Summer Garden Insights 2023


By Brian Nixon, Horticultural Manager

The glow from the warm sunshine illuminates the stunning gardens. Eye catching flower combinations are highlighted by meticulously designed perennial borders and manicured lawns throughout the landscape. Soon after arriving at The Butchart Gardens, you will find yourself standing atop the switchback stairs overlooking the Sunken Garden which is our most recognizable view in the entire gardens. This is where Jennie Butchart’s vision began; turning an abandoned limestone quarry into one of the most magnificent gardens in the world.

View of the Sunken Garden from the switchback stairs

Summer annuals make up a large part of our display but there are other plants that are just as spectacular; perennials, shrubs and trees are equally beautiful although they are used differently in the landscape. In fact, many of the flowering shrubs play a crucial role by providing colour while we are in transition planting our summer annuals. These specimens include Wisteria, Laburnum (Golden chain tree), Syringa (Lilac), Cercis chinensis (Chinese redbud), Spiraea (Spirea), and Rhododendron.

Purple hues of the wisteria add a soft touch of colour

It has taken over 3 weeks to plant hundreds of thousands of summer annuals. Summer planting is the most challenging time of the year for our staff, not only are we tasked with planting all of our summer annuals but everything else in the gardens is growing and in need of attention, including the weeds! Thankfully this is nothing new and with some careful planning and hard work these tasks can be accomplished in no time.

All of the garden planning has taken place the previous year. A large portion of our summer plants are grown from seed, plugs and cuttings and we eagerly wait an entire year for the pleasant surprises that everyone’s planning and hard work brings. There are beautiful combinations of flowers that we use year after year, but there are also new combinations that we sometimes add to the mix. Summer is always a great time to discover new plants, and after a visit, you may find yourself visiting a local nursery looking for plants that caught your eye.

Our Horticulture team takes much pride in caring for The Gardens and the plants that call this garden home. The Gardens are “The Office” for our Horticulture team who spend 40 hours per week here. Visitors often remind staff of the magnificent place that we work in by providing comments like “Do you have to pay to work here?” or “How do I get a job here?” There is nothing more satisfying than witnessing the joy that our hard work here brings to our visitors from around the globe. Plants play an important role in everyone’s lives by providing food, shade, oxygen, and overall well-being, and we could not be happier being a part of this.

Summer is one of my favourite seasons in the gardens because we can showcase such a wide variety of plant materials for a long period of time. Glorious colours radiate from the flowers complimented by the different textures of foliage. Sometimes a gentle breeze comes along, bringing on a whole new feel as leaves graciously flutter, or maybe it’s a hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a nearby flower. Along with a magnificent garden experience, it is these unpredictable occurrences that can leave visitors with long lasting memories they will never forget.

Hummingbird feeding on fuchsias

With planting behind us, let’s enjoy and discuss the beautiful plants throughout our 55-acre garden. While visiting The Gardens during summer, visitors can expect to see our full collection of plant material that only the warmer temperatures allow us to bring outside to display. Not wanting to divulge too much to keep you curious if you are planning a visit, I will share a few of my personal favourites; Tibouchina (Glory bush), Fuchsia, Colocasia (Taro), and Iochroma cyanea. These are just a small fraction of the gorgeous plants that we grow in numerous places throughout The Gardens.

Iochroma cyanea

Trees also play a tremendous role in the landscape and summer is the perfect time to come admire our immense tree collection. Some trees will attract your attention because of their pretty flowers and others you will be drawn to because of their sheer size and beauty. For example, standing below these giant Sequoia sempervirens (Coast redwood) you can understand just how small we are when surrounded by nature. Whether it’s the Fagus sylvatica purpurea (European copper beech) trees that welcome you as you enter The Japanese Garden, or one of the many Styrax japonicus (Japanese snowbell tree) situated throughout the landscape, there are hundreds of trees that are sure to catch your attention. Our tree collection is spread throughout the entire landscape, including the surrounding woodlands and visitor parking lots. These trees are some of the most important plants, especially when mature because they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere while also releasing oxygen which is a by-product of photosynthesis.

Sequoia sempervirens (Coast redwood)

The Butchart Gardens are located on Southern Vancouver Island which has the mildest climate in Canada. Because of this, we are fortunate in the vast variety of plants that we can successfully grow. Our horticulture teams continue to push the limits by adding new plants to our collection every year, as well as continuing with our all-time favorites.

Summer at The Butchart Gardens is always a wonderful experience, and I welcome you to come and enjoy our beautiful gardens!