Autumn Garden Insights 2022


By Brian Nixon, Horticultural Manager

The colourful flowers of summer are now taking a backseat as the glow of autumn begins to highlight the landscapes in The Butchart Gardens. The sun filtering through the tree top canopies picks up the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows creating a natural ambience on the garden beds below. This is especially true in the Japanese Garden, where the majority of the garden floor is covered by a vibrant canopy of Acer (Japanese Maple) trees. You will be treated to awe-inspiring displays of brilliant fall colours while exploring The Gardens this autumn.

Light peaking through the vibrant canopy of Japanese Maples

In a typical year, hints of autumn begin to appear throughout the landscape in mid-late September, but because of this year’s long dry summer, we are only just beginning to see the first signs of autumn. A few possible explanations for this phenomenon could be attributed to the unseasonal precipitation we received in early July, followed by warm dry conditions extending well into September. Due to these warm nights extending into late September, we have not experienced the colder evenings needed to begin sealing off the leaf’s cells, therefore Chlorophyll production continues thus providing green colour to the leaves. Cooler temperatures will soon allow the beautiful red, orange, and yellow leaves to take center stage.

This has been a summer to remember for gardeners, the summer that keeps on giving. Because of the slow start to the season and the fantastic weather through September, the summer annuals are thriving and putting on a display that I have not seen in my 26-year career at The Butchart Gardens. With the inevitable start of the fall rains, the hard work of our gardening staff to prolong the summer annuals will come to an end. This does not mean we simply give up; this means it is time to transition the gardens from summer to autumn, and slowly prepare for the upcoming winter season.

The Dahlia Border mid September

Something that I find fascinating about autumn is trying to predict the timing, intensity, and longevity of the upcoming shows of colour. Analyzing the weather patterns leading up to the season helps give insight to this natural occurrence. Although we cannot control outside temperatures, one thing we can control is the amount of care our plants receive. This one measure alone helps reduce stress on our plants, and it also contributes to overall plant health.

Stress can be a deciding factor often dictating when and how plants will begin to prepare themselves for autumn. There are many practices that we perform at The Gardens to help minimize negative environmental impacts on our plants:

  • Using organic fertilizers where applicable
  • Covering many of our backgrounds and trees with 3”- 4” of mulch, protecting roots and retaining moisture in the soil
  • Deep root watering
  • Using beneficial insects to help control nuisance pests
  • Sanitizing tools when pruning
  • Adding compost to our flower beds

Not only do these measures help improve the overall health of the gardens, more importantly they are good for the environment and the wildlife that call this place home.

Colorful Chrysanthemums fill the Italian Garden during the autumn season

Transformation best describes what is taking place in The Gardens right now. The planting of Chrysanthemums is one of the first steps our gardeners take to prepare for autumn. Greenhouse staff grow all of the Chrysanthemums that will be used in pots, urns, and window boxes, while the thousands of Chrysanthemum bedding plants are grown out in our field nurseries. The next step to come is the painstaking process of hand planting over 300,000 Tulipa (Tulip) and Narcissus (Daffodil) bulbs. If you happen to be visiting while our crews are out planting these bulbs, please pay close attention to how easy they make it look. Planting any number of bulbs is not an easy task – let alone 300,000!

Gardeners hand planting bulbs for the spring display

While visiting The Gardens during autumn you may see our turf crew preparing the lawns for the upcoming winter. Turf may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about autumn, however it is a very important piece of the garden that must not be neglected. Our lawns play a crucial role in the landscape by providing a “picture frame” for many of our gardens, complementing specimen trees, shrubs, and forested backdrops. This is why autumn turf maintenance is critical in keeping the health and integrity of our lawns robust leading into the winter season. Many of our lawns are considered “high traffic” areas and by performing these tasks in the fall, they will be ready to welcome foot traffic the following season when we begin our summer entertainment schedule.

The fall foliage is framed by the lush lawn

Autumn is a magnificent season to spend quality time outdoors with friends and loved ones. The Gardens provide a perfect setting to relax, unwind, and hit the reset button. If fresh air and exercise are what you’re after, our extensive network of wheelchair friendly pathways provide the perfect locale for all ages and abilities. The Butchart Gardens is a wonderful destination to add to your autumn calendar, there’s truly no better time to take in the brilliant fall colours and beautiful landscapes that our gardens provide.

We hope to see you soon!