From Greenhouse to Heirloom Blooms: Behind the Scenes at The Butchart Gardens

“Visual masterpiece!” “Just like a dream!” “Absolutely gorgeous!” “A gardener’s paradise!”

Over the top? No. These are just a few of the phrases you’ll hear expressed by visitors from around the world describing the stunning spring floral splendor of world-renowned The Butchart Gardens.

Victoria, BC Getaways

Enter The Gardens in the spring, and the tantalizingly sweet scent of hyacinths immediately hits your nose. As you make your way down the winding cement path you’ll immediately catch sight of the patch of the earliest spring blooms – fiery orange crocuses – which stand out like a ball of flames bursting from the ground. Overhead, showy clusters of fragrant, pink crabapple blossoms cascade down from the branches of nearby trees, adding to the display.

To the casual observer, The Butchart Gardens are once again bursting to life, however behind the scenes, The Gardens are a hive of activity year-round. After all, maintaining the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping array of plants, flowers, shrubs and trees carpeting the lush 55-acre grounds is no small feat and requires the creative minds and effort of more than 70 garden staff. 

Vibrant flowers fill every nook and cranny of The Butchart Gardens. Photo; The Butchart Gardens
Vibrant flowers fill every nook and cranny of The Butchart Gardens. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

To preserve The Gardens’ mystique, the crew combs the globe for rare and signature plants and cultivates them in onsite greenhouses. However, the real magic begins when the gardeners put their artistic genius to work incorporating the new specimens into existing flower beds. According to The Gardens’ Director of Horticulture, Rick Los, dreaming up new and inspiring displays with his like-minded team of gardeners is the best job in the world. Los explains:

Everyone on the team is plant crazy. We rely on the staff to bring in new plant varieties because all concept and design comes from within. We are always thinking about color schemes for planting changes.

As the spring season ramps up, visitors reap the rewards of the 300,000 bulbs planted the previous fall. The blooms emerge with the warmth of the spring sunshine in a carefully curated explosion of brilliant pinks, oranges, yellow, violets and reds. (A little insider tip, the best time to catch these sensational displays of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and irises is typically around mid-April to the first week of May. However, crafty Mother Nature has been known to trick us a time or two and start the spring season either earlier or later than expected.) 

Rows of vibrant tulips fill every nook and cranny of The Butchart Gardens each spring. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
Rows of vibrant tulips fill every nook and cranny of The Butchart Gardens each spring. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

The staff gauges their performance by the drama of the color pops they create and listening for the “oohs” and “ahhs” as the visitors soak in a field brimming with blooms in a kaleidoscope of colors. These wow moments are what every gardener on staff lives for and aims to produce for visitors both young and old.

Long before the brilliant and successful spring season is even over, the greenhouse facilities shift into high gear for the summer. A crew of more than 16 gardeners produce nearly 900 varieties of plants to create dazzling displays. Among the highest rated are the magnificent sea of delphinium in various shades of blue and the rare, yet popular blue poppy. Los states some beds are replanted up to five times. He notes:

 This is part of the magic of what we do. The basic structure and layout of the garden won’t change, but the team will change out shrubbery or perennials and most people won’t even know. Eighty percent of people will walk through and sense something is different, but won’t be sure what it is.

Meanwhile, the gardeners are already busy placing bulb orders and brainstorming ideas for next year’s displays. The staff excitedly soak in inspiration from trade and garden magazines while exchanging ideas. Los says, Jennie Butchart, who created The Gardens in 1904, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. He explains:

She wouldn’t have wanted us to keep doing the same thing over and over again. She was always introducing plants from all over the world, which was unique at the time. I like to think we have the same mindset in this way, we carry forward her vision of change, without taking away the structure of the garden that she laid out. We see our designs as deeply rooted in the past, a part of today and thinking toward the future.

Once the bulbs arrive in the fall, the physical challenge of three to four weeks of hard labor ensues. The bulbs are buried in the beds among The Gardens’ perennials during a planting frenzy that occurs from early October to early November. The energy put into maintaining The Gardens is certainly well spent. There are few other parks or municipalities creating displays at the same level, making The Gardens an increasingly unique experience.

The exotic blue poppy bursts to life along with a painter's palette of azaleas. Photo: The Butchart Gardens.
The exotic blue poppy bursts to life along with a painter’s palette of azaleas. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

Dale Ryan, Director of Marketing for The Butchart Gardens, points out, “As life becomes more urban with more people living in condos and high rises, being in green spaces isn’t the norm.” Ryan adds “People relish the opportunity to come and walk around in nature and experience its beauty and tranquility. That is why we see more and more families here because many young people are missing the connection to nature.”

Butchart's famous Sunken Gardens are a sight to behold. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
Butchart’s famous Sunken Gardens are a sight to behold. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

With lush, inviting green lawns and an array of fresh designs to amaze you, The Gardens are a great place to relax and unplug. Bring the kiddos, soak in the stunning, elaborate displays and indulge in some quality family time without the distractions of iPads and television. As Los states, “The more we stay the same, the more meaningful we will be for future generations. This is a place where people can come and say, ‘Wow this still exists’.”

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How to Get to The Butchart Gardens….

Getting to The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC is about as easy as it gets. A less than three-hour ride on the Clipper from Seattle lands you in the heart of Victoria. From there, hop on the modern, double-decker motor coach waiting for you at the Clipper terminal. Immerse yourself in the city’s scenic beauty as your guide fills you in on the history of Victoria while you cruise by Victoria’s landmarks and historic buildings.

A mere 30 minutes later, you’re at the gates of the world-famous gardens and ready to explore the 55-acre botanical masterpiece. Walk along intimate stone paths and streams lined with a colorful array of flowers and trees. Don’t miss the award-winning Butchart Dining Room’s unique house-made gelato flavors and Afternoon Tea service, surrounded by thousands of beautiful blooms.

7 Comments

  1. Beautiful! Well done. We have been to the gardens twice but not in the spring.

    • Hi John,

      Glad to hear you liked the post! The Gardens are absolutely beautiful in the spring, you definitely should be sure to make the trip up. We’d love have you along with us!

      Cheers,

      Brenna

  2. I call the garden “a piece of heaven” and never miss the chance to visit it, when in Victoria! it is a magical place with colors , shapes and aromas that feed your soul. I always appreciate the dedication and hard work of the staff to offer such a great kingdom of flowers! I wish I had my favourite flower but it is so hard to chose from the roses, tulips or dhalias… will be back soon maybe in the summer to watch the unique fireworks show!

    • Hi Donna,

      Great question! Wheelchairs are at the the entrance of The Butchart Gardens and are free of charge, but a refundable deposit of $10 is required. Please be aware that The Gardens have a limited number of wheelchairs to lend, and they are available on a first-come, first serve basis (no reservations). Escorts/assistants are not available to push wheelchairs. Only motorized or standard wheelchairs/personal mobility scooters are permitted. Due to the design and layout of the gardens, we are unable to accommodate Segways. Scooters may be rented with advance notice from Motion Specialties in Sidney or Victoria.

      For more information, you can visit the Services & Accessibility page on The Butchart Gardens’ website: http://www.butchartgardens.com/visit/services-accessibility
      Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

      Cheers,

      Brenna

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