Vibrant Victoria: The Inside Guide to The Butchart Gardens’ Season of Bloom

“Bombards the senses.” “Just like a dream.” “Absolutely gorgeous.” These are just a few of the sentiments patrons leave behind in The Butchart Gardens guest book after strolling along sun-dappled pathways through the stunning floral splendor of these display gardens. Over one million visitors come annually to marvel at the impeccable detail, immerse themselves in a wonderland of beauty and to reconnect with each other, with nature and with themselves. For the Gardens’ Director of Horticulture, Rick Los, providing this experience is the best job in the world.

Director of Horticulture, Rick Los, leads The Butchart Gardens family of garden staff.
Director of Horticulture, Rick Los, leads The Butchart Gardens family of garden staff. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

As soon as you step foot on the property, before even entering through the gates, a quiet sense of serenity greets you, preparing you for the onslaught of radiance that awaits within. In spring, more than 300,000 bulbs are planted in the gardens. While during summer, you can feast your eyes on hundreds of varieties of brilliant begonias, impatiens, dahlias and rose bushes.

Maintaining this impressive array of plants and flowers is no small feat and requires the creative minds, and effort of over 70 garden staff. Rick’s team is more than just laborers who service the garden. He says, “I love my staff, we are like a big family with lots of different characteristics.” They are the lifeblood of the garden, not only caring for the elaborate plantings but also playing a critical role in helping answer questions from visitors and serving as a concierge within the garden. “It takes a certain personality to do both,” Rick explains.

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

With an abundance of visitors from countries all over the world, knowledgeable staff is a crucial part of the experience. Rick says, “Everyone on the team is plant crazy. We rely on them to bring in new plant varieties because all concept and design comes from within. We are always thinking about color schemes for planting changes.” Rick goes on to say that some beds are planted almost five times per year. “This is part of the magic of what we do, with beds changed so frequently, 80% of people will walk through and sense something is different, but won’t be sure what it is.”

Hanging baskets
The hanging baskets in the garden are some of the most elaborate in the world and are one way Rick’s team has helped the garden evolve over the years. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

To keep the garden’s mystique, the staff scours the world for unique plants and cultivates them in on site greenhouses. Tending to such a robust assortment of floral varieties comes with its fair share of challenges. As Rick describes, each plant requires its own unique combination of light, moisture, soil chemistry and nutrients.

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Once great growing conditions have been established, the gardeners are able to design with intention, creating dazzling floral displays. The artful design of the Butchart Gardens are, after all, what has drawn people to Victoria for over 100 years. The staff gauges their performance by the drama of the color pops they create. Wow moments are what every gardener on staff aims to produce for visitors both young and old.

The famous Sunken Garden are a sight to behold. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
The famous Sunken Garden is a sight to behold. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

“[Jennie] 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.”

Jennie Butchart first created the gardens 112 years ago. Rick explains, “She was a progressive thinker. Jennie was always looking for something new and different to create and improve upon.” Perhaps the most famous example is the elaborate and jaw-dropping Sunken Garden. Originally an exhausted limestone quarry adjacent to the Butchart Estate, the space was slowly converted into a garden from 1909 to 1921. This particular garden was the first land reclamation project anywhere in the world.

Rick notes, “[Jennie] 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 mind set 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.”

The unique Tibetan Blue Poppy is a signature of the gardens in spring.
The unique and rare Himalayan Blue Poppy is a signature of the gardens in spring. Jennie brought the first specimens to North America in the 1920’s for the gardens. Seed of this special flower is available for purchase in the gardens’ gift shop. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

The design and the detail that go into the creation of the gardens is perhaps what makes Butchart as rare as it is beautiful. Rick states, “Everything we do is with total respect to the past, and it’s becoming more and more uncommon.” He goes on to share that, “Display gardens aren’t being promoted anymore, and the municipalities don’t participate in their creation the way they used to.”

As Rick looks to preserve and carry forward Jennie Butchart’s legacy, the water crisis is what concerns him the most. “Our goal is to decrease our water consumption 10% over last year, but we’re already being faced with unusual drought conditions in April and May.” Water consciousness, sustainability and environmental stewardship is at the forefront of the gardens operations. Water is collected throughout the property and repurposed. Yet,  as Rick describes, “the life of the garden is at stake with the lack of water.”

When The Butchart team thinks about who stands to lose the most if the garden were lost, Dale Ryan, Director of Marketing, notes that it is children and families. “As life becomes more urban with more people living in condos and high rises, being in green spaces isn’t the norm. People relish the opportunity to come and walk around in nature, experience beauty and tranquility. That is why we see more and more families here because many young people are missing the connection to nature.”  Dale notes that many parents write to the gardens sharing how they bring their children here to learn to walk along the gentle paths because the gardens are  is safe, inviting and comfortable. “They don’t have to worry about being hit by cars, and it is a beautiful place to create memories,” she mentions.

Night Illuminations fireworks show at The Butchart Gardens is the perfect way to spend a summer evening.
Night Illuminations fireworks show at The Butchart Gardens is the perfect way to spend a summer evening. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

With a carousel and skating rink at Christmas to concerts and fireworks in the summer, Butchart is not your grandmother’s garden. The lush and inviting green lawns are a great place to come and relax with an ice cream and a blanket during their summer concerts. Parents can bring their children, enjoy the blossoms and converse over tea and nurture quality family time. As Rick 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’.”

Clipper Recommends:

  • Make the most of the summer and follow your stroll through The Butchart Gardens with a concert on the lawn. There is no better place for a picnic!
  • Visit the gardens this summer on a Saturday Evening Illumination Tour and be enchanted by one of the most lavish fireworks shows in the world. Glittering bursts of brilliant colors crackle and light up the night in time with music. You can catch one of this summer’s ten shows between July 2nd and September 3rd.

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2 Comments

  1. This is an article about the garden’s history, but I don’t see much one can use as a guide. Fireworks in the summer, the carousel and ice skating rink are mentioned. What about for the week of March 20th?

    • Hi Doug,

      Thanks for reaching out! Yes, this article serves more as a insider guide to what the gardeners do behind the scenes at The Butchart Gardens. If you are looking for things to do at The Butchart Gardens specifically during the week March 20th, they have their special Spring Prelude Garden open at that time (it closes for the year on March 31), which is filled with an assortment of tropical and native plants, and provides a sneak peek of spring. If you’re looking for things to do in Victoria, check out our article on things to do in Victoria in March: http://www.clippervacations.com/magazine/victoria-things-to-do-this-march/ . Please let me know if you have any other questions or if there is anything else I can help with.

      Thanks,

      Brenna

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