The Butchart Chronicles : September 8, 2014

Garden Notebook for Autumn 2014

Autumn 2014
Garden Notebook – Fall 2014

Rick Los, director of horticulture   

With warm and sunny weather during the past few months our visitors were able to experience the garden in almost ideal conditions, while at the same time being treated to a sensational summer floral display.   

At times we wish we could stay in the moment, but time always moves on and with shorter days and cooler nights we know we have transitioned into a new season. You will still find plenty of late season summer colour and interest in the garden throughout October. As you may know, our colourful floral displays are one of our trademarks so we do all we can to continually produce as much colour as possible. In order to enhance the borders while the summer display makes way for autumn, we plant thousands of chrysanthemums (mums) to add vibrant colour.

It never ceases to amaze me at this time each year one plant (actually hundreds of them!) steals the show and dazzles our visitors late into October; the plant that I’m referring to is the Dahlia. Dahlias are exceptional as they provide the wildest assortment of flower colours, shapes and sizes of any plant we grow. The plants themselves can also be massive with some growing to over 10 feet tall! This is truly a plant which must be seen to be appreciated and with our main Dahlia border containing over 600 plants, the border is a key component of our early fall display. While some of our visitors love this border so much they can’t resist jumping in with the flowers to get their picture taken, this does a lot of damage and hastens the demise of this incredible display.


At this time of year not all the colour in the garden is provided by flowers and it could be argued the most brilliant colour comes from some of our trees. One tree in particular that adds stunning visual interest to the fall landscape is the Japanese Maple. In my mind there is no plant that can match the year round beauty of the Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum).  There are over 700 named cultivars of Japanese Maples of many different shapes and sizes, but to me it’s the sensational fall colour that really sets these trees apart.

At The Gardens we grow a number of the named cultivars, but over time we have selected many unnamed seedlings which now make up the majority of the Japanese Maples. Over the years, our gardeners have either collected the seed or simply dug seedlings and have grown the plants -- always noting growth habits, leaf shape and especially the brilliance of fall leaf colour. Through this process we have developed an amazingly diverse and colourful collection of trees that line the banks of various sections of the Sunken Garden and of course dominate the tree canopy of the Japanese Garden. The Butchart Gardens is home to some of the oldest and what may also be the largest Japanese Maples in Canada.

Japanese Maples

There are many trees and shrubs in the garden providing colourful fall foliage, but another quite striking feature is the colourful berries some plants produce in astonishing abundance. I know that it may be hard to get excited about colourful berries, but believe me you will appreciate them once you see what I’m talking about!   

Now is the time we replant the entire garden with biennials and bulbs in one of the biggest projects we undertake in the entire year. The scheduling of this process is generally determined by when the summer plantings collapse due to rain, cold or that they are just naturally exhausted! The result of this undertaking is our spectacular spring display which begins to reveal itself early in the coming year. Although we do get some colour in these plantings from November through February, the real excitement takes place from March through May. Our planting consists of close to 300,000 flowering spring bulbs which are interspersed among tens of thousands of colourful biennials such as English daisy (Bellis), Forget-me-Not (Myosotis), Wallflower (Cheiranthus) and Pansy (Viola). 

So come during this time of year and be dazzled by the colourful changes taking place as the foliage of the deciduous plants brighten up the garden -- and don’t forget the berries! You may also be able to witness the gardeners hard at work transforming the gardens during the incredible change of seasonal displays.