Summer Garden Insights


By Rick Los, Director of Horticulture

Even though summer has arrived with its unique and unquestionable beauty, I have to admit that each year I have mixed feelings transitioning into this season and leaving behind our glorious spring garden. Quite honestly, very few gardens in the world are blessed with such a profound progression of awe-inspiring spring beauty as we experience each year. This achievement is partly due to our specific climatic conditions, but primarily owed to the magnificence of the garden itself. The transition this year was made far more difficult (for me especially) as our spring garden display turned out to be exceptionally exceptional.

Speaking of transition, or should I say transformation, our biggest challenge each and every year is managing and maintaining the gardens as we change out the floral displays from spring to summer. Each day our primary objective is to present the garden to our visitors with as much beauty as we can possibly muster – no matter the weather or the season. The spring season is probably the most unpredictable as just when we think we have a handle on how the display is performing, the weather cools and lengthens the season, but more typically, it gets quite warm for a couple of days, causing the entire display to collapse and we find ourselves in summer. This wouldn’t concern us at all if we didn’t have 300,000 bulbs to dig, countless biennials to pull, hundreds of Rhododendrons to dead head, hanging baskets and container plantings to change, oh, and of course we can’t overlook that small detail of having to replant the entire garden!

Gardeners busy planting summer flowers

If you have ever had the opportunity to visit us during our summer planting season you would have an idea of the scope of this undertaking. It typically takes around 3 weeks for our exceptional staff to transform the garden and each day I pray for their physical strength and well-being as they relentlessly power through this intense and physically demanding season. Each year they pull it off and each year they still manage to keep The Gardens looking impressively beautiful through the transition.

During the summer months the volume of our visitors to The Gardens dramatically increases and this definitely impacts how we, as gardeners, are able to function within the gardens themselves. We often hear comments such as “How come we never see any gardeners?” or “Who does all the work around here?” – if I’m asked that directly, I usually comment that I do (this may generate a chuckle, but more often than not, I deservedly receive a frown!). All humor aside, our staff are masters of planning (some say illusion) as they schedule their daily work to ensure that they do everything possible not to interfere with nor negatively impact the visitor experience. We typically start our days at 6:00 am (sometimes earlier) trying to complete our work in the higher profile areas and shifting our focus into less obvious areas once the visitors begin to pour in. It’s not that our staff don’t love the interaction with the visitors, as they truly do, but unfortunately our work can visually interfere with the experience and we also need to ensure that paths remain open for visitors to move unimpeded through the gardens.

That’s enough about how we schedule and perform our work because I’m sure you’re quite interested in what some of the highlights will be when you come for your summer visit.

Rose ‘Scentimental’

Every one of our garden areas is outstanding in its own right, but unfortunately, I can’t write about them all as time and space is limited. I’ll begin with the Rose Garden as we have recently installed a plaque that we received in 2018 from the World Federation of Rose Societies. We don’t often show off the honors we receive, but this one was special as it truly reflects the excellence of our garden and our gardeners. Our Rose Garden is superb and even for those who don’t love Roses, they certainly seem to gain at least a deeper appreciation of them once they have visited our garden. Our Roses will be blooming at their peak this year from mid-June until late August, but it’s always the first wave that seems to be the most impressive, so consider coming early in the season if Roses are your first love.

I typically don’t spend much time speaking of (or writing about) the Sunken Garden as it seems like it pretty much speaks for itself. However, there is so much involved in the planning and maintenance of this garden that I think I may have done it an injustice by not sharing more about it. This garden is, without a doubt, our signature garden. This is the garden where Jennie Butchart’s genius really shines through and there is no other garden anywhere in the world that compares to it – she took an abandoned quarry and transformed it into a garden that is beyond breathtaking. Being in a quarry, this 5-acre garden has limited access and this provides the biggest challenge – every bit of soil, compost and mulch; every plant, every rock, and every bag of fertilizer has to be hauled in manually. The steep banks of this garden have to be weeded and trimmed manually with our staff suspended in harnesses for days at a time (although we do periodically allow them to go home!) This area boasts the highest density and highest number of display borders of any of our garden areas and there are very few areas that escape the visitor’s eye. All of these factors combine to provide us with great challenges, but challenges that our staff capably rise up to meet while proudly maintaining this magnificent landscape.

One of the 151 garden beds located within the 5-acre Sunken Garden

On a somewhat less glamorous note, I will do my best to explain our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program which has been in existence for more than 30 years. Usually the first question people ask is “What is it?” Well, to put it simply, it’s a systematic decision-making process that integrates a combination of pest and disease management techniques. Okay, maybe that wasn’t very simple…it’s basically a program intended to prevent or suppress plant pest and disease populations in the most effective and environmentally sustainable way possible. IPM focuses on creating healthier plants through better growing practices and also monitoring plants regularly so that the problems can be correctly identified and dealt with in a timely manner. Some examples of controls we use are beneficial insects or natural predators to control insect pests as well as using bio-fungicides to protect from disease.

Our goal is to create the healthiest environment for our plants, our staff and for our millions of visitors. We continue to strive to find environmentally safe products that specifically target the intended pests and are not harmful to other organisms.

Jennie Butchart’s Private Garden

I could easily keep writing, but I’m sure that you’ve reached your reading threshold!  I think I’m ready to embrace this awe-inspiring season in the garden and welcome you all to come and share in this bit of paradise with us.