By Gerry Barker
Photos/Video by Gerry Barker
When our friends heard we were going on a cruise that included a stop at Victoria, British Columbia, they insisted we had to plan a visit to Butchart Gardens. As Nature lovers who have always been drawn to botanical gardens and waterfalls, it was an easy sell.
The stop there was part of a 10-night, Grand Puget Sound sailing on American Cruise Lines’ ship, American Constellation. One of the ports of call was Port Angeles, Washington, where we signed up for an excursion over to Victoria and a trip to Butchart Gardens.
To get there, we boarded the Coho Ferry, operated by Black Ball. The trip to Victoria takes about 90 minutes, and be sure you have your passport in hand. Once you arrive, you’ll have to clear Canadian customs, which took us around 30 minutes. From downtown Victoria, it was another 30 minutes or so to the gardens, which is located in Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island.
The weather was absolutely glorious for our visit — bright, sunny and unseasonably warm for the time of year (May) due to a “heat dome” which had settled over the Northwest region. The gardens, designated a National Historic Site of Canada, attract over a million visitors a year, and once you enter, it’s easy to see why.
Looking around, it’s hard to believe this was once the site of a rock quarry, which provided the materials that Robert Butchart needed for his Portland cement. It was after the quarry was exhausted that his wife, Jennie, began the work of turning it into a garden over the years 1909-1921. Over time, under the family’s ownership, it was expanded and new features added.
Since we only had a few hours to take it all in, we embarked, map in hand, to see the crown jewel of Butchart — the Sunken Gardens. Located on five acres, it took nine years to build and contains 151 flower beds that house 65,000 bulbs, all of which were in magnificent bloom on our visit. Standing at an overlook, you are gazing on a surreally beautiful vista of flowers, trees and pathways, representing spring in all its glory.
The Sunken Garden also features the popular Ross Fountain, with its multi-patterns of water. It truly is sensory overload, and you find yourself taking one photo after another, hoping you can capture and share the beauty after you leave.
After a walk around the Sunken Gardens, we follow the map and the signs to the Rose Garden, with 280 rose varieties, 2,500 plants and 30 arches. Unfortunately, at this time year the roses have not yet made an appearance, so we just have to imagine their splendor.
Next we head toward the Japanese Garden, where landscaping and serenity combine to give the visitor that feeling of Zen. Here, according to Butchart, are 74 Japanese maples, 500 azaleas and rhododendrons and over 650 feet of flowing streams.
Even though the gardens are crowded with lots of tourists, all taking multiple selfies, you can still find a few quiet spots to reflect on the beauty all around you. Still, the clock is ticking, and there’s much more to see, so next on our map is the Italian Garden, which originally served as a tennis court.
We walk by the Star Pond and find the Italian Garden situated behind a wall of green. It has the ambience of a Italian villa, with its 18 flower beds and central pond are ablaze with purple flowers and multi-colored tulips. There’s also a place to get gelato and ice cream — not a bad idea on this hot, spring day.
Since our excursion includes lunch vouchers, our next stop is the Coffee Shop, near the main entrance. The gardens also have two sit-down restaurants, the Blue Poppy, and the Dining Room Restaurant.
After lunch, we still have a little time left, so we take a look at the Rose Carousel, with its 30 hand-carved rides, the fireworks viewing area and a totem pole that marked the gardens’ 100th anniversary. There are seasonal events throughout the year, including what we hear is an amazing celebration of Christmas.
We have just enough time left for Pam to visit the Gift Shop before we board the bus to catch the ferry back to Port Angeles, where we’ll continue our journey on American Constellation.
Our friends gave us good advice. Butchart Gardens is definitely a “must see.”
Thanks to American Cruise Lines for hosting us.