Sunday, April 5, 2020

Butchart Gardens

by Anita Mae Draper

circa 1921, The Sunken Garden, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC 
Back in March 1992, I had a job opportunity to spend a week in Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. With my workday ending at 4:30 pm, I had time to explore the sights. One of my forays was to the renowned Butchart Gardens, a National Historic site of Canada located in nearby Brentwood Bay. The site of the Butchart Gardens is a depleted limestone quarry originally owned and run by Robert Butchart who, in 1904, had moved with his wife from Ontario to start a cement business on the island. By 1909, the limestone was exhausted and Robert abandoned the scarred pit, but not Benventuo, the home which he and Jennie had built on the site. 

Jennie Butchart at Benvenuto, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC
Jeannette Foster Kennedy was an adventurer who had flown in hot air balloons. She had graduated from Brantford Young Ladies' College and held a certificate in chemistry. She had won a scholarship to study art in Paris. Yet Jennie married for love and settled down with her cement manufacturer with an ugly pit for a view. Jennie was not a gardener, but it is said that one day as she stared at the ruined landscape of the scarred quarry, she envisioned it filled with a glorious array of color. 
March 1992, The Sunken Garden, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC
As someone who's lived in a Zone 1 or 2 gardening region most of my life, and an enriching five years in Zone 5, I was excited to see what was happening in Zone 8 in March, which was when I took my trip in 1992. This will explain why my photos show greenery, but not the glorious color that appears in many brochures and advertising ephemera that represents the Butchart Gardens. Regardless, the image above shows the fabulous Sunken Garden with two of the iconic Pyramidal Arborvitae, originally planted over 100 years ago. If you compare this image with the 1921 photograph at the top of this post, you will see how the conical trees were set on either side of the main path, exactly where they are today. (My image doesn't show the tree on the left of the path.)

Spring 1923, The Sunken Garden Quarry Walls, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

With the help of professional gardeners, Jennie tucked plants and seedlings in every opening and crevice along quarry walls so that what looked like the above photograph in the spring of 1923, appeared in March 1992 like this...

March 1992, The Sunken Garden Quarry Walls, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC
Jennie left a rocky mound in the middle of the pit area and added a stunning curved stone staircase which led up to a fabulous lookout of the Sunken Garden. 

1911-1912, The Sunken Garden Staircase, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC
Although there are images that show the mound in full splendor, I was pleased to see the staircase surrounded in muted foliage rising from a sea of green when I took this image in March 1992...

Spring 1992, The Sunken Garden Staircase, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

The Sunken Garden is only one of 5 gardens which make up the Butchart Gardens, the others being the Italian Garden, the Mediterranean Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Rose Garden. I loved the Japanese Garden and the peace I felt as I toured that part, but it was the Rose Garden which made me pause.

1923, Rose Garden, Benventuo, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

The Rose Garden was the only time I wished I had been able to tour the Gardens later in the year. Although I could visualize the trellises laden with heavy-scented boughs of roses, I missed the beauty of having them in my memory. Even yet, I dawdled as I walked beneath the arches, promising myself I'd return some day to face their emblazoned bloom. 

Spring 1992, Rose Arbor, Benventuo, Butchart Gardens Rose Garden, Victoria, BC
With fear and lock downs filling our current world, we need to think about how we will use our time when we finally have the liberty to walk free outside. I've started making a list of places I really want to see or revisit...not if I get a chance, but when I make the time. First on that list is to revisit the Butchart Gardens, this time with my husband and plant-loving daughter, unlike my solitary visit years ago. Beauty after the ugliness. That's how to brighten our world.  

Have you made a list for when you regain your liberty?


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at


  1. A wonderful post. I especially love seeing the early pictures and yours of the same portion of the garden. Our first trips post-shelter-in-place will be to visit family who live in SC, FL, NJ, MT, MN, and TN, then we want to go out West. We live in New Hampshire.

    1. That sounds like a lovely trip, Linda. Hopefully, you'll have time to "smell the roses" along the way. :)

      Thanks for dropping by.

  2. My only list item is to go visit my daughter and her family in New Hampshire. I don't usually go more than a month without seeing them and it's already been 2 months. But visiting gardens is a wonderful thing to do as well. Thanks for posting.

    1. You're welcome, Connie. I know it's hard not having the physical interaction with loved ones, but the reason we're doing it is to keep them safe, so it's bearable. That's what we must aim for. Good for you for buckling down for the long haul. Oh, what a blessed day when you can look down the road and say, "New Hampshire, here I come!"

  3. Hi! I'd like to know what the walkways around the Sunken Garden are made from? They look so perfectly flat and smooth, and the edges so straight that I don't think they can be large individual stone. Any thoughts?
    Martha in Pennsylvania

    1. Martha, I've checked my original photographs and most of the pathways look to be cement, with many of them flat quarry stones set in some type of cement. If you want a more definitive answer, perhaps you could contact the Butchart Gardens through their website.

      Thanks for checking out my post. Stay safe.