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The Butchart Chronicles : June 8, 2017

Garden Notebook - Summer 2017

Garden Notebook - Summer 2017

Written by Rick Los, Director of Horticulture


It’s funny that sometimes when you actually take the time to reflect on certain things that impact the garden you come to realize very quickly how limited we are in our capacity to understand nature. Last year I was pondering whether or not the rotational axis of the earth had shifted slightly as we experienced our warmest spring weather on record. This year I am pondering if the shift overcorrected itself as we have had one of the coolest springs and most definitely the latest start to our spring garden display that we have ever experienced! Once again, I am filled with awe by natures overwhelming ability to shock and surprise us and I look forward to seeing how she will humble us in the coming year.       

You may have missed it, but for the spring bulb display this year we produced a special planting of Tulips to honour Canada’s 150 years of Confederation. This display was quite a success so we decided to provide our visitors with an encore of sorts for the summer and have replanted the area with thousands of beautiful and durable Begonias. This unique planting, best viewed from the single jet fountain lookout, is in the form of a stylized infinity symbol with the number ‘150’ emblazoned in the larger loop. The infinity symbol can have many meanings, but by stylizing it our intention was for it to represent the desire for infinite harmony between the many cultures in our country. The points represent the abundance that we have been blessed with in our past (pointing backwards) and the hope that we have moving forward into the future (pointing forward toward the fountain). 

A selection of red and white Begonias were chosen to create this planting as red and white are the national colours of Canada. On our flag, red symbolizes the Canadian lives sacrificed during world wars and the flag’s white denoting Canada’s peace and tranquility, as well as its neutrality and impartiality among nations. There is obviously a little more history to the national colours than this, but I’ve kept it simple as our primary goal is for you enjoy this display. 

On a much larger scale, our goal as a garden is to create an experience that our visitors will never forget. For some of our visitors our outstanding seasonal plantings are the gauge by which they measure their experience, but to most, the beauty of our garden lies much deeper than this. As impressive as the massive displays of colour are, any good or great garden (including ours) needs to offer so much more than temporary displays of seasonal colour. To that end (and I know that I’m being totally unrealistic here!) I truly wish that all of our visitors could come and see us in every season to fully appreciate the context of the day and of the season when they are visiting.   

However, we do have garden areas that don't rely on seasonal plantings and these gardens are truly the highlights for many of our visitors during different seasons of the year. The two areas I will focus on are the exquisite and tranquil Japanese Garden as well as the colourful and exuberant Rose Garden.

I’ll start with the Japanese Garden as it seems to be the one place where visitors experience something extremely unique and gratifying no matter what the season. During the spring and summer months this garden almost acts like a decompression zone as it provides a peaceful interlude or refuge from the dazzling colours found elsewhere in the garden. The Japanese Garden is refreshing in that it intentionally causes you to slow down and reflect as you are immersed in a landscape consisting of interesting shapes, textures and the soothing shades of green. If you take the time to closely observe the plant material in this garden, you will truly appreciate the intricacy and precision of the work that our gardeners perform here. By the way, the supervisor of this garden area has been with us for over 55 years!

Not so far away, in the geographical center of the garden and in complete contrast to the Japanese Garden, is our formal Rose Garden.  Many visitors seem to have the expectation that we should be able to have roses in bloom year round, but unfortunately this is not a possibility in our climate. However, when the Roses do finally come into bloom it is very difficult for any other garden area to compete with its intoxicating fragrances and enticing beauty.

Early in the summer, just before the Roses appear, magnificent “Pacific Giant’ Delphiniums come into bloom creating an impressive and stately backdrop throughout the entire garden. This particular variety of Delphiniums has been a traditional planting for as long as our records go back. It is truly fitting that our Rose Garden is located in the middle of the property because when the Roses finally do come out in bloom, they come out with such bravado that they literally take center stage, stealing the hearts of many and regaining any attention that they have missed out on for the eight months of the year when they were patiently waiting in the wings.

I know that I have written a lot, but I would also love to draw your attention to our magnificent perennial plant borders as they seem to play a secondary role to their more flashy annual cousins. We have done so much work to improve our perennial borders that I encourage you to look beyond the beguiling foregrounds to find an extraordinary collection of plants that will satisfy any plant connoisseurs desires.    

Other highlights at this time of year include:

  • Our famous displays of Tuberous begonias.
  • The Mediterranean Garden with its unique and diverse planting scheme.
  • Our expansive Dahlia border which contains over 600 of these magnificent plants.
  • Hundreds of luxuriant hanging baskets and fabulous container plantings that can be found throughout The Gardens  
  • The recently renovated and rejuvenated Show Greenhouse

So even though we are challenged by nature and sometimes even humbled by it, we sincerely hope that you will come out and visit Jennie Butchart’s garden as she has provided us with one of the world’s most magnificent horticultural theatres to perform in. I guarantee you that there will be some surprises and perhaps it will be us who are able to shock you!