Designated a National Historic Site of Canada, Butchart Gardens is located just 30 minutes north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. This spectacular 135-acre complex is by no means a secret, but despite its popularity, it still surpassed our expectations.
The estate’s history and the story of the gardens’ creation are compelling. Ontario natives Robert Butchart and his wife, Jennie, came to Vancouver Island to take advantage of its rich limestone deposits, necessary for the production of cement, and in 1904, they built a factory on a deposit at Tod Inlet on the Saanich Peninsula. The plant’s first shipments sailed in 1905. The Butchart factory supplied massive quantities for the rebuilding of San Francisco after the catastrophic 1906 earthquake. Alas, the couple’s venture was short-lived. The Butchart supply of suitable limestone was exhausted by 1908, and operations shut down a year later, leaving an ugly three-and-a-half-acre pit near their house. Thanks to Jennie’s vision and dedication, this was transformed into the world-renowned Sunken Garden.
No costs were spared. Huge quantities of topsoil were carted in to line the base of the pit. Massive bedding schemes were devised, flower terraces were planted, winding paths were shaped, and a switchback staircase was installed to reach the base of an observation tower, from which today’s visitors can spot the tall chimney that is the last remaining remnant of the original factory. Apparently, Jennie would even descend the side of the quarry in a boatswain's chair to tuck ivy into fissures in its walls.
The Sunken Garden is by no means the only area to explore. The complex is laid out in clearly defined zones, each with its own vision and panache. Jennie sought to maximize the visual impact everywhere. The Rose Garden near the entrance displays a magnificent floral fantasy. Also not to be missed are the Italian Garden and the Japanese Garden, next to the property’s private boat dock. The latter, comprising bamboo arches, fountains, maples, a network of interconnected footpaths and a traditional torii gate, is the most peaceful of the estate’s gardens.
Passed down through several generations, the property is still owned by the Butchart family. The spirit of the past has been maintained, but evening entertainment is nowadays hosted on the Concert Lawn; a children’s pavilion and carousel have been added; and there are seasonal firework shows and illuminations.