Butchart Gardens: once a limestone quarry, today one of the most beautiful gardens in Canada

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Katerina Bulovska
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Butchart Gardens are located on the Saanich Peninsula, approximately 21 kilometers north of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. The fifty-five acres of a wonderful floral display are a famous public attraction that has been open to the public since 1904.

The gardens are an extraordinary combination of three features of Canadian gardening history. Various gardens, such as the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Italian Garden, and Jennie Butchart’s Private Garden, represent a characteristic early 20th-century estate garden.

The Sunken Garden recalls the early 20th-century beautification movement. The gardens’ floral displays are arranged by the Victorian bedding out system.

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, B.C. Canada

 

Pond in Butchart gardens, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Photo Credit

The history of the gardens started with Robert Pim Butchart, a pioneer in the thriving North American cement industry. In 1888, near his birthplace of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada, he started manufacturing Portland cement.

He had become highly successful and with his wife Jennie Butchart came to Vancouver Island, attracted by rich limestone deposits crucial for cement production. There, he built a new factory at Tod Inlet and they established their home there in 1994.

Dragon Fountain – Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia. Photo Credit

In 1909, as Mr. Butchart exhausted the limestone deposits, his wife Jennie made plans to transform the abandoned quarry into a beautiful flower garden. She started excavating lakes and brought tons of top soil up by horse and cart from the farmland nearby. The former limestone quarry has been transformed into the spectacular Sunken Garden, which was completed in 1921.

Mr. Butchart was very enthusiastic about his wife’s exceptional work. He contributed by collecting ornamental birds from around the world. He placed elaborate birdhouses around the gardens and kept noisy peacocks on the front lawn and ducks in the Star Pond, a water feature shaped like a twelve-pointed star with a frog fountain in its center. In the main house, he kept a parrot. His hobbies included training pigeons at the site of the present Begonia Bower.

The Italian Garden. Photo Credit

Italian Garden. Photo Credit

 

Japanese Garden Photo Credit

In 1906, Mrs. Butchart commissioned Japanese landscape designer Isaburo Kishida to create a Japanese Garden on the side of their home overlooking the sea. The peaceful garden is one of the oldest areas of the estate. It includes ponds, bamboo, shrubs, and moss-covered ground. A lot of the original plantings still grow today. Among them are the Japanese maples, Tibetan blue poppies, and variegated dogwoods.

Later the Butcharts created an Italian Garden on the location of their former tennis court, and they substituted the kitchen vegetable patch with a beautiful Rose Garden, which includes beds of hybrid tea roses, rose arches, and boxwood hedges.

The Ross Fountain Photo Credit

By the 1920s more than 50,000 people came every year to admire Mrs. Butchart’s beautiful gardens. The Butcharts were very hospitable and named their estate “Benvenuto,” meaning “Welcome” in Italian. The only reminder that there was one a cement factory on the location of the gardens is the tall chimney that can be seen from The Sunken Garden Lookout.

 

Butchart Gardens Photo Credit

In 1939, the couple’s grandson Ian Ross inherited the Gardens on his 21st birthday. He transformed them into an internationally famous destination. Since 2001, the owner and managing director of the gardens has been Butcharts’ great-granddaughter, Robin-Lee Clarke. Over a million people visit each year, enjoying the flower beds, ponds, fountains, statuary, shrubbery, and arbors. In 2004, the Butchart Gardens was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.