Spring Garden Insights 2023


By Brian Nixon, Horticultural Manager

It is a magical experience visiting The Butchart Gardens in the spring. Our vast network of pathways will have you winding your way alongside the hundreds of varieties of Tulips, Daffodils, and many other plants of interest we grow. Flowering ornamental fruit trees graciously drop their velvety petals, providing a beautiful sight for visitors strolling The Gardens. Watching these petals soar through the sky on windy days can be a spectacular sight.

Early spring brings renewed interest and questions from curious garden enthusiasts, such as; Which plants are flowering? What jobs are the gardeners working on? What changes have been made from the previous season? These questions are all examples of how a garden evolves and can drive curiosity between the changing of seasons. This is also an example of what makes each and every visit a different experience.

Walking The Gardens in the spring brings a whole new layer of excitement to your visit. Surrounding yourself with such a vast collection of springtime favourites allows you to really feel the transformation taking place. There is a definite buzz in the air this spring as people begin to spend more time outdoors and admire the beautiful flowers now graciously coming to life in The Gardens.

Springtime favourites fill the beds in the Sunken Garden

Some of my personal favorites include Azaleas and Rhododendrons. Our extensive collection of both these plants produces a spectacular blaze of colour throughout many of our flower beds. Their flower times vary depending on variety, offering an amazing show from early spring right through until early summer.

We have two designated Rhododendron Groves; one in the Sunken Garden, and the other along the Main Walk Pathway behind the entertainment stage. In these two locations, we display some of our oldest, largest, and most unique specimens, and because of their size, you can truly appreciate what character a mature Rhododendron can add to the landscape. These large plants are, at times, competing with some of the trees growing nearby and need to be pruned to keep them at a manageable height.

Rhododendron Grove in the Sunken Garden

Rhododendrons and Azaleas are both classified in the same genus Rhododendron. This means that all Azaleas are Rhododendrons. They can be almost impossible to differentiate however there are a few telltale signs that can help identify one from another; Azaleas are generally smaller shrubs with the flowers counting 5 stamens while Rhododendrons are noticeably larger and have 10 or more stamens. Regardless of their differences, they are both absolutely beautiful! I invite you to come and admire our entire collection of over 300 different varieties of Azaleas and Rhododendrons growing in The Gardens.

The first few weeks of March are hands down the busiest time of the year for our greenhouse team. Tens of thousands of plugs arriving on a weekly basis need to be potted, and just as many seedlings require ‘pricking out’ into trays or pots where they will be grown to become mature plants. While we welcome spring with open arms, we also say goodbye to the Spring Prelude for another season. March 20th is when we began to dismantle the Spring Prelude and believe me, it comes down much quicker than the time it takes to set up. This does not take away from the scale of this job – ponds need to be cleaned and drained, plants are removed, mulch is hauled away, and then a final cleanup takes place before preparations are made to re-open the Blue Poppy Restaurant.

Seedlings being ‘pricked out‘ into flats from seeds germinated

Work is well underway preparing areas in The Gardens for the upcoming summer season. Early spring is an important time for our gardening staff to put some ‘finishing touches’ on minor projects before our busy season. Below is a list of general gardening tasks that are underway in The Gardens right now:

  • Pruning over 2500 roses in the Rose Garden
  • Fertilizing, splitting, and planting perennials
  • Fertilizing all of the background shrubs with our custom blend of organic fertilizer
  • Scratching the foreground soil between the Tulips and Daffodils
  • Preparing our fields for a summer cover crop; attracting pollinators, reducing weeds, and also adding nutrients back into the soil when tilled under later in the fall
  • Cleaning of the streams and ponds throughout our many gardens
  • Naturalizing bulbs throughout the landscape that have been grown in the greenhouses over the winter. This adds instant colour to the garden!

“Spring Garden Insights” focuses on the highlights and gardening activities that are taking place in The Gardens between March and May. No words can truly describe the beauty of the spring display at The Gardens. This is a magical place to visit, and I welcome you to plan a trip this season.

The beauty of spring in the Italian Garden