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More Than a Garden

Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.

Robert Kennedy

In this case, it was a woman…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Sunken Garden

Laurie and I recently spent a day at Butchart Gardens outside of Victoria, British Columbia. Visiting these gardens has been on her bucket list for many years. On mine, not so much.

I was wrong.

In the early 1900s Jennie Butchart looked into her backyard at the worked-out quarry that supplied limestone for her husband’s cement plant. In the center was a column of inferior quality limestone that stuck up from the surrounding hole like a stump. 

Others saw an ugly industrial pit.

Jennie Butchart saw a sunken garden. 

Using laborers from her husband’s plant and professional gardeners, she guided a transformation of the quarry into what is now called the sunken garden. Dirt hauled in by horse cart and ivy planted on the walls (in some cases by Jennie seated in a bosun’s chair) helped create an amazing garden populated by trees, streams, and flowers. A staircase leads to the top of the “stump” and a great view of the sunken gardens. 

From the sunken garden you can see a tall stack from a kiln, all that remains of the cement plant.

Over the decades the Butcharts added a Japanese, Italian, and Rose Garden. Their grandchildren added a concert green for music, fireworks displays, fountains, and a carousel for children—although Laurie had to take a turn too. And boat tours depart from Butchart Cove on the edge of the Japanese Garden. 

One thing that did surprise us was the lack of fish or frogs in the many water features throughout the gardens. We asked about this at the information desk. Turns out that people aren’t the only people who dine at the gardens. Local otters from nearby Tod Inlet have a taste for Butchart sushi. 

Half the fun of the gardens was people—and dog—watching. It’s an international crowd and we heard German, Spanish, Russian, French, Japanese, and a few others we couldn’t identify. The gardens are pretty wheelchair friendly and we saw more than a few making their way through the paths. 

There was a French speaking couple with two young girls that we encountered at the carousel. I wish that I had a picture of how the face of one of the daughters lit up when her father said something to her and she responded, “Oui.” Must have been about riding the carousel because they were both onboard a few minutes later. 

You can read more about the gardens, their history, and special events here. If you go, plan on spending some leisurely hours seeing the gardens and watching people. Prices at the coffee shops and restaurants are reasonable, especially if you remember they’re in Canadian dollars.

And silently thank Jennie Butchart for looking at an ugly pit and asking, “Why not.”

Trip Update: We are here as part of a two week trip to Victoria celebrating our 37th Wedding Anniversary. It was my year to plan this annual secret getaway. How secret it was is a subject for a future post.

1 thought on “More Than a Garden”

  1. That is a delight! I’ve seen it twice–once when I was five, with my grandma, and then a few years ago. Gorgeous, both times!

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