Butchart Gardens on the cusp of spring

At the end of March, the Butchart Gardens, arguably North America's most popular public garden, should be a sea of flowering bulbs. Not so this year.

"There has never been a year where we have so eagerly anticipated the arrival of spring in our garden," Rick Los, Director of Horticulture at the Butchart Gardens, writes in the Spring 2017 Garden Notebook:
With all the talk of global warming we were expecting and planning for another early spring, but in a humbling change of events, Mother Nature decided to cool our region off significantly during the past few months. That being what it was, the garden itself did not suffer any unexpected physical damage. However, in comparison to last year, our floral calendar is almost a full month behind.
Reading this was no surprise. That's pretty much the case across the Greater Victoria area and across the entire Pacific Northwest. I debated whether I even bother to go to the Butchart Gardens but then curiosity won out. I wanted to see what it looks like without the explosion of color that is its hallmark.

At the edge of the parking lot is a small area that features some succulents, like the large agave in the distance (the area was closed off so I couldn't get closer)...

...and these Yucca rostrata that seem completely impervious to the weather:

Clues to how much it rains here are everywhere. The Butchart Gardens is located in Brentwood Bay, about 20 km north of Victoria, and this area receives significantly more rainfall than Victoria proper.

Rain shelter at the edge of the parking lot, its roof covered with a thick layer of moss

A great service provided by the Butchart Gardens:

Complimentary loaner umbrellas available in many places

From mid-January until the end of March, the Blue Poppy Restaurant becomes an indoor garden called "Spring Prelude." This is the place to go if you need a quick flower fix. The plantings combine tropicals, flowering bulbs, annuals, and perennials that bloom indoors weeks, if not months, before they would outside. There even were shrubs and small trees, as you will see below!


Cherry and redbud, all indoors

Even rhododendrons

Aloes and other succulents in a fountain underplanted with hyacinths--who would have thought?

I wasn't sure I'd like the Spring Prelude because it's a bit over the top (OK, a lot) but in way, that's what makes it so charming. How can you resist so much beauty! I didn't even bother, I simply surrendered myself to it. And loved it.

Now let's take a look at what the gardens looked like outside.

A sea of green instead of washes of color

No flowers, but nice patterns!

The Sunken Garden, and the Japanese Garden you'll see in a moment, demonstrate what a strong backbone of trees and shrubs the Butchart Gardens has. Even with relatively few plants in bloom, these areas are arrestingly beautiful.

Sunken Garden panorama

Mound in the middle of the Sunken Garden

Descending into the Sunken Garden

Much of the color comes from heathers

These should be in full bloom by now

My favorite vignette in the Sunken Garden

This Japanese maple is perfection

Ross Foundation in the lower reservoir

Cherry (or plum?) just starting to flower

My favorite photo of the day. This high school group made liberal use of the loaner umbrellas.

Rose Carousel. The beds in the foreground (and on the left) are a riot of annuals, perennials and tropicals in the summer. I'd love to be there when they install the summer plants--many of them must be close to full size when they put them in. The amount of work that happens at the Butchart Gardens from spring through fall is staggering.

Pops of blue from Scilla siberica

Crocus in the Rose Garden
The Japanese Garden is an oasis of green, ranging from muted to vibrant. Pops of red from man-made structures like this torii gate and curved bridges inject a jolt of energy.


In case you were wondering: There were relatively few visitors in the Japanese Garden (aside from the group of high school students you saw climbing up the mound in the center of the Sunken Garden). It felt heavenly being able to enjoy all this beauty without the usual distractions.

Before we leave the Japanese Garden, here's a peek at Butchart Cove on Tod Inlet through a window in the trees. Boat tours are offered in the summer.

The Italian Garden in front of the Butchart's former residence is planted in bulbs, most of them still a week or two away from flowering. I actually prefer this muted palette over the loud colors of the summer plantings.

If you're thinking of visiting the Butchart Gardens this year, I think May would be a great time. The spring plantings should finally be in full bloom.

For a history of the Butchart Gardens, check out my post from July 2015.


  1. Wow. Fantastic photography here. Some of your best framing, I think.

  2. So beautiful! Thanks for the visual delights. I've only been there once, more than 10 years ago. I wonder if those Yucca rostrata were there and I just don't remember, or if they were added later. I think I prefer this view of the garden, without the distraction of too many flowers. It does have great bones. And I'm sure it was amazing to enjoy it without the usual crowds.

    1. I'm still hoping that one day I'll be able to interview their head gardener. I have so many questions!!!

  3. Oh, I wish you could hear my applause! I like the foliage patterns without color. And the gorgeous mossy branch structure of the trees really stands out in your photos. Your composition is spot on in some of these.

  4. Beautiful Gerhard, and looks like the place was relatively empty compared with the summer throngs-or else you did a great job taking advantage of people lulls ! I agree it's really nice to see the patterns and structure of the sunken garden without all that hectic color.Well done !

    1. Yes, it was practically deserted (OK, I'm exaggerating), esp. since it was drizzling when we arrived. I loved that aspect!

  5. Thank you for the post and photos. I had the privilege of visiting the gardens in 2008. What a wonderful North American jewel.

    1. Carl, has the garden changed much since your visit? I suspect consistency from year to year is be a high priority for them.

  6. Beautiful without all the flowers. Green is a color too, and a paucity of visitors seems like a significant advantage. The red tori gate and bridge looks wonderful amidst all the rich greens.

    1. I agree!! There are so many shades of green. Combine them with a pop of red, like in the Japanese Garden, and you have magic.

  7. So were you disappointed or pleased with this visit?

    1. Not at all. I'm glad I was able to see the "bones" of the garden better. That made me appreciate the hard work they do even more.


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