foliage and flowers for maximum impact.




And they seem to be fond, like I am, of purple leaves:






Hey, I found one more succulent, Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’, growing in front of a ribbon bush (Homalocladium platycladum).


A few more photos of the “Mediterranean Garden:”



These alocasias were drool-worthy in the extreme. Are they brought inside for the winter?



Now we’re walking from the parking lot to the main garden.


This is the largest bowl of succulents I have ever seen:


The entry area features the visitor center, a gift store, coffee shop as well as the Plant Identification Center. And, of course, a huge variety of flowering plants.


Coffee shop (behind the tree)


Gift store (more purple leaves!)


Plant Identification Center

The Butchart Gardens sign is probably the most photographed feature in the entire garden:


BG employs 50 full-time and 12 part-time gardeners. It seems I saw at least half of them busy at work when I was there. Keeping everything looking its best is a non-stop job.






Before I show you the Sunken Garden, arguably the best known and most impressive section, here’s some historical context repurposed from my previous BG post:

What is now Butchart Gardens began to take shape in 1904 when Jennie Butchart, the wife of wealthy cement factory owner Robert Butchart, established several formal gardens around her residence, now the Dining Room Restaurant and administrative offices. One of these gardens was the Japanese Garden, started in 1907.

When the limestone deposits in the nearby quarry were exhausted—limestone being a fundamental ingredient in the Portland cement the Butchart factory was making—Jennie Butchart had the brilliant idea of converting the pit into a sunken garden. Begun in 1909 and completed in 1921, the Sunken Garden is still the centerpiece of the estate.

Reputation of the Butchart’s spectacular gardens spread early, and in 1915—six years before the Sunken Garden was even completed—they already had 18,000 visitors.

Other gardens were added later on, including the Italian Garden (1926) and the Rose Garden (1929).

In 1939, Jennie and Robert Butchart transferred ownership of the gardens to their then 21-year-old grandson Ross who was involved in the operation until his death in 1997. Today, Butchart Gardens is still family-owned and run by great-granddaughter Robin-Lee Clarke.


The Sunken Garden was once an abandoned limestone quarry. The transformation began in 1909 and was completed in 1921. Mountains of rock debris were cleared from the site and later reused to create the central mound as well as for the base and edging of flower beds. Countless tons of topsoil were brought in from neighboring farms on horse-drawn carts. A lake was created in a particularly deep portion of the quarry. Jennie Butchart had herself lowered over the side of the quarry walls so she could tuck ivy into crevices in order to hide the grim look of the gray rock. And finally plants of every description—trees, shrubs, perennials, biennials and annuals—were added in great profusion. Historical photographs show that the Sunken Garden has changed very little since the early days.




Mound in the center of the Sunken Garden:


View from the Mound:






While there is no lack of flowering plants in the Sunken Garden, more emphasis is given to foliage color, texture and contrast than elsewhere. In terms of overall design and impact, I think the Sunken Garden ranks with the great gardens of the world. The photos above and below are proof of that.



Possibly the most photogenic wheelbarrow I’ve ever seen

At the far end of the Sunken Garden is the Ross Fountain. It was installed in 1964 under the direction of the Butcharts’ grandson Ian Ross. At night it is illuminated in a rainbow of colors.



More vignettes from the far end of the Sunken Garden:



More views of the Mound:



We’re only half-way through Butchart Gardens. Since I took so many photos, I decided the split this post into two. Lots more flowery goodness to come.


Victoria and Vancouver Island, BC, September 2016


  1. That Mediterranean garden is SO pristine but then that's what Butchart is known for. They did a nice job of landscaping with succulents and that giant banana was drool-worthy.

    1. There's a succulent society in Victoria. With some advanced planning, I may be able to attend one of their meetings next spring. I bet there are some special succulent gardens hidden somewhere...

  2. Though I'm not a fan of Victorian-style 'bedding out' schemes I loved the sunken garden when I visited in (I think) 2003. I feel they have combined the beautiful conifers and other shrubs so artfully, it takes the edge off the soldierly annuals. It's a conservative garden but so very well done. Looking forward to part 2 !

    1. I love how you phrased that. "Soldierly annuals," that's a perfect description.

      The Sunken Garden is sublime with its various elevations and permanent plantings. The flowers are simply icing on the cake here, instead of the cake itself.

  3. I liked this post. This is my third time reading it. There are parts of Butchart to savor. I'm a sucker for that kind of begonia. I love them. The colors on the mound are very late summer-fallish, beautiful. I think it all looks better in the light rain, too. The dahlias they have cut look fine to me! Wheelbarrow is a great photo.

    1. Summer is definitely on its way out in Victoria (unlike California). There's an early-autumn smell in the air, and some trees have already started to turn color. And yes, the light rain really helped. I took much better photos than last summer when it was bright and contrasty.

      As for the dahlias in that wheelbarrow, I agree, they looked great. Maybe it was their day for working in this section of the garden and they cut all the flowers they knew wouldn't last much longer.

  4. When I visited Butchart in approx '86 there were definitely no agaves or Yucca rostrata! I wouldn't have bothered to visit again if not for this post. But Victoria is wonderful, had a great B&B experience there.

    1. I bet Butchart is trying to "modernize" as much as they are able to within the confines of their parameters. I would love to do a behind-the-scenes tour. I think I'll email them to see if they ever offer that. We'll be back in April.

  5. Really beautiful...excellent photos, too. seems to be modernizing as far as moving away from elaborate Victorian style "bedding out" of annuals. So incredibly lush--bananas like heat, but they love water, and it shows in those plants. Fruiting bananas here in comparison are so thirsty looking. I hope I get there someday.

    1. It was drizzling when I arrived but apparently Victoria has had a very dry summer. But I believe Butchart has its own lake to draw from so irrigation is no big deal.

      I couldn't get over how lush everything was. Bananas don't get more perfect than that. Ever the leaves weren't as tattered as they often are.

  6. You had me at Mediterranean Garden. They've done a nice job!

    1. I'm hoping that the agave bed will get bigger--there's more room.

  7. The sunken garden is pretty special -- it must be the elevated viewpoints that make it so great. (Your own garden looks much different from above)

    1. The elevating viewpoints--both from the edge and from the mound in the center of the Sunken Garden--are special indeed. As somebody whose garden is completely flat--hey the entire Central Valley is flat!!--I'm drawn to elevation changes like a moth to a flame.


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