15 July 2017

Victoria, BC: The Butchart Gardens

Back in 1904, with the North American cement industry thriving, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved from their home in Ontario to the west coast for its rich limestone deposits. There, they developed a quarry in order to facilitate the demand for Portland cement. Near their quarry and cement plant, they also established their home. These were the foundations of what is now known as the Butchart Gardens, a National Historic Site of Canada.

Getting to the Butchart Gardens from downtown Victoria was unbelievably easy when you compare it to Seattle's popular tourist spots. Although we have the link rail and metro/community transit, more often than not the really cool sights take 2-3 transfers and a whole lot of waiting. We took a bus across from our hotel that got us directly to the gardens in 40 minutes! We also found out that they hold fireworks every Saturday during the summer, so we opted to stay later than planned. Fun and impromptu as it was we were severely unprepared, but more on that later.
Wanting to experience every inch of the Gardens during our short trip, we set about our course! A few gardens later we actually flipped through our free pamphlet and saw that it had the best viewing order outlined already (lol...). Luckily we were all on the same page!
 We first went to the Sunken Gardens, which was absolutely breathtaking!
That very same quarry pit I mentioned earlier, abandoned and exhausted of all its limestone deposits, was eventually lined with local top soil and became the beautiful Sunken Gardens, pictured above. Jennie Butchart was dedicated in turning the pit into something beautiful, and eventually she began opening up their home to visitors, friends and strangers alike. She didn't stop here, though, as we soon discovered.
Surrounded by tourists from different countries and languages is always an incredible experience -- the world is so vast, full of so many different ways people can be brought to the same place. This can be said of any popular destination spot, but it's fun to think about nonetheless. 
The lantanas were Daniel's favorites -- he said they reminded him of tiny fireworks.
My first time seeing zinnias! So colorful!
From 1906 to 1929, Jennie Butchart added the Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, and Italian Garden to their property. We made our way to the Rose Garden, formerly the Butchart's vegetable garden, which was designed by Seattle-based architect Butler Sturtevant in 1929. 
Much of the garden reflected the aesthetic of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, which consultant to the gardens, Samuel Maclure, was known for. When I imagine English gardens or cottages, I think of the gardens made in this style.
There were so many arbors in this garden!!! Everything was so pretty here, but it was insanely crowded. Peak season for the gardens is July and August, when everything is in full bloom -- and we were in the thick of it.
While Jennie Butchart collected plants, Robert Butchart collected statues and ornamental birds. This one in particular is the Fountain of the Three Sturgeons, purchased by their grandson, Ian Ross, in 1973. Ian Ross was given the gardens for his 21st birthday (wow!), and after his service in WWII he devoted 50 long years to its development and operation, transforming it into the self-sustaining tourist destination it is today. Later on, he and his wife Ann-Lee produced and choreographed summer shows with their children, as well as holiday-themed events, like the Magic of Christmas. Their son Christopher took over production in 1977, adding on the intricate fireworks show we saw that night.
Next we headed to the Japanese Garden, designed by world-renowned Japanese landscaper Isaburo Kishida.

What I liked most about this garden was that it was very quiet compared to the other areas. Wth the way the long, winding paths led you to an enclosed space surrounded by trees, you could only hear the soft murmuring of other visitors, the water running, and the trees rustling gently. While not very authentic (as with most Asian-inspired works of art back in the day), it gave me a sense of calm compared to the hustle and bustle of tourists elsewhere.
There was a tiny window where you could catch a glimpse of the Tod Inlet on the other side. Apparently those boats take passengers on a trip to what's left of the old cement factory, though I only found out long after we had come back home.
The Italian Garden, built over their former tennis court, also had a gelato shop! Since we ate ice cream already we had to resist, though, but it was pretty difficult. Everyone had ice cream... so we worked really hard. haha!
There was a restaurant up here, but daylight was running out -- so we pressed onwards
I think this would've made a lovely witch's balcony - a certain witch named Kiki, perhaps? :)
There's a cafe near the entrance of the gardens, so we went back to buy some sandwiches and hot cocoa for the fireworks. By then the temperature was dropping rapidly -- and we were without any coats or blankets. We were wholly unprepared, watching everyone on the viewing hill bundle up for the strong night winds, so we sat shivering in the dark trying to use my skirt as a blanket! 

The fireworks were gorgeous under the summer night sky. I always try to capture fireworks with my camera, but the photos never turn out how they really look. I think it's just one of those things that are most beautiful in the moment, like sunsets. The depth of the sky and sea and the sense of wonder they bring are always just out of my camera's reach... 

What stayed with me the most were the flickering firelights that spelled out "Good night, Christy" at the end of the show. We had a few theories on our way home, but ultimately the connotation of an address and a farewell implied someone who's no longer with us. After doing some research, I found out that "Christy" was the very same Christopher, son of Ian and Ann-Lee Ross, who designed, produced, and executed the fireworks shows of Butchart Gardens. That salute to him began in 2000, when he passed away, and has been seen by every fireworks viewer every Saturday in summer since. I found it a beautiful way to be remembered by, illuminated by the very work he dedicated himself to bettering with each passing year. The gardens are now owned by his sister Robin, keeping the Butchart Gardens within their family of gardeners for over 100 years.

What a marvelous garden Jennie Butchart created. That her family, for generations, devoted their life's work into making the gardens better and better is a testament to their passion for the arts and nature. I would love to come back in the winter to see the Magic of Christmas, with the garden lit up like multi-colored stars -- and an ice skating rink too!

We finally made it back to our hotel after a stressful bus ride... we didn't even change out of our day clothes before passing out lol! 

Thanks for reading!

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