Located 20 km NW of Victoria in Brentwood Bay, BC, the Butchart Gardens is a stunning group of floral displays spread over 55 acres maintained by a staff that includes 50 full time gardeners. Over a million visitors wander through Butchart each year. The gardens which are still privately owned by the Butchart family, have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada since 2004.
Robert Butchart began manufacturing portland cement in 1888 near Owen Sound, Ontario, where he was born. He and his wife Jennie came to the west coast of Canada because of rich limestone deposits necessary for cement production. In 1904, they established their home near his quarry on Tod Inlet at the base of the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island.
In 1909, when the limestone quarry was exhausted, Jennie set about turning it into the Sunken Garden, which was completed in 1921. In 1926, they replaced their tennis courts with an Italian garden and in 1929 they replaced their kitchen vegetable garden with a large rose garden to the design of Butler Sturtevant of Seattle. In 1939, the Butcharts gave The Gardens to their grandson Ian Ross on his 21st birthday. Ross was involved in the operation and promotion of the gardens until his death 58 years later. In 1953, miles of underground wiring were laid to provide night illumination, to mark the 50th anniversary of The Gardens. In 1964, the Ross Fountain was installed in the lower reservoir to celebrate the 60th anniversary. In 1994, the Canadian Heraldic Authority granted a coat of arms to the Butchart Gardens. In 2004, two 30-foot totem poles were installed to mark the 100th anniversary, and The Gardens were designated as a national historic site. Ownership of The Gardens remains within the Butchart family; the owner and managing director since 2001 is the Butcharts’ great-granddaughter Robin-Lee Clarke.
Scattered throughout the mesmerizing flora, The Gardens also have several interesting statues on display. One, of a wild boar, purchased on a Mediterranean trip in 1973, was cast in Florence by Ferdinando Marinelli Artistic Foundry, a replica of a 1620 bronze cast by Pietro Tacca. It is called “Tacca” in honor of the sculptor and, just as the original’s, its snout is shiny from the many visitors rubbing it for luck. Another, nearby in front of the residence, of a donkey and foal is by Sirio Tofanari. A fountain statue of three sturgeon, also by Tofanari, is installed near the Japanese garden. In 1993, “Circle of Doves”, which Ann-Lee Ross gave her husband Ian in 1991 to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary, was installed in front of the begonia bower.
In the summer of 2008, The Gardens introduced the Jennie B, an electrically driven 12-passenger boat, which plies the local coastlines in the summer giving visitors an appreciation of the waterside history plus coastal aquatic plants and animals.
In December 2009, the Children’s Pavilion and Rose Carousel were opened. The Rose Carousel, crafted by Brass Ring Entertainment of Sun Valley, California is the only carousel on Vancouver Island. The menagerie includes thirty animals ranging from bears, to horses, to ostriches, to zebras, to cats and mirrors the world from which The Gardens draws its visitors. The designs were hand-picked by Robin Clarke, The Gardens’ owner and great-granddaughter of Jennie Butchart, in consultation with an artist from North Carolina. The carvings were done by some of the few remaining carvers of carousel art. Each animal is carved from basswood and took many months to complete. There are also two chariots able to accommodate disabled persons. I along with the friends I visited with, took great joy in letting out the child that still lives within us at this carousel for a mere 2 bucks!
Before you visit
I recommend planning for a 3-4 hour visit to be able to take in the entire garden in all its glory. If you intend to have a meal here, you may want to account for more time (although I personally did not think much of the food options available at The Gardens).
The garden is open year-round, and besides December and January I would recommend a visit anytime of the year. The peak months at Butchart are July and August, when The Gardens are abuzz with summer vacationers.
To ensure a pleasant experience for all, Butchart has published a Garden Etiquette guide. I would recommend a quick glance (especially for the unruly amongst us) prior to visiting The Gardens.
How to get there
Butchart is located 20 to 30 minutes’ drive away from Downtown Victoria, Victoria Harbor, Swartz Bay Terminal or the Victoria International Airport. If you have a set of wheels during your stay in Victoria, a quick search on Google Maps should be all you need to get going.
If you chose public transit, The Gardens are a 45-minute ride on the Number 75 from Downtown Victoria. If starting at the airport, take the Number 87 or 88 to McTavish Exchange from where you can take the Number 81 to Butchart. The total trip should take you just over an hour. All day passes for public transit can be purchased for $5. Visit the Victoria Regional Transit System website for more information.
One also has the option of taking a boat or a float plane to Butchart, but I’m not going to discuss that in detail here. The official Butchart Gardens website provides more information on these options.
Who to go with
If you prefer not to go it alone, there are several organized tour companies that will take you to Butchart. A quick online search will provide you with several companies to choose from; here are some of the most popular options.
- Gray Line Westcoast Sightseeing: https://westcoastsightseeing.com/guided_tours/victoria-butchart-gardens-tour/
- Landsea Tours and Adventures: https://vancouvertours.com/tour/victoria-tour/
- Clipper Vacations: https://www.clippervacations.com/victoria-packages/seattle-victoria-overnight-butchart-gardens/
- CVS Tours: https://www.cvstours.com/sightseeing-tours/butchart-gardens/
Let’s talk numbers
There are several special events and activities that take place throughout the year at Butchart. Shown below are the ticket rates for standard admission as of September 2019.
- Adults (18+): $ 33.80
- Youth (13-17): $ 16.90
- Child (5-12): $ 3.00
Prices shown are in Canadian Dollars and do not include taxes. Discounted rates are available for groups of 25 or more.
Butchart Gardens is definitely a must see during any visit to Victoria. My personal favorites were the Sunken Garden, the Ross Fountain and the Japanese Garden (albeit there was a lot of exposed wiring for the lights there which drastically reduced the beauty). Butchart is a horticulturist’s paradise and a sight to behold for any layman like myself and a perfect way to spend a beautiful summer afternoon in Victoria.
Take time to smell the roses!
Here’s who helped
While I ONLY write about places that I have visited, I get more information on these places from others, both for my edification and yours. Here are the online resources I used to write this post.
- Canada’s Historic Places – “Butchart Gardens National Historic Site of Canada”: https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=7821&pid=0
- The Garden Guide – “Butchart Gardens”: https://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens/butchart_gardens
- The Butchart Gardens: https://www.butchartgardens.com/