Victoria, British Columbia, the site of our second housesit this summer, is a 19th-century port city at the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island. Victoria’s nickname is the Garden City, and flowers and trees do seem to grow well here. In the summer, yards and planters and hanging baskets all around the downtown and the harbor are full of brightly colored flowers.
The grandest gardens are a half hour’s drive north of the city. Called Butchart Gardens, they’re are one of Victoria’s biggest attractions. Cruise ships that stop in the harbor for only a few hours will make sure to whisk passengers off in big buses to look at the gardens, even if they see almost nothing else of Victoria.
Butchart Gardens were the life work of Jennie Butchart, the wife of a cement magnate. She started them in 1904 as a way to beautify the old limestone quarry near her house that her husband’s company had finished working. For years she poured money and energy into building the gardens, recruiting landscape designers to help, and even hanging in the quarry’s crane to tuck ivy and other plants into cracks in the sheer stone walls. The quarry garden planted, she moved on to creating a Japanese garden, a rose terrace, a dahlia garden, and other beautiful spaces, filling 55 acres around her house. Now, more than a hundred years later, her gardens are a lush profusion of color on a sunny summer day.