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The Butchart Chronicles : January 10, 2016

Garden Notebook Winter 2016

Wooden bridge in the Japanese Garden - winter 2016 at The Butchart Gardens
Garden Notebook    January 2016


It’s always a bit of a challenge to write about the garden at this time of year - not because of a lack of things to write about, but more a question of what does one write to engage and entice the reader to come out and visit?

Contrary to what many people might think, this is an absolutely lovely time of the year to come out and experience the garden. Our garden takes on a distinctive and enchanting beauty during the winter months that all of our visitors need to experience at least once in their lifetime. A visit now really puts the rest of the year in perspective – in some ways it could be compared to looking at an artist’s canvas during the initial layering of the composition. Each week the garden provides another layer, adding colour and depth – slowly and subtly revealing a beauty that requires more than just a casual observation to fully appreciate.

In our climate this is the time we tend to get the majority of our precipitation and because of this, the garden is radiant in shades of green that almost glow in the landscape. The landscape is never dormant and you will still find flowers – not the multitudes that you would find in summer – but delicate, cheerful and sometimes fragrant flowers that add splashes of colour throughout the garden. I personally appreciate these flowers a great deal as they are tough and durable, refusing to bend to the weather and providing us with small doses of inspiration – if we take the time to seek them out and appreciate them. If you think about it, it’s probably not much different than the people we appreciate the most in our lives.

Layers in the garden - winter 2016 at The Butchart Gardens

Moving to an even deeper level; it’s what lies beneath the ground throughout the garden that I think is even more intriguing and awe inspiring. Not only have we planted tens of thousands of bulbs in our display borders, we have also established hundreds of thousands of bulbs in permanent plantings in perennial and shrub borders. The concealed beauty of this magical display gradually reveals itself in a procession of colour that accelerates as we move into the spring time. We typically begin with delightful pockets of Snowdrops and by the end of February we will have expansive carpets of Crocus, Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow), and Daffodils. Although the bulbs never see the light of day, they are continually at work, patiently waiting for their opportunity to produce a brief flourish of colour on the landscape canvas.       

This layering in the landscape gradually shifts upwards as we have Hellebore, Dwarf Iris (reticulata) and Pulmonaria making early appearances along with early flowering shrubs such as Abeliophylum (White Forsythia), Erica (Heather), Jasminium and Hamamelis to provide interest and in some cases delightful fragrance. The earliest of the Rhododendrons and flowering plums are among the most striking subjects to appear in late winter, finishing the portrait of this season.

If this isn’t enough to entice you and convince you to come out for a visit at this time of year, keep reading and perhaps I’ll be able to change your mind.

Waterfall in the Spring Prelude indoor garden at The Butchart Gardens

Spring Prelude 2016

If you’re yearning for an early taste of spring in Victoria, then you really need to come and experience our ‘Spring Prelude’ display. There is nothing quite like being able to immerse yourself in the beauty of spring weeks before nature intended it to arrive! We spend months designing and planning the layout and features of the garden as well as growing and forcing thousands of plants into bloom. All these elements are assembled to produce an incredibly inspiring and delightful garden experience.

We have been creating this indoor garden for over 15 years and each year our amazing staff are able to ‘take it up a notch’ and somehow produce a garden even more breathtaking than anything that we have previously seen. It is probably best stated that what our staff do is actually ‘refine’ a skillfully crafted indoor garden, making it even more exceptional by making subtle additions and adjustments. When I say subtle, I’m saying that the changes are clever as well as practical and in some cases ingenious as you may not be able to immediately detect them.

Surprise is always an important element in any garden or garden display and we encourage all of our visitors to look beyond the obvious. For example: special features that seem tucked away are done so purposefully; your eye is drawn to a unique feature (how and why is this done?); unusual flower and plant combinations have been carefully considered and strategically located; artistic lighting magically highlights specific features. These are but a few of the techniques we use to draw you deeper into the garden and cause you to focus on the elements that form it.

Enhancements this year include a new water feature to greet you as you enter the display; even more exotic orchids will be on display with a specially designed orchid feature located in the tropical area and an elevated lookout will provide a new perspective from which to view the pond and waterfalls. To go along with all of this you will also find many exciting new plants and planting schemes.  

So, as the garden outside slowly awakens, the garden inside is fully awake, providing you with a glimpse of what you can expect to see as the season moves forward outdoors. Inside the artists have completed their work, with all the layers of the spring garden carefully placed to provide a striking composition - a composition that we invite you to immerse yourself in.

- Rick Los, director of horticulture