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The Butchart Chronicles : March 17, 2015

Garden Notebook Spring 2015

Sunken Garden March 2015
To say that some of our spring flowers arrived early this year would be an understatement as we actually had one variety of daffodils blooming for us more than a week before Christmas! When we checked our calendars we saw that it was technically still the fall! This year has been extraordinary and somewhat confusing with the average day and night time temperatures having been considerably above average. Combine this with much more sunshine and contradict that with above average rainfall and we have an abundance of anomalies or abnormalities occurring in the garden on an almost daily basis.    

For the most part what we consider the spring season on the west coast of Canada is the time of year in the garden that really sets us apart from the rest of the country. The emergence of what we consider spring blossoms in the garden typically begins in January and continues on through late May. The garden slowly unveils the full richness and brilliance of spring and early summer, never seeming to have fully entered a period of complete dormancy. Of course with each passing day the build-up of spring colour and interest grows until it reaches a climax and summer suddenly appears – seemingly out of nowhere – and we begin to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the summer season once June arrives.       

It’s during this time of year that we get to experience the beauty of many of our flowering ornamental fruit trees. Among the most outstanding flowering trees that we have is our collection of ornamental cherry trees with varieties that come with exotic names such as Tai Haku, Amanogowa, Shirotae and Shirofugen. These trees come into bloom in waves of colour that span the entire spring season. Saying that, this year may be the exception as some of our cherries were blooming a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. There is some interesting history to our collection of cherry trees as in 1937 the Gardens purchased 500 trees in 27 varieties directly from a nursery in Japan. It was decided that 300 of these trees were to be planted to line Benvenuto Avenue with a spectacular canopy of colour as this was the main entrance into the Gardens. The remaining 200 trees were planted throughout the gardens. Today, we fortunately still have 12 of the original varieties and have added some newer varieties to enhance our collection.

Spring Cherry Blossoms
We also have quite a collection of flowering crabapples and plums which together with the cherries bloom in a colourful procession that delights our visitors. Flowering shrubs such as rhododendrons and azaleas also add to the mix, providing us with multiple layers of colour, providing an experience where you feel that you are immersed in colour--this is especially true in the Sunken Garden with its tiered plantings built upon the mounds of rubble left behind from the quarry. The trees and shrubs compliment the symphony of colour that emanates from the harmonious plantings of flowering bulbs and biennials in a floral display that is designed to dramatically ebb and flow throughout the season. Just so you know, our spring display consists of close to 300,000 bulbs made up of over 300 unique varieties!   

Of course this beauty doesn’t just happen on its own! Among the many tasks that you will see the gardeners performing at this time of the year is the pruning of the roses. The intensive (and in our case extensive) job of pruning and tying the climbing and rambling roses takes place throughout the winter months with the pruning of the hybrid tea roses beginning in mid-March. Pruning is performed for a number of reasons, but in short we prune to keep the roses healthy and shapely and by the first weeks of June you will begin to see them coming into bloom in the Gardens. However, the first full flush or burst of magnificent blooms typically arrives in the latter part of June, so don’t come too early in the month if viewing roses is your first priority.

There was a time when we branded this season the “Spring Colour Spectacular” which did a good job to paint the picture of what you can expect to experience when you visit us at this time of year. However, it really doesn’t matter how you paint it as this is without a doubt, the most exciting time in the garden. Each day brings new life and an increasing abundance of colour – this is spectacular in and of itself and this is why we take so much pride in inviting you to come out and enjoy our garden during this incredibly beautiful and dynamic time of year.          

- Rick Los, director of horticulture

Top Walk Tulips

(Please note tulips are usually at their blooming height in mid April and early May. This photo is from 2014.)