An exhausted limestone quarry, transformed over 120 years into a lush Eden-like paradise, is now an iconic destination on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The floral wonderland of The Butchart Gardens became a National Historic Site of Canada on its 100th birthday in 2004.
When I visited the West Coast of Canada in late summer, two destinations were on my must-see list. The world-famous The Butchart Gardens and Tea at the Empress Hotel. The Fairmont Empress, Canada’s Castle on the Coast, is an award-winning British Columbia hotel and National Historic Site overlooking the Inner Harbor.
While I could have experienced both The Gardens and The Empress Tea in one day, I am glad I decided to savor each of them on a separate day.
History of The Butchart Gardens
Jennie Butchart, wife of cement tycoon Robert Butchart, visualized an impressive garden in place of the depleted limestone deposits from her husband’s cement plant in Brentwood Bay, which started in 1904. Beginning in 1912 with a horse and cart, Jennie transferred topsoil into the quarry, and so The Butchart Gardens began.
The Butchart Family and Legacy
Robert and Jennie Butchart were the original owners of The Butchart Gardens.
The Butcharts expanded The Gardens between 1906 and 1929, adding the brimming Rose Garden, the seaside Japanese Garden, and the Italian Garden took over their tennis court.
On his 21st birthday in 1939, Grandson Ian Ross received The Gardens as a gift. He added outdoor concerts (I enjoyed being in the audience last August), summer night illuminations, and the Magic of Christmas in the winter.
Great-grandson Christopher started production of a choreographed fireworks show in 1977 that continues today. The fireworks show is the best I’ve ever seen.
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The current owner of The Gardens is Robin-Lee Clark, the great-granddaughter of Jennie and Robert. She added the Rose Carousel and the Children’s Pavilion.
On September 9th, 2004, to mark The Butchart Gardens’ 100th birthday and to show respect for the essential traditions and legacy of Indigenous Peoples, two Totem Poles were revealed. These poles were made in the classic Coast Salish style by master artists Charles Elliott from the Tsartlip Nation and Doug La Fortune of the Tsawout Band.
Today, the gardens are a riot of colors and fragrances, boasting over 900 plant varieties that bloom throughout the year. Fifty-five acres (22 hectares) of property are open for public viewing. The overall size is 135 acres.
What is special about Butchart Gardens?
The transformation of a limestone quarry into a sunken garden of massive proportions and dramatic aesthetic qualities represents an exceptional creative achievement. The family legacy that earned a National Historic Site of Canada designation continues to mature and evolve as they share the splendor with the public.
Mother Nature, with help from the Butchart family, created a beautiful garden canvas that is a horticultural masterpiece featuring several distinct gardens.
The Mediterranean Garden
This garden showcases plants from the Mediterranean region. It includes olive and fig trees, lavender, rosemary, and other aromatic herbs. This garden demonstrates the mild growing climate of Vancouver Island.
The Mediterranean Garden is closest to the parking lot. While you could stop at this garden last, we chose to stop here first and saw an incredible number of bees diligently pollinating the blossoms.
Before rounding the curve to the lookout, the path leads through countless blooming trees and plants like my favorite fuschia with purple blossoms.
The Sunken Garden
A switchback staircase provides access to the legendary Sunken Garden. At the bottom of the stairs, take either path that wanders through beds of vibrant annuals, flowering bushes, and trees extending to the quarry’s walls.
Quarry Lake lies in a deep pocket of limestone in the Sunken Garden.
At the far end of the Sunken Garden is the Ross Fountain, created and installed in 1964 by Ian Ross to celebrate the Garden’s 60th Anniversary.
The Ross Fountain changes its water pattern every few minutes.
She Buys Travel Tip: Some pathways at The Butchart Gardens are narrow and steep. Alternate routes suitable for wheelchairs and scooters are noted with signage along the paths.
The Rose Garden
The Rose Garden is a paradise for rose lovers. It boasts over 2,500 roses of different varieties, colors, and fragrances. Many rose bushes are labeled with their name, country of origin, and year they were registered with the American Rose Society.
The best time to visit this garden is in the summer when the roses are in full bloom.
The Japanese Garden
A Torii gate marks the entrance to the Japanese Garden. This non-traditional garden began in 1906 with the help of the Japanese landscaping expert, Isaburo Kishida.
The Japanese Garden features a tea house, a serene pond filled with Koi fish, and a collection of Japanese maples, azaleas, and cherry trees. The garden is particularly stunning in the fall when the leaves change color.
The Italian Garden
The Italian Garden, inspired by Italian Renaissance gardens, hosts a bronze statue of Mercury at the two arched entrances and is the perfect backdrop for a selfie.
Vivid, multi-colored flower beds frame the cross-shaped pond. Before 1926, this area was Butchart’s tennis court. The long building alongside the pond used to be a two-lane bowling alley.
The Star Pond was initially designed for Mr. Butchart’s ornamental duck collection.
Fast Facts About Butchart Gardens
Once you visit The Butchart Gardens, I’m sure you’ll have questions about the operation, like I did. Here’s what I learned. (Source: The Butchart Gardens)
- Over a million visitors tour The Butchart Gardens every year
- Over 600 staff work at The Gardens during the peak season
- During the off-season, 290 staffers work the property
- There are 50 full-time gardeners (I didn’t see any tending while I was there.)
- 20 seasonal gardeners work during the growing season (I didn’t see any of them on this visit, either.)
- There are 26 greenhouses
- There are 900 bedding plant varieties
Are you struggling to pronounce the name? They tell us it sounds like butch-art, with butch as in Butch Cassidy.
Awards and Accolades
(Source: The Butchart Gardens)
When you see The Butchart Gardens for yourself, you will understand why they have earned all these awards and accolades.
Even the trash receptacles boast living flora!
Dining Room Restaurant Awards
Diners’ Choice Award
100 Most Scenic Restaurants in Canada
Most Romantic Restaurants in Canada
Best Outdoor Dining in Canada
Top 100 Restaurants in Canada
Top 100 Best Outdoor Dining in Canada
The World Federation of Rose Societies
Award of Excellence – 2018
Top 10 Travelling Experiences in the World in 2018
Certificate of Excellence Hall of Fame
Reader Choice, ’10 Best’ Attractions in Canada
Northwest Meetings and Events
Best Meeting/Event Venue
World Tulip Summit Society
World Tulip Garden of the Year, 2017
Reader’s Choice Award for Best Attraction
Top 10 Magnificent Gardens
World’s Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens
The Best Time to Go to Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens is beautiful all year round, but the best time to visit depends on what you want to see. If you love flowers in full bloom, spring and summer are the best times to go.
The spring season from April to May is when the tulips and daffodils bloom, while the summer season from June to August is when the roses, perennials, and annuals peak.
The fall season offers an incredible display of autumn colors from September to November.
The winter season, particularly December, is also a great time to visit as the gardens are adorned with Christmas lights, creating a magical atmosphere.
How Much Time Should I Spend at Butchart Gardens?
Allow three to four hours to enjoy The Butchart Gardens fully. There are lots of places to rest and refresh.
Plan to be there through the evening if you are staying for performances on the lawn or the fireworks show.
Concerts at The Butchart Gardens’ open-air stage on the lawn offer entertainment for the whole family. When we were there, the musicians played some of our favorite songs, and kids and grownups were dancing in the “aisles.” We shared a bench with residents and season pass holders and got to know the “locals.”
Fireworks light up the night sky on Saturday evenings in July and August. Get there early to reserve your blanket space. Or bring a lawn chair for seating near the back. A designated and reserved seating section for those with wheelchairs or accessible needs offers prime viewing.
Dining at The Butchart Gardens
The Dining Room
The original Butchart family residence is now The Dining Room. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Holiday High Tea is served during the Christmas holidays.
You must pay admission to The Butchart Gardens to access The Dining Room.
The Blue Poppy Restaurant
The former greenhouse is now the Blue Poppy Restaurant, which is a large, atrium-style restaurant. Open seating and casual fare are the setting for this seasonal eatery.
The Coffee Shop
The Coffee Shop offers specialty beverages like my favorite, Salted Caramel Mocha. Other hot and cold drinks, pastries and desserts, hot dogs, sandwiches, soup and chili, and salads make this an excellent year-round dining option.
We topped off our Italian Garden experience with house-made gelato. Served in a giant waffle cone, this treat was a meal in itself. The gelato features locally sourced ingredients.
Unfortunately, the Gelateria is closed during the winter season.
You can buy tickets online or at the gate.
She Buys Travel Tip: Tickets purchased online are non-refundable and do not expire. You can use the value towards the price of admission at any time. If you choose to buy online tickets, they are valid for entry during operating hours.
The Butchart Gardens is open year-round, but the hours vary by season and are on their website. Winter closure is in late January for two weeks.
How To Get To Butchart Gardens
We took BC Ferries, the car and passenger ferry from Tsawwassen (near Vancouver) to Swartz Bay. While they have several sailings per day, only early morning departures were available because of a holiday. It takes one hour and 35 minutes to make the non-stop crossing. Riding the ferry is a wonderful way to cruise the islands when the weather is good. Food and beverages are served during the sailing, and a gift shop offers everything from maps to souvenirs.
The Gardens are 14 miles from downtown Victoria. Take the BC-17 highway north towards Sidney and take the exit towards Keating Cross Road. From Keating Cross Road, turn right onto Benvenuto Avenue, and The Gardens are on the left.
At the vehicle entrance, lanes are marked for Tour Traffic & RV Parking, Transit (bus), Taxi, and a Pick up & Drop Off island. The parking lot is well-marked with animal signs so you can remember where you parked.
If you’re using public transportation, it will take about an hour by BC Transit bus service (Route 75) from downtown Victoria to Butchart Gardens.
For those coming from further afield, the closest airport is Victoria International Airport by Sidney. You can take a taxi, rent a car, or use a shuttle service for the 15-minute drive to the gardens.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is about two and a half hours by car from Tsawwassen, the route we took on our road trip. Add the ferry ride, and you are looking at more than half a day to get to The Butchart Gardens. It’s worth the effort, but it requires a couple of days. The Butchart Gardens is not an experience to rush through.
Tea at the Empress Hotel
When I was in Victoria in late summer, I enjoyed traditional English afternoon tea at the Canadian Fairmont Empress. I took tea in the afternoon, not High Tea, which is served from 5 to 7 pm.
Sometimes, people think having tea is a “girl’s” thing to do. However, I saw many men enjoying the sumptuous sandwiches and pastries and The Empress’ wide selection of teas. The service was impeccable.
Tours of Victoria and The Butchart Gardens
If you are short on time on Vancouver Island, a couple of TripAdvisor tours of Victoria and The Butchart Gardens provide an overview.
A private half-day tour includes the downtown Victoria sites of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Empress Hotel with a view of the Inner Harbour, Beacon Hill Park, Chinatown (and famous Fan Tan Alley), and Craigdarroch Castle. A two-hour visit to The Butchart Gardens will give you a taste of Vancouver Island’s biggest attraction.
A day trip from Vancouver gives you a full day of sightseeing, including the ferry ride from Tsawwassen Bay, a 90-minute stop at The Butchart Gardens, and short stops at Victoria landmarks.
Visiting Butchart Gardens is a must for nature lovers and gardening enthusiasts, as each garden offers a unique experience. The beauty is unparalleled as you’ll see on your Butchart Gardens tour.
800 Benvenuto Ave
Brentwood Bay, BC, Canada