Winter Garden Insights 2024


By Brian Nixon, Horticultural Manager

As the morning sun begins to rise, a thin layer of mist forms throughout the surrounding gardens creating a tranquil setting for yet another perfect winter day. Right now is a lovely time to enjoy The Butchart Gardens, and I invite you to immerse yourself in our magical winter garden which is just now beginning to come to its peak. The Gardens are the perfect place to take a break and unwind from your busy life. Whether you choose to visit with friends, loved ones, or for a solo getaway, there are plenty of pathways for everyone to explore and enjoy.

Early sun illuminates the morning mist in the Japanese Garden

One of the things that I enjoy most about a winter garden is how the landscape is completely exposed, providing detailed views of the contours running through the landscape. The depth of the garden is also magnified to a point where it looks much different from other seasons; this can be attributed to deciduous plant material and perennials that have been cut down after the summer season. This paves the way for trees and shrubs to be one of the primary focal points, highlighting characteristics like contorted or brightly coloured stems, interesting flowers, and also beautiful bright berries. Viewing The Gardens at this stage can create an entirely different perspective of the landscape and uncover different treasures that you may have not discovered before. I feel that winter gardens overall don’t receive the same amount of attention as the other three seasons. This is completely understandable and one of the main reasons why I enjoy writing this winter blog – to highlight and share with you how beautiful The Gardens are during the winter season.

Skimmia japonica

Setting our sights on winter, I will be honest in saying that it feels more like spring than winter. This is because of the warmer temperatures and the lack of cold weather – I can’t recall a single winter in over 25 years that we haven’t needed to apply salt or sand on our paved surfaces throughout the month of December (we aren’t complaining). Another sign of our mild winter is the naturalized Daffodils along the Dahlia border which began flowering in mid-December. These Daffodils are always first to bloom, just not quite this early! Usually by now (early January), gardening staff are navigating through the landscape, carefully looking for areas to work that are not too frozen or wet. We have been blessed with mild temperatures so far, and while the long-range forecast looks promising, we are not out of the woods just yet. After bragging about our lovely weather thus far I’m sure that we will be hit with a cold snap, and find ourselves on the other end of a snow shovel before winter’s end.

Daffodils flowering along the Dahlia border

This is an El Niño year and forecasters say that El Niño normally peaks around now, the beginning of the new year, and usually ends sometime in the spring. What does this mean for The Gardens? We feel that spring will arrive early this year forcing us to make some proactive decisions regarding our spring garden maintenance schedule. In other words, “an early spring may be in our future”.

Fascinating winter cultivars are creating an abundance of curiosity right now and attracting plenty of attention. The aroma of fragrant flowers like that of the Sarcococca (Christmas box) litter the air, while the soft velvety buds of the Magnolia light up the winter sky. I have compiled a list of my personal winter favorites that I’m sure you will enjoy!

Soft velvety buds of the Magnolia

  • Bellis (English daisy)
  • Bergenia (Elephant’s ears)
  • Camellia
  • Cotoneaster
  • Crocus
  • Cyclamen
  • Erica (Heather
  • Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
  • Garrya elliptica (Silk – tassel bush)
  • Hamamelis (Witch hazel)
  • Helleborus (Christmas rose)
  • Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
  • Jasminium nudiflorum (Winter jasmine)
  • Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ (Oregon grape)
  • Nandina domestica (Heavenly bamboo)
  • Narcissus (Daffodil)
  • Ophiopogon planiscapus (Black mondo grass)
  • Pansy
  • Pieris (Lily – of – the valley shrub)
  • Polyanthus (Primula)
  • Pyracantha
  • Sarcococca (Christmas box)
  • Skimmia japonica
  • Viburnum x bodnantense
  • Viburnum tinus
  • Viola

Spring Prelude is one of the gardening department’s most treasured floral displays. “The Prelude”, which our gardening staff often call it, is a seasonal indoor garden that operates from January 15 – March 17 and is a “must-see” for anyone visiting during this time. (When planning your visit please take note that The Butchart Gardens will be temporarily closed from January 22 – February 4). Spring Prelude is an indoor garden masterpiece resembling floral displays that you would expect to see throughout The Butchart Gardens during the spring season. There is something unique though that you will notice in the Spring Prelude vs the outdoor gardens – we take advantage of the controlled indoor climate by introducing tropical plants that we do not grow outdoors. The garden designers responsible for the Spring Prelude installation love using these tropical species, and they do a fantastic job with their creativity. I won’t divulge too many details about Spring Prelude, but will leave it for you to enjoy during your next winter visit.

Early spring blooms from last years Spring Prelude display

Something very important to us here at The Butchart Gardens is our history. During your next visit, please take a look around and note the many historical signs that are strategically located throughout The Gardens. These signs are meant to educate our visitors and point out areas of historical significance. During winter, many of our fountains, sculptures, and architecture attract more attention than any other time of the year. A smoke stack from the original cement plant is a perfect example of this; it is most visible in winter because the deciduous trees growing in front have now lost their leaves. This remaining towering giant is a magnificent sight and reminds us that this garden was created from an abandoned limestone quarry. It was Jennie Butchart’s vision and hard work that created this world-class garden. We hold this close to our hearts and continue every day to strive for perfection, both in The Gardens and also in the service that we provide to our visitors.

The winter weather can be somewhat unpredictable; however, these unpredictable days can lead to unforgettable experiences visiting The Butchart Gardens. Every day is a beautiful day here at The Gardens and I can’t think of a better way to start the new year than surrounding yourself with plants, nature, and friendly staff! We look forward to welcoming you during your next visit.

Historical signs found throughout The Gardens