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The Butchart Gardens

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by Gary Brown (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer and photographer from Sydney who has now had five books published on fishing. I also write for the NSW Fishing Monthly, Visit the Shire, Fisho App & Tackle Tactics. I also like to travel and experience new things to do.
Published November 28th 2014
The Butchart gardens came about because Jennie Butchart decided to make plans to create something of beauty from the massive limestone quarry that her husband Robert Pim Butchart, a pioneer in the thriving North American cement industry, developed in 1904.
This striking piece is near the visitors centre

He was attracted from Owen Sound, Ontario to Canada's West Coast by rich limestone deposits. Jennie Butchart became the company's chemist and they built close to the quarry where she established the family home complete with sweet peas and rose bushes. From the farmland nearby, she had tonnes of top soil brought in by horse and cart and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, the quarry blossomed into the spectacular Sunken Garden.
Once these plants have died they are then mulched and put back into the soil
More striking colours of the millions of bulbs

As Mr. Butchart exhausted limestone deposits, his enterprising wife between 1906 and 1929 created a Japanese Garden on the seaside, an Italian Garden on their former tennis court and a beautiful Rose Garden. Mr. Butchart not only helped, but took great pride in his wife's remarkable work. An enthusiastic hobbyist, he collected ornamental birds from all over the world. He kept ducks in the Star Pond, noisy peacocks on the front lawn and many elaborate birdhouses throughout the gardens.

The only surviving portion of the original cement factory is the tall chimney of a long vanished kiln still seen from the Sunken Garden lookout. The plant stopped manufacturing cement in 1916, but continued to make drain tiles and flower pots until 1950. Some of the original flowering cherry trees which extended from West Saanich Road to The Gardens' entrance may still be seen.

A few years ago, Leanne and I got the chance to take a three hour tour through the Butchart Gardens which is located on Vancouver Islands in Canada and we were totally blown away by the splendid beauty of the gardens and the extremely large variety of plants that were grown there. There would have to be hundreds, maybe thousands of different varieties of plants, trees, bushes, shrubs and annuals on the 55 acres.
The water in the Japanese gardens is recycled

In our garden at home I have 14 different camellias and eight different azaleas, plus a few more varieties of plants. Now I don't have a green thumb like my father and father-in-law did, but I do try to keep on top of the garden as much as I can and we prefer to plant things that will basically look after themselves.

The Butchart Gardens has millions of plants of some 900 varieties. I was reading that just before spring arrives the 50 odd gardener's plant close to 300,000 bulbs that will push forth from the cool darkness into the warmth of spring sunshine. Plus they are there year round looking after this magnificent garden

Even though what blew me away at first was the gardens itself, what blew me away even more was how environmentally friendly the garden were and the thought that has gone into recycling as much of the waste as they can.

The Butchart Gardens is in a sheltered valley with some protection from prevailing winds resulting in a Mediterranean-like climate with warm/dry summers and wet/cool winters. The valley also takes away some sunlight, causing frost to settle in the lowest pockets of the gardens in the winter. Snowfall, which occurs once or twice a year, usually lasts on the ground for a week or two.
The garden beds are replanted to suit the four seasons

To deal with these challenging growing conditions the gardeners' take special precautions. In summer with the droughts they irrigate the gardens to maintain healthy growing conditions. Their irrigation water supply is completely self-sufficient with a series of reservoirs and wells and they collect and store the millions of litres of rain water that run off the parking areas.

In the Sunken, Rose, Japanese, Italian and Mediterranean gardens, plus the Concert Lawn Walk the water from the many water features are recycled. There are tones and tones of recycled mulch that is used throughout the gardens to help conserve moisture and to reduce elevated soil temperatures in the summer.


They have an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program to help control pests in environmentally sound ways. This process involves the use of cultural, mechanical, biological and chemical controls to manage pest problems preventatively. One cultural control involves properly spacing plants to allow good airflow and sufficient light. Mechanical controls include hand weeding and the removal of plants which are chronically plagued by pest or disease problems.
No need for a water system in this gardens. The spacing of the plants do the work

Biological controls use natural enemies to control pests and diseases (e.g. Aphidoletes are used to control aphid populations). One product we have been using over the past few years has been a "compost tea". The tea has been very positive for helping to suppress plant disease as well as improving the health of our soils.

Other things the gardeners do to promote general plant health they have regular soil testing and amending of soils throughout the gardens and they have improved their irrigation systems for optimum distribution and they apply nematodes to their lawns to reduce the population of crane fly larvae.


With over a million visitors to the garden a year there is a lot of waste left onsite. So what they do to minimize this waste is have extensive recycling programs throughout The Gardens. In an average year they recycle approximately 29 metric tonnes of cardboard, 5 metric tonnes of glass, metal and paper, plus deposit 57,000 beverage containers.
The water is recycled throughout the gardens

The Arts department recycles all the metal and copper wiring and firework props. The use of low energy & LED fixtures in buildings is expanding and all incandescent light bulbs have all been replaced with compact florescent bulbs.

Food waste from all kitchens and coffee grounds from all restaurants is composted. All the plastic containers, wine, beer and soft drink bottles are collected and recycled. Wood flats are used instead of plastic flats. The majority of fertilizers used are organic based and wood waste, leaves and branches are ground for mulch or compost. There are also kilometres of drip irrigation being used.

Even the Gift Store is in on the environment act by using bags for visitors' purchases that are 100% biodegradable/degradable. The packing material (Styrofoam, paper, bubble wrap) received in shipments is reused and the cardboard, paper and plastic they receive with deliveries are separated and recycled. Aluminum foil, antifreeze, appliances, batteries and copier toner is sent away to be recycled.

With a garden of this size the maintenance is massive are all of the following materials are recycled: metals and leftover paint. Motion sensors and timers to reduce energy are used. The toilets are low flow, while the air conditioning and heating is controlled by EMCS (Energy Management Control System).
Plants are grown around and over recycled wire frames
Not quite sure what it is, but once again the plant was trained to grow over the wire shape

Radiant heating is used in the shops to provide more focused heating and an air distribution system is used to transfer heat as needed. Some of the greenhouses use a number of energy saving features such as floor heating. The Gift Store and Visitor Centre buildings use water from their irrigation system as a source of cooling.
Notice the plants growing over the abours in the back

Reusable cloth rags are used for cleaning and the water is diluted with vinegar and is used for most cleaning. Now as this is a dog friendly garden they also have biodegradable "Doggy Bags" are distributed free of charge.

If you ever do get the chance to visit Vancouver Island in Canada, make a point of going to the gardens and you too will be not only amazed at the gardens itself, but what actually goes on behind the scenes to keep the gardens going.
That lawn actually looks like my lawn at home

Best times and hours to visit the gardens.

Seasonal Rates.

Services & Accessibility.

Year round activities.


What plants can you find there?
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Where: 800 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, BC V8M 1J8, Canada
Your Comment
The Japanese Garden looks so tranquil.
by Bastion Harrison (score: 4|12643) 3125 days ago
very interesting thanks for the research into the history for this story,from Miss K
by Kat May (score: 3|1433) 3123 days ago
Yes Bryony I could have sat looking at the Japanese for ages.

I am glad you found the story interesting Kathleen
by Gary Brown (score: 2|514) 3122 days ago
There's a similar piece called 'Il Porcellino' (Wild Boar) located outside Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street, Sydney
by clewi (score: 0|2) 3117 days ago
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