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The Butchart Chronicles : January 16, 2018

Garden Notebook - Winter 2018

Garden Notebook – Winter 2018

By Rick Los, Director of Horticulture

This time of year is unique as we have both an indoor and outdoor garden open for visitors. Here's the details about both.

Indoor Spring Prelude

This year marks the 20th edition of our spectacular Spring Prelude indoor garden display as it was in January of 1999 that we initiated this concept. It really did begin as a concept without a formal plan to become what we are showcasing today - which is 20 years of evolving artistry and continuous refinement. Each year our talented staff strive to reinvent and reinvigorate this intimate garden experience to help lift our spirits and inspire us during the winter months.    

You may be thinking (or maybe not) how and why we first initiated this indoor garden display. Well, some of you may recall the famous blizzard of December 1996, where we had over a meter of snow fall in our region over a 24-hour period. The snow devastated many areas of the garden, including our greenhouses and remained with us for a long time. With the gardens submerged in this unusually deep white blanket, any visit to the garden was not quite as memorable as we would have preferred - or at least memorable in the ways that we would have preferred!

Therefore, in order to help alleviate any potential of unsatisfactory visits during our winter months, we came up with an idea to create a beautiful indoor garden for our visitors to enjoy – no matter what the weather conditions were outside. However, we did have a bit of an issue as the only facility available for us to create the garden was a restaurant! This didn’t deter us and once the transformation is complete, I don’t think that most people would even know that the Spring Prelude facility is (or was) a restaurant as there are no traces of a restaurant to be found anywhere inside! This beautiful conservatory-like restaurant facility lends itself quite well to a garden - a meticulous garden that is miraculously installed in just seven days!

Each year we have focused on a couple of different themes ranging from tropical borders accented with exotic orchids, to a temperate area which features an amazing range of more familiar plant material that is forced into bloom. The idea of different themes was intended to provide as much diversity as we could to try and satisfy the desires of as many of our visitors as possible. It’s very hard to begin to describe in detail the beauty of the display as it is truly a sensory experience – which in essence, also means that every individual will experience it in their own personal way.  


Over the past 20 years this spectacular creation has become a focal point of our winter garden experience and we sincerely hope that you have a chance to experience this beauty for yourself.

Outside Gardens

The garden is delightful during the winter months and is still the highlight of any visit – even with the competition that the indoor Spring Prelude display provides. Contrary to what most people may think, you can still find flowers in the garden regardless of what the weather conditions may be. However, in contrast with the warmer seasons, you may have to look for the flowers as in many cases they may not be very conspicuous to a casual garden observer.  

To give you an idea of the plants which we find delightful at this time of year, we have an abundance of Daphne, Edgeworthia, Mahonia, Witch Hazel, Viburnum (bodnantense), Sarcococca, Hellebore and Galanthus (Snow drops) that dependably bloom for us. We even have some rogue Narcissus (daffodils) that have begun blooming for us early in December when the weather conditions have been favorable.

As we move in the latter part of January and through February the anticipation of spring builds as subtle changes become less subtle on an almost daily basis. Crocuses probably provide the boldest seasonal impact with their striking colours and by late February they have made their presence very evident throughout the gardens. The earliest of our cherry trees begin to bloom in early March and their beauty is accentuated with pockets and/or waves of reticulata Eranthis, Iris, Scilla, Anemone blanda, Chionodoxa and Narcissus as well as many other early blooming bulbs, perennials and shrubs. Of course, this all should (emphasis on should!) bloom in harmony with our carefully planned display borders of biennials and bulbs which are perhaps the most well-known and well-loved features of our late winter garden.   

I thought that it would be fitting to provide you with a paraphrased quote that we received from one of our visitors last year.

“What I liked, however, was the garden without the crowds and that we were forced to look for the flowers and to consider the small details. The topiaries we may have otherwise overlooked as well as the water features, rocks and moss-covered trees. The beautiful stone paths, the sculptures, the tiny bulbs just starting to sprout. It’s true, there is always something to see and appreciate here – the gardens are always a treasure.”

It’s always very rewarding to hear these sentiments from a visitor, as even though we may feel the same way, it’s truly the feelings that our visitors experience during their visit that are the most important to us.

That being said, we trust that our garden will delight you at this time of the year. If you do visit and need any gardening questions answered or need help identifying any winter blooming plants, our knowledgeable team of gardeners are always more than willing to provide any assistance that they can.