Designated a national historic site, Butchart Gardens is a privately owned and constructed garden/estate located north of Victoria (near the airport), famous not just for it’s beautiful themed gardens, but also for it’s oh so British, High Tea…
When my friend Gina came to visit me in Disney world in Florida, one of the things we did together was to have high-tea at the Grand Floridian Hotel (its a girl thing). So when I heard that there are a lot of places that do High-tea in Victoria, I decided that, if she was game, we’d do one here as well. We have since decided to try to make it a tradition.
Today, with Gina’s help, I moved from my Airbnb in Shwanigan Lake, to my new one in Victoria. Once we’d checked in we boogied north to try to make our reservation for high tea. As we were driving (we were already behind schedule) we hit some traffic, so I used the car’s blue tooth phone system to call the Garden to tell them we might be late. Suffice it to say I was a bit perturbed when the woman said that even though I had called, they would only hold our reservation for 15 minutes after the arranged time. Not great customer service that… And then we got to the gate:
Keep in mind this is just the admission to the park and doesn’t include the price of the tea. In US dollars it came out to about $26.64 a person just to enter. Now my friend is a librarian for the also world famous Chicago Botanical Gardens, and most of these places have exchange programs to allow their staff free entrance, or at least a discount… but these guys didn’t accept Gina’s card. And then, there were some staff directing parking… only it was really organized. Once we’d been parked (well away from the entrance) we pass any number of empty spaces much closer — again annoying.
But boogied as fast as we could, and managed to make the 15 minute window. The tea was a set tea (in terms of the edibles) with each of us getting to choose our own tea… I had the one the waiter said was his favorite, and Gina had one with rose petals in it.
Also, they allowed Gina to make some exchanges for religious reasons… all in all it was a tasty tea. It wasn’t AS good as the one at Disney — we both agreed on that — but then again it was almost 1/2 the price (that one was close to $50/person — so almost double the price).
The Tea is served in what had been the historic home of the Butchart family, with seating scattered in all the various first floor rooms. Gina and I were sat on a shaded balcony overlooking the Italian gardens behind the house… and off to the side of that we saw that you could also get Gilato.
After we were done with tea, I noticed a major difference between Gina and I, while I was walking around taking pictures of stuff, she was always pausing to quite literally smell the roses… (which it would not have occurred to me to do).
This estate was built by a Robert Butchart who came to the area specifically because it had rich limestone deposits, which are necessary for his business — cement. The family built their home near one of their quarries.
The first (oldest) garden on the estate is the Japanese one, built by a Japanese gardener who at the request of his own son built a Japanese Garden in Esquimalt Gorge Park near downtown Victoria. Once built it became all the rage with the local elites, and when the Mrs. Butchart saw it, she too commissioned one for their own home.
The Japanese garden is located between the house and the bay, where I assume the family parked their private boats, so that you need to walk through it to get from one to the other.
Next, when the Limestone quarry next to which they had built their house was exhausted, Mrs Butchart set about converting it from what must have been a major eyesore into a magical sunken garden. (Note the before picture below and compare it to the after picture above it.)
One really impressive thing that I didn’t get good pictures of (it would have required a video, was the dancing waters of the Ross Fountain at the back of the garden, but this is why we have Youtube:
At this point, not surprisingly, the gardens had become something of a local attraction. This is when the family decided to convert the tennis courts behind their home into an Italian Garden (as they’d given their home an Italian name). This would be what Gina and I were overlooking while eating our high tea.
There is also a massive rose garden (from the look of it, and it’s location, I was wondering if it had been the family swimming pool), with a lot of examples (like a hundred or more) of championship named roses, each with a tag.
As it is now open to the public (at a hefty fee) other family attractions have been added, like a small concert pavilion where the audience sits on the lawn, and a carousel for the kids, as well at least two more places that I spotted (one near the entrance and one near the very back of the estate, near the carousel) where folks can pick up meals that are more kid friendly than a high Tea.
Also at this point almost every inch of the estate has been turned into a garden, with botanical curiosities like a Monkey Puzzle tree (picture below top right), and ‘gifts’ from foreign nations, like the Dragon fountain which was gifted by the government of China.
And when the government of Canada designated the garden a national historic monument, they gifted it a totem pole