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Vancouver Island's Butchart Gardens

Michael Weishan recently toured the renowned Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, with garden representative David Clarke, taking in the spectacular array of horticultural achievements begun 100 years ago and still carefully nurtured today.

Butchart Gardens
The Butchart Gardens occupies 55 lush acres of Canada's Vancouver Island.

The Gardens

Fifty-five acres of wonderful floral display are open to the public, offering spectacular views from the many paths that meander through the four main gardens. In 1904, Jennie Butchart began to beautify a worked-out quarry site left behind from her husband's pioneering efforts in the manufacture of Portland cement. The family's commitment to horticulture and hospitality spans almost 100 years, and continues to delight visitors from all over the world. From the exquisite Sunken Garden to the harmonious Japanese Garden to the glorious Rose Garden, the gracious traditions of the past are still maintained in one of the loveliest corners in the world.

Pool and Wall
The extensive staff work year-round to keep the gardens in constant bloom.

Today, in a series of year-round replantings throughout the Gardens, a full-time staff of 50 gardeners uses over 1 million bedding plants in some 700 varieties to ensure uninterrupted bloom from March through October. (See the Gardens' botanical calendar.)


In 1888, near his birthplace of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada, Robert Pim Butchart, a former dry-goods merchant, began manufacturing Portland cement. By the turn of the century he had become a highly successful pioneer in this burgeoning North American industry. Attracted to the West Coast of Canada by rich limestone deposits vital for cement production, he built a new factory at Tod Inlet, on Vancouver Island. There, in 1904, he and his family established their home.

As Mr. Butchart exhausted the limestone in the quarry near their house, his enterprising wife, Jennie, conceived an unprecedented plan for refurbishing the bleak pit that resulted. From farmland nearby she requisitioned tons of top soil, had it brought to Tod Inlet by horse and cart, and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, under Jennie Butchart's personal supervision, the abandoned quarry bloomed as the spectacular Sunken Garden.

Butchart Gardens
Begun in 1905, the tranquil Japanese Garden is one of the oldest areas of the estate.

Mr. Butchart took much pride in his wife's remarkable work. A great hobbyist, he collected ornamental birds from all over the world. He kept ducks in the Star Pond, noisy peacocks on the front lawn, and a curmudgeon of a parrot in the main house. He enjoyed training pigeons at the site of the present Begonia Bower, and had many elaborate bird houses stationed throughout Mrs. Butchart's beautiful gardens. In 1905, reflecting their world travels, the Butcharts began to create a Japanese Garden on the sea side of their home, with the help of a Japanese landscape designer. This peaceful sanctum survives today as one of the oldest areas of the estate, with many of the original plantings still thriving, including Japanese maples, variegated dogwoods and Tibetan blue poppies. Later the Butcharts created an Italian Garden on the site of their former tennis court, and a fine Rose Garden replaced the couple's large kitchen vegetable patch in 1929.

The House

The renown of Mrs. Butchart's gardening quickly spread. By the 1920s more than 50,000 people came each year to see her creation. In a gesture toward all their visitors, the hospitable Butcharts christened their estate "Benvenuto," the Italian word for "Welcome".

Their house grew into a comfortable, luxurious showplace, with a bowling alley, indoor salt-water swimming pool, paneled billiard room and — a wonder of its age — a self-playing Aeolian pipe organ. Today the residence contains the Dining Room Restaurant, offices, and rooms still used for family entertaining.

Pool and Wall
The Butchart's exhausted limestone quarry was a grim pit prior to its reincarnation as a garden.

The only surviving portion of Mr. Butchart's Tod Inlet cement factory is the tall chimney of a long-vanished kiln. The chimney may be seen from The Sunken Garden Lookout. The plant stopped manufacturing cement in 1916, but continued to make tiles and flower pots as late as 1950. The single chimney now overlooks the quarry Mrs. Butchart so miraculously reclaimed.

The Butchart Gardens remains a family business and has grown to become a premier West Coast display garden, while maintaining the gracious traditions of the past. Today Butchart Gardens have established an international reputation for their year-round display of flowering plants. Well over a million people visit each year, enjoying not only the floral beauty, but the entertainment and lighting displays presented each summer and Christmas.

trowel icon For more information, visit the Butchart Gardens online at

This segment appears in show #2813.

Informational material on the gardens supplied courtesy of the Butchart Gardens.

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Published August 31, 2007