Vignettes from Victoria III

Our last few days in Victoria, British Columbia were dominated by visits to three local gardens: the Butchart Gardens (everybody seems to have visited it at some point in their lives); the much smaller and more intimate Abkhazi Garden ("The Garden that Love Built"); and Finnerty Gardens on the campus of the University of Victoria. I took enough photos for dedicated posts, but for now here's the teaser version.

Locals I've talked to say that this winter was the harshest in recent memory. There was snow (!), something Victoria residents aren't used to. The University of Victoria closed down for half a day in January--only the third time that's ever happened. And the cold weather lingered much longer than it usually does. As a result, plants are weeks behind where they usually are. Butchart Gardens (located 20 km north of Victoria) says they're four weeks behind; a lady I talked to earlier today said that Victoria proper, where it's warmer than at Butchart Gardens, is two, maybe three behind.

As a result, many plants are still in late winter mode, rather than early spring. This is a crucial transition time, and the lack of blooms is quite noticeable. Especially at the Butchart Gardens where thousands of bulbs, especially daffodils and tulips, are still in the bud stage. But the Butchart Gardens has an ingenious solution: an indoor display garden ("Spring Prelude").

Spring Prelude at the Butchart Gardens
Everything the Butchart Gardens does is perfectly executed, and the Spring Prelude is no exception. Look for more photos in my dedicated post later this spring.

Many of the outdoor gardens still look sparse. In contrast, the Sunken Garden is alive with color, much of it coming from heathers and conifers in many hues of green. And yes, there are some early-blooming tulips, too.

Free umbrellas put to perfect use!

The Japanese garden at the Butchart Gardens doesn't need flower power to look great. Meticulously shaped shrubs and trees--and a generous helping of moss--are standouts at any time of year. Not to mention made-made features such as stone lanterns...

...and bridges:

Abkhazi Garden in Oak Bay, one of Victoria's most beautiful neighborhoods, is the antithesis of the Butchart Gardens: It's a much more intimate space, created by two people as much in love with each other as they were with their garden. (Click here to read more about their tortuous story.) We visited the Abkhazi Garden last September and it left such an impression that I couldn't wait to go back. I'm happy to say that even though the garden was still in winter mode, I loved it just as much. If you ever visit Victoria, DO NOT MISS this garden!

This time my wife and I enjoyed Elevensies at the Tea House (i.e. the former residence of Peggy and Nicholas Abkhazi). It is run by Page Loten, whose love for the garden and attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the experience--from the service to the food to the tea. Talking of the food, it was perfection. I had never had better scones, not even in England.


Tetrapanax papyrifera

The most dramatic "weeping" conifer I've ever seen

Abkzahi Garden has such a solid backbone that it looks good even in "winter"

Flower cherry right off the Tea House patio

Basque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)

Rhododendron near the garden entrance

"Gabrielle," a red cedar sculpture by Michael Dennis

The third garden we visited was Finnerty Gardens on the campus of the University of Victoria. Last April, the rhododendrons were absolutely spectacular. Knowing this year's situation, I didn't expect much. Was it ever surprised! While we're not at last year's levels of floral splendor (yet), there's already plenty to admire.

Rhododendron kesangiae

Rhododendron lutescens

Rhododendron sutchuenense var. Geraldi

Camellia japonica

Rhododendron and Phyllostachys bambusoides

One last photo before we leave

After a week of temperatures in the low 50s and more green that we ever get in the Sacramento Valley, I bet I'll be in for quite a culture shock when we get home to California!


  1. Oh that umbrella and stairs photo!!!

    1. Heather and I waited patiently until they finally ascended the stairs. It was a group of high school students and most of them had grabbed a complimentary umbrella.

  2. Some day I will make it to Victoria. I've been wanting to visit since we moved here 8 years ago and never seem to get there. If I do I'll be sure and include the Abkhazi Garden. The garden looks lovely and that plate of food looks delish. I'm a sucker for a good scone, having grown up on my Scottish aunty's. Their gradens may be behind, but at least their Tetrapanax is leafing out. Mine are still bare sticks. Looking forward to more pictures.

    1. Alison,

      Victoria is so close to you--and yet so far away. Since it's on Vancouver Island, you need to fly or take the ferry. The fastest option for you would probably be the ferry from Port Angeles. You do want a car otherwise you won't be able to easily get to places like Butchart Gardens.

      Early May would be a great time to visit.

    2. Gerhard is right about wanting a car, especially if you have a several people in your group. However, it's possible to enjoy a short trip without one. I used to travel to Seattle for work quite often and several times, I squeezed in a one day or overnight trip using the Victoria Clipper. I took the first AM ferry and bought a city tour that included Butchart gardens. They drop you off at the gardens and are flexible about which bus you take on the way back. No need to stay with a group. The tour bus drivers were helpful and (at least on my visits) were willing to drop me off at the Abkhazi Gardens. Then I either took a city bus or hoofed it back into town. I'm not saying that's the best way to go, but if you happen to find yourself with a free day or two, it can be done!

  3. So many great photos, but that basque flower one is special: it looks like the lump of whatever (wood?) behind it is a gnarled face, scrunched up in agony and the flowers are its tears. Or maybe it's just me?

    1. I had missed that but now I see it too!!! The wood is a burl, not sure from what tree.

      I'm a bit obsessed with that pasque flower. It won't grow in Davis, but you should be able to grow it St Louis (see MOBOT website).

  4. I like this "pre-spring" version of Butchart gardens better than the more conventional shots with the masses upon masses of bedding plants. I love that umbrella shot. Flower freak that I am, I definitely have to get to Victoria some day (soon!).

  5. Yeah, that umbrellas-on-the-stairway shot. Most excellent! Beautiful gardens of course. The Abkhazi looks very special, more hand crafted and personal.

    I think I was there at Butchart at age two or three--can't remember it, obviously. My Dad bought me a red and blue plastic ferry boat in honor of the ferry ride--I remember the toy as the highlight of bath time.


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