By Judy Rickard
Author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011
If you love flowers and garden scenes, you must get yourself to Vancouver Island, British Columbia and see The Butchart Gardens. This treasure, named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2004, treated us to a wonderful, time on a sunny day as we left Salt Spring Island and The Love Shack and began our trek across Canada in May, 2009.
I had been to the gardens as a kid, more than 50 years ago. Karin had never been. Over the years since I had been there, the family and complement of workers had expanded and transformed the place into much more than I remembered. It’s a flower and garden paradise and well worth the trip.
The Butchart (pronounced butch-art, as in Butch!) Gardens began in 1904. I saw them with my folks and sister in the 1960’s. I remember lots of grass and some rose bushes, but it was probably more spectacular at that time than I recall. Karin was mesmerized and I was very glad we were there at a good time of year and on a sunny day.
To get there, go to 800 Benvenuto Avenue in Brentwood Bay, Vancouver Island, 14 miles north of Victoria and 12.5 miles south of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry terminal at Swartz Bay.
Benvenuto is the name given to the home of the original owners, Jennie and Robert Pim Butchart. The site is owned today by Robin Clarke, their great grand daughter.
Karin and I were two of the nearly 1 million visitors who go there each year. Wow! The 55 acres of privately owned gardens open to the public are part of 135 acres of private land. Fifty full time gardeners keep it looking smashing and a dozen part time gardeners help out. Total staff for all functions is 550 during peak season, with a reduced crew of 290 during off peak season. To keep things going, 26 greenhouses, covering an acre of land, are employed for growing and seeding and protection during harsh weather.
We walked around for hours – really hours – and saw all that we wanted to see. We took hundreds of photos and kept remarking that such and such looked better than what we had just photographed. It wasn’t too crowded the day we were there, so it was easier to take photos than it would have been on a really crowded day.
There are nice places to eat, snack spots and picnic places, so any visitor can be accommodated. Of course there are things to buy, too. We got cards and seeds and some other souvenirs before we left. We were not able to do something then that you can do today – go into the Children’s Pavilion or ride the Rose Carousel, which opened December 1, 2009.
Crafted by Brass Ring Entertainment of Sun Valley, California, the Rose Carousel is the only one on Vancouver Island. The menagerie includes 30 animals – including bears, horses, ostriches, zebras and cats. It mirrors the world from which The Butchart Gardens draws its visitors. The designs were hand picked by Robin Clarke, in consultation with an artist from North Carolina. The carvings were done by some of the few remaining carvers of carousel art. Each animal, carved from basswood, took many months to complete. There are also two chariots able to accommodate disabled persons. I haven’t told Karin this, but when we can travel outside the U.S. and feel safe about returning, I want to return to The Butchart Gardens and ride the Rose Carousel.
It is housed within the 7,534 sq. ft. Children’s Pavilion, which has a 75 ft. clear span dome, a full-fronted glass façade and a roof planted with native plant species. The pavilion also has an event room for children’s birthday parties or other kids’ events.
The Butchart Gardens keep growing and improving, so one visit is not enough, I think. I know I hope to return. I recommend it.
If you want to plan a trip in advance, a helpful Web site is there for you at:
What you really want to see are the flowers and greenery, so take a look at the slide show here and reminisce if you’ve already been there, or start planning your trip to this amazing garden, created on quarry land by a Portland cement manufacturer’s wife and kept alive by her descendents.
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