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An Island Delight for Gardeners, Artists and Sight-Seers

Vancouver, British Columbia, July 2017

One of the best summer escapes from the heat of Sacramento is Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria, capital of British Columbia. A two-hour ferry ride from the mainland, Victoria is home to the 1897 neo-Baroque/Romanesque Revival Parliament Building, which faces out to the Inner Harbor. The building draws tourists to its wide green lawns, and is open to the public for limited tours. The city itself is small, but the downtown is vertically intense, unlike the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Coastal breezes keep the city cool. Lovely St. James Bay, a quiet neighborhood right on the tip, is where I spent a few days in the summer of 2017 in a wonderful Airbnb–a three-bedroom home that had been recently remodeled and beautifully decorated. (See Airbnb.com.)

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Parliament Building, Victoria, Vancouver Island, B.C.

By far the best part of my stay was the day I spent at Butchart Gardens (www.butchartgardens.com), a 100-year-old-plus haven that lies north of Victoria on an inlet at the base of the island’s Saanich Peninsula. According to the pamphlet provided by the garden, the Butchart family came to the area in 1904 after Robert Butchart, who manufactured Portland cement, found plentiful deposits of vital limestone on the West Coast of Canada.

Butchart’s wife, Jennie, had seen a tea garden built by garden designer named Isaburo Kishida, and so had Kishida build a tea garden for her on the Butchart estate. Thus began the Butchart gardens, a 55-acre spread that became the product of her work and dreams. Her husband excavated limestone on the property, and when the quarry was depleted, it became the sunken garden, a large area below the main property, accessed by switchback-like stairs, and that now features lawns, planted areas full of flowers and shrubs, and a fountain that runs constantly, day and night, spouting in a pattern that resembles Fourth of July fireworks made of water.

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The Ross Fountain in the Sunken Garden


The garden is open year-round, every day of the year, even Christmas, and in fact decorates the garden with lights, wreaths and Christmas displays from December 1 to January 6. Though Mr. and Mrs. Butchart started this grand garden–even Robert Butchart collected birds from all over the world to bring to the gardens–it was their grandson, Ian Ross, who was bequeathed the garden on his 21st birthday, who worked to develop the garden further, adding outdoor concerts and fireworks shows.

But back to my wandering through the sunken garden. Within it stands one high, freestanding rock mound where spectators can sit and watch the fountain, which lies in the middle of Quarry Lake, go through its series of shoots and spirals that rise as high as 70 feet. I took several photos as the fountain went through its choregraphed dance.

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Fireworks from the Fountain

The Sunken Garden features far more than the fountain. Like the upper area, it has separate planted areas full of colorful flowers and perennials that blend together like a symphony. Below you can see the planted areas lining the walkway that leads toward the fountain. The garden looks different in spring and fall, one of the wonderful things about this ever-changing planned landscape.

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The Sunken Garden
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Garden Close-Up

The combination of flowers and shrubs create a riot of color, especially in summer.

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Black-Eyed Susans

Up above, there are various gardens with their own themes. One of my favorites was this wonderful pond and Dragon Fountain.

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Dragon Fountain

Everywhere, the flowers are planted in a palette designed to enhance the others, and bloom together at the same time.

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Flower Mix

The courtyard near what was the Butchart home–and now contains two restaurants, gelateria and other administrative buildings–features an Italian garden and pond surrounded by flowers and filled with water lilies and statues.

The garden is a popular tourist spot. Its ample parking lot accommodates hundreds, and the restaurants serve those who don’t bring picnic lunches. There is also a souvenir shop selling seeds and other gift items, and a coffee shop.

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Italian Garden and Pond
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The Pond in the Italian Garden
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Water Lilies

The upper level of the garden winds around the large estate, featuring various types of flowers, a Rose Garden, two fountains and of course the Japanese garden. The gardens are a casual tourist site, but several women wore dresses as colorful as the flowers.

The moderate climate on Vancouver Island is hospitable to a wide variety of plants. The gardens provide visitors with a flower and plant guide that indicates the peak season for a large selection of the flora. At the far end of the garden, after you stroll through Kishida’s Japanese Garden, is Butchart Cove. There you’ll find a dock and boats that, during the summers, will take visitors on a ferry past the historic cement factory in the inlet.

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Buchart Cove


Down the road from the Butchart Gardens is the Victory Butterfly Gardens , a quick stop well worth making. An indoor rainforest has been created for the wide variety of collected butterflies, which are difficult to capture by camera and are at times behind screens. Don’t miss the Giant Atlas Moth, which is stunning but hard to photograph.  I did managed to catch a Brown Clipper, below, resting on a leaf of the tropical flora that is kept warm and humid in the rainforest.

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Brown Clipper Butterfly

 I also caught this close-up of a Giant Owl Butterfly. You can see why it got its name.

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Giant Owl Butterfly


In addition to the butterflies are a number of other critters, including parrots and macaws, turtles and iguanas. But my favorites were the flamingos, apparently named Houdini and Mango.

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Flamingos


Another must-see in Victoria is the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, not to be confused with the Royal British Museum in London. This museum documents the history of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, with significant emphasis on the native population, and the impact of the European settlement there, which spread disease to the Native populations. Outside the museums are totem poles that once stood in those native communities.

Once you’ve seen all of the delights of Victoria Island, the ferry (www.bcferries.com) system will take you back to the mainland and the city of Vancouver. You can drive your car right into the hold of the ship, then go up top and watch as the ferry weaves through the smaller islands east of Vancouver island. The forested islands are home to a few large homes with docks along the coast, an enviable getaway for their owners.

The City of Vancouver is another must-see, though Victoria is first on my list. Second place goes to the University of British Columbia campus, which features the Museum of Anthropology and the UBC Botanical Gardens. The university campus is beautiful and well-arranged, and the Museum, like the Royal British Columbia Museum, offers an array of artifacts from the native peoples, as well as artifacts from all over the world.

The neighborhoods south of Vancouver make you think you are in Anywhere, America. There are craftsman-style homes and upscale manses as well as apartment buildings, shops and grocery stores, and in many neighborhoods, gentrification is occurring as housing becomes more and more expensive.

I stayed in Kitsilano Beach, in a fully remodeled three-story home, care of Airbnb and the kind owners. Downtown Vancouver was immense, vertically intense and fascinating. Many high-rise apartment buildings encircle the West End as they did in areas of Victoria Island. There was, however, only one art museum and its exhibit was not first class. Oddly, the alley below was actually one of the most interesting off-the-beaten-path sites downtown, a sort of sports spot for kids in the midst of this steel and glass jungle.

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Alley in Vancouver, B.C.
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