Keys Homes
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Over 100 years in bloom and still going at Butchart Gardens

By LORI HARRYMAN The Key West Garden Club

For two avid gardeners and long-time friends, a visit to Victoria, British Columbia, is like taking a child to a candy store. The city is filled with an abundance of flowers. It is not possible to take a picture without a flower in the frame. Even the gas stations have manicured overflowing flowerbeds, but the icing on the cake is Butchart Gardens, listed as one of the top 10 gardens in the world.

At the turn of the 20th century, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved to Todd Inlet, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. They found limestone to support Robert's cement plant, however, by 1908 the quarry was exhausted and the landscape scarified. In an attempt to hide this gigantic pit near the house, Jennie began to implement her vision of a beautiful garden. Like many of us who love to garden, Jennie was driven by her desire, yet by her own admission, in the beginning she knew nothing about gardening. As the concept of a sunken garden took shape Jennie had enormous amounts of soil brought in from nearby farms to form the garden bed. The debris on the floor of the quarry pit was pushed into tall mounds on which terraced flowers were planted. This was the start of Butchart Gardens and over 100 hundred years of blooms.

The Butchart archives reveal that, "Jennie solved the problem of the grim gray quarry walls by dangling over the side in a boson's chair and carefully tucking ivy into any discernible pocket or crevice in the rock." News of the fabulous gardens spread as fast as the gardens themselves.

In 1939, the Butcharts gifted the garden to their grandson, Ian Ross, on his twenty-first birthday. The garden grew under his leadership to showcase the many themed gardens of today. Among them, the sunken garden hosts the Ross fountain where water rises 70 feet in a magnificent display. Each year, over one million bedding plants, comprising some 900 varieties, give uninterrupted blooms from March through October. Each spring there are over 300,000 bulbs in bloom.

On our visit in July we saw splendid vistas where every flower bloom was a perfect match to the other in height, color and tone. There were spectacular beds of annuals, each supplying non-stop color. Tuberous begonias were in their zenith, with the largest blooms we had ever seen. The dahlias ranged in size from dinner plate to dwarf. The rose garden was filled with beauty and interest highlighting 6,600 roses in all their different forms and colors. Ponds, small waterfalls, bonsai trees and bamboo arches added to the serenity of the Japanese garden.

Butchart Garden is an exceptional achievement in gardening history. Through successive generations of the Butchart family, this site has retained much of its original design, and continues the Victorian tradition of seasonally changing the outstanding floral displays. Today the 55 acre Butchart Gardens is still family owned and operated and is visited by nearly one million people each year.


The Key West Garden Club welcomes volunteers to work on the historical fort, pull weeds, propagate plants and play in the sandy soil at the West Martello Tower from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays.

Lori Harryman lives in Denver and is a Colorado Master Gardener, an Associate of Denver Botanical Gardens and works in a local garden center. Kitty Somerville lives on Cudjoe Key, is a Florida Master Gardener and Co-Chair of Propagation for Key West Garden Club. This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club. For more information visit

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