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Since their beginnings, the Butchart Gardens have enchanted visitors with their delightful array of artistically conceived and planted flower beds and vistas. Located on the Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria, British Columbia, and occupying the site of a former quarry, the Gardens provide dramatic floral displays in a variety of garden settings and styles. Most visitors will, however, be unaware of their important place in Canada’s horticultural history. The complex beautifully illustrates the design of the grounds of an early 20th-century estate in its progression of distinctively laid out and planted “rooms,” each one offering visitors a unique aesthetic experience. Its largest and most dramatic feature, the Sunken Garden, is a remarkable example of the beautification movement, an early 20th-century effort to transform damaged landscapes in creative and pleasurable ways. The Gardens are also important because they have always relied on the traditional, labour-intensive Victorian system of “bedding out” – the raising of annuals from seed in greenhouses and planting them by hand in often elaborately designed beds – which in Saanich’s climate allows as many as four changes in flower selections each year. Embodying the vision of their gifted founder, Jennie Butchart, as expanded by her grandson, Ian Ross, the Gardens illustrate all three of these qualities today.

The origins of this splendid horticultural achievement rest in the desire of Jennie Butchart (1866-1950) to surround her family’s summer home on the edge of Tod Inlet, close to her husband’s limestone quarry, with elegant period gardens. Her first major project was the Japanese Garden, created in 1906 with the help of designer Isaburo Kishida. Next, between 1909 and 1922, she undertook her most daunting task and most spectacular achievement: transforming the exhausted and uninviting quarry into today’s magnificent Sunken Garden. Surrounded by mature Douglas firs, redwood cedars and Lombardy poplars, this former industrial site has been converted into a vast, aesthetically dramatic garden which is an exceptional creative achievement in Canadian gardening history. Entered through a narrow stone-walled corridor, the garden is suddenly revealed to visitors in a single dramatic vista. Roughly in the centre stands a rock hillock which, with the surviving smokestack from the cement factory, recalls the industrial origins of this splendid garden. In the 1920s, Jennie Butchart added to the property an Italian Garden (1926), a Rose Garden (1928-29), the Star Pond (1928), and a small private walled garden (ca 1922) for her own enjoyment. As this unique landscape has matured and evolved, its beauty has become even more distinctive.

By 1939, Jennie Butchart’s remarkable garden complex was essentially complete. At that point, she turned her vision over to her grandson, Ian Ross, who preserved her triumph, elaborated it by developing some of the transition areas, and sustained it by converting the Gardens into a viable commercial operation. Today one million visitors a year are captivated by Jennie Butchart’s vision.

News Release associated with this Backgrounder.