Vancouver Island’s Classic Butchart Gardens

September 19, 2019



Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

Let’s say that your family’s limestone quarry, begun in 1904 north of Victoria on Canada’s Vancouver Island in British Columbia, is exhausting its potential for producing lime from Triassic ocean deposits, used in making Portland cement. You decide that the barren pit — just beyond your back yard and nestled above Tod Inlet on the island’s southern Saanich Peninsula — has grand potential: with added soil, and a good deal of imagination and care, it might be a fantastic spot for a lush, formal sunken garden, brimming with flowers, trees, hedges and pathways.

That, in brief, is what Jennie Butchart visualized and instigated behind the estate (called “Benvenuto” — “Welcome,” in Italian) that she shared with her husband, businessman Robert Butchart, as illustrated in this photograph of Butchart Gardens’ original Sunken Garden, taken on Aug. 7, 2019.

She commissioned Isaburo Kishida, visiting from Japan, as her first landscape designer. In the succeeding century, the gardens — now a National Historic Site of Canada — expanded to encompass 55 acres (22 hectares), with all manner of additional features. The tennis court and kitchen vegetables were among the spaces sacrificed for a colorful and fragrant rose garden (bottom photo), classic Japanese and Italian gardens, the lily-pad sprinkled Star Pond, so-called for its shape, and fountains. Butchart Gardens, still owned and operated by Jennie and Robert’s descendants, reports that the tourist magnet today attracts a million visitors each year, showcasing 900 bedding plant varieties, fostered in 26 greenhouses, and cared for by 50 full-time gardeners.