Visiting gardens in Victoria BC

December 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The many gardens of Victoria BC have led to the city being called the “Garden City” in the hype of some tourist publications. There’s some truth in the name though since the perfect gardening climate of southern Vancouver Island, its earlier British heritage, and its attractiveness to visitors have all resulted in some magnificent gardens being created for our pleasure. The Butchart Gardens comes to mind first but there are many other delightful gardens on a smaller scale. Visiting gardens in Victoria BC is best done by car to provide full flexibility but buses service most gardens.

The Butchart Gardens

55 acres of dramatic floral displays created in over 100 years draw crowds and superlatives. Some cynics may consider it to be rather a “Disney” garden but it’s hard to imagine anyone not being impressed. Open year-round, its five (yes!) seasons present the many themed gardens in full seasonal splendour: the famous Sunken Garden and the enchanting Japanese Garden are favourites. Summer visits might include enjoying concerts on the lawn and Saturday evening fireworks. Their summer and winter illuminations (“The Magic of Christmas”) are special delights.

Butterfly Gardens

Close to the Butchart Gardens is this tropical greenhouse jungle. Thousands of butterflies charm visitors, as do the flamingoes, small birds, koi and frogs.  Look out for the giant Atlas Moth.

The Gardens at HCP

Another garden on the Saanich Peninsula is the little known, and therefore quiet, Gardens at HCP (Horticultiral Centre of the Pacific). Over 30 themed gardens include the lovely Takata Garden with its adjoining Bonsai and Zen gardens.

Beacon Hill Park

Just south of downtown is “the jewel of Victoria”, 200 acres of varying park and gardens since 1882. Look out for the medieval-style stone bridge, the Children’s Farm and one of the tallest totem poles in the world. Lovely for a peaceful wander.

Finnerty Gardens

Near the south-west corner of the University of Victoria are a network of paths passing over 4,000 trees including over 1,500 rhododendrons and azaleas which create drama late April to early June.

Abkhazi Garden

Tucked away near Oak Bay is a small garden with a romantic story which will warm your heart.

Playfair Park

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC - Playfair Park

A special municipal park (photo above) hidden away in Saanich. Enjoy the rhodendrons in May and the long colourful perennial summer border.

Government House

The grounds of the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor, the Queen’s representative in British Columbia. A colourful cutting garden, rose garden and perennial flower beds set in the Rockland area of heritage homes.

Hatley Castle

West of Victoria are these Japanese, Rose and Italian gardens set in a 500 acre Edwardian estate with views to the distant Olympic Mountains.

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC is more than just a pleasure, it gives insights into the lives of so many who have helped make Victoria the lovely place it is today.

The Gardens of Victoria

September 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The Gardens of Victoria represent an aspect of life here perhaps most anticipated and appreciated by visitors. Some may expect quaint heritage but let’s not overstate that. The gardens, on the other hand, are gems enjoyed by us all, even if only to admire a planting on a boulevard. A vast range of plants thrive in the climate of southern Vancouver Island and gardeners seem to thrive too. Let’s take a peek at the gardens of Victoria which you can explore at leisure.

Clearly the dominant one which attracts most of the visitors and of the publicity is The Butchart Gardens. Over 50 acres of magnificent display gardens including the famous Sunken Gardens. They are fortunate to have a team of about 50 gardeners to care for the many areas: Japanese, Mediterranean, Rose, Italian and more. Concerts, fireworks and both summer and winter lighting delight the crowds.

No crowds but a wide variety of themed gardens can be quietly enjoyed at The Gardens at HCP. The Takata Japanese Garden, Zen Garden and Bonsai Garden are highlights for many.

Also in this area is Butterfly Gardens more noted for its 3,000 butterflies and other tropical wildlife but luxuriant gardens they are.

Late Victorian heritage and a grand setting give the gardens at Hatley Castle much character. A little further west than the others, these Japanese, Rose and Italian gardens were once tended by 100 gardeners.

Very much smaller in scale are the charming Abkhazi Gardens near Oak Bay. There is a genuinely romantic tale behind them for you to discover.

All of those do require an entry fee whereas three Victorian treasures can be enjoyed free of charge:

Beacon Hill Park has 200 acres set aside for relaxation just south of downtown Victoria. There’s much variety here, my favourite being the lake with its stone bridge and multitude of ducks all overseen by a heronry.

Two secrets generally only known to the locals remain:

Finnerty Gardens at the University of Victoria. Imagine 1,500 rhododendons and azaleas in full bloom in May and June.

Hidden away are more rhodendrons and an impressive floral border at Playfair Park.

For further information and a map, see our guide to the gardens of Victoria BC.


Beacon Hill Park

February 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Beacon Hill Park is sometimes called “the jewel of Victoria” and for many visitors it remains a hidden jewel which should not be overlooked. It was named after two navigational beacons protecting ships on the Juan de Fuca Strait and has become a delightful relaxing place just south of downtown Victoria BC.

The park has belonged to the people of Victoria since 1882 and today its 200 Beacon Hill Park - Victoria BCacres has a pleasing balance of natural landscapes and man-made recreations. My favourite area is the lake with its medieval-style stone bridge – look for large blue herons nesting high in neighbouring trees. Others will enjoy graceful Victorian flower gardens or woodlands and grassy slopes. The young, or young at heart, are delighted by the petting zoo at Beacon Hill Children’s Farm where animals have enchanted us since 1985. There are playgrounds, miniature golf, lawn bowling and even a cricket pitch. Free concerts are held at the Cameron Bandshell in summer months.

One of the the world’s tallest totem poles rises 127 feet above Garry oaks overlooking the park and the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the Olympic Mountains. Nearby is Mile 0 of the 8,000km Trans-Canada Highway and a monument to Terry Fox who planned to end his run against cancer here in 1981.

Beacon Hill Park is easily found by walking south from the Inner Harbour, following Douglas Street towards Dallas Road.



Variety is the Spice of Life

December 30, 2014 by Martin Vernon

If, as they say, variety is the spice of life then Victoria is a hot spot. I have been struck by the immense variety of things to see and do in this part of Vancouver Island. If you are thinking of visiting Victoria BC in 2015 you’ll find this array of information helpful for your planning.

For convenience, let’s divide them into:
– things to see, ie the attractions of Victoria, and
– things to do, ie the activities.

Things to see in Victoria

Not all are in the downtown area so it’s good to have use of a car.

The Inner Harbour – strolling the causeway next to the moored boats is always a pleasure. Here you’ll see the Royal BC Museum, a fascinating must-see top-quality museum, with an IMAX theatre too. You can tour the neighbouring BC Parliament Buildings and visit the harbourside Robert Bateman Centre with its collection of wildlife art. The Maritime Museum of BC in Bastion Square presents our rich nautical heritage.

Take a bus or horse-drawn carriage tour for an informative introduction to Victoria or a guided tour on foot. Hop on a harbour ferry or taxi to explore the Inner Harbour and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The best shopping is in the streets running off Government Street as far north as Chinatown.

East of downtown is baronial 19th century Craigdarroch Castle with its restored Victoria interior.

Relax in charming Beacon Hill Park with its old-style stone bridge and its petting zoo. The temperate climate of southern Vancouver Island is perfect for gardens; two of the most popular are The Gardens at HCP and, of course, The Butchart Gardens whose 55 dramatic acres are generally considered the top attraction in British Columbia. Nearby you’ll discover 3,000 butterflies and moths in the tropical jungle at Butterfly Gardens.

The Saanich Peninsula vineyards and wineries offer samplings and excellent souvenir opportunities. Buy a bottle to enjoy at your Victoria B&B in the evening.

Discover the importance of Fisgard Lighthouse to mariners and see the gun batteries at Fort Rodd Hill. These are west of Victoria close to Hatley Castle which was built in 1908 and set in lovely gardens.

Our small communities have their own character – visit the “book town” Sidney-by-the-Sea, or drive to Sooke on the rugged west coast.

– For further information view this summary of attractions with a Victoria BC map.

Inner Harbour Victoria BC The Butchart Gardens - Sunken Garden


Things to do in Victoria

It’s so beautiful here: the parks, lakes and beaches cry out to be explored. Take a look at some hiking trails, from easy to moderately challenging. Favourites include Elk / Beaver Lake and Gowlland Tod, and to the west East Sooke and Sooke Potholes parks. Get out and about to discover the natural beauty.

Play golf year-round on over a dozen courses.

Marine recreation is important to the locals (I’m often surprised at how many people own boats) so plan to join them: kayak along the shoreline such as in calm Brentwood Bay or the ocean, take a fishing charter or go scuba diving, discover how sailing tours are sooo relaxing AND don’t forget memorable whale-watching.

Clamber up walls in the world-class Boulders Climbing Gym, or try zip-lining.

Walk or cycle along trails such as the 55km Galloping Goose Trail. There’s horseback riding too.

After all that it’s easy to justify indulging in afternoon tea at one of several venues.

–  –  –

The phrase “variety is the spice of life” was coined by the poet William Cowper some 250 years ago. He was a lover of his natural surroundings and would, I feel, appreciate the beauty of southern Vancouver Island.


The Magic of Christmas

November 20, 2014 by Martin Vernon

The magic of Christmas may bring childhood memories of candlelight and fire, tree and decorations, goodies to taste and, ooh, to unwrap. However, the Magic of Christmas is experienced every year at The Butchart Gardens by thousands of Victoria residents and visitors. My wife and I rarely miss it. It sets us up for our family Christmas.

This annual celebration of winter (a dusting of snow is possible) at the Gardens runs from 1st December until 6th January. Why 6th? The Twelve Days of Christmas is a theme running throughout the gardens and you hear people humming the song as they search for the sequence of the Twelve Days displays. So let’s spend an evening there.

On arrival there’s an immediate sense of anticipation. Even the entrance The Butchart Gardens - Italian garden at nightand parking areas are illuminated by pretty lighting. We first walk into Water Wheel Square which is transformed into an ice rink, but we want to see the lights so skating will have to wait until later. The Gardens has a recommended route so we follow this. Every few yards we see sights pretty, charming, captivating, delightful … . One wonders how many million bulbs (lights, not flowers) have been carefully placed. One year, early on the route, our children were enchanted by a flowing river of lights underneath a crust of snow. Yes, magical.

The initial view of the Sunken Garden always brings oohs and aahs. Oh for a better camera, I think. Do walk on a few yards to the little log cabin overlooking the old quarry; I adore it. Entering the Sunken Garden we are barely aware of being in a garden, it’s a panorama of lighting displays: under shrubs, within trees, even on the lake, culminating at the Ross Fountain with its constantly changing colours and swathes of jetted water. Then we take a break from the illuminated wonderland by entering a different wonderland, one which may take you back to childhood memories: the Rose Carousel.

An avenue of simply but effectively lit trees passes the concert lawn where my favourite Twelve Days display charms us everytime (you’ll have to visit to discover what it is) and then we walk under the arched avenue in the Rose Garden. The formal Star Pond and Italian Gardens draw us towards the piazza where we hear carol singers. The Dining Room and Blue Poppy restaurant are open but we’ve other thoughts: hot chocolate. The debate is always, should we take a spin (I write this metaphorically) or three on the ice rink first? Either way, we seat ourselves by the open fire in the coffee shop, drink in hand. Life’s good!

The Magic of Christmas at the Butchart Gardens

May in Victoria BC

April 20, 2013 by Martin Vernon

May in Victoria BC is a wonderful time for a visit. There’s this positive summer-is-around-the-corner feeling everywhere. Spring has sprung and “everything’s rosy”.

Here are some special reasons to visit Victoria BC in May – but don’t worry if your plans are for another time: you are assured of great memories. Most of our Victoria festivals are annual so you can enjoy them next year equally well. There’ll be no major changes in the options of things to see and do, in the gardens, in the lack-of-crowds, or even in the weather.

So, what does May offer our visitors?

Victoria festivals

  • Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival is in its 150th year. 2013 dates are 11th to 19th May. You may spot some royal tartan because Prince Andrew will be there as Chief of the Games. The array of Scottish culture, sports and music runs from serious cultural events to the Tilted Kilted Pub Crawl.
  • Vancouver Island’s only rodeo, the Luxton Pro-Rodeo presents thrills and spills on 18th and 19th May.
  • The 115th Victoria Day Parade, Victoria’s largest, is on 20th May.
  • A festival not to miss is the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, 26th to 27th May. Now in its 70th year, there are four courses for colourful races off our shorelines. There’s a great buzz in the Inner Harbour as you wander among boats and displays.

Playfair Park - Victoria BC

Secondly, gardens in The Garden City are filled with colour – not just The Butchart Gardens and the many others open for viewing, but also our many parks and public gardens. Ask your B&B innkeeper where the city’s best rhododendron display can be found at Playfair Park. Then there are roadside corners and boulevards, and private garden displays abundantly dotted around the city. It’s blooming’ wonderful.

Thirdly, the crowds. May in Victoria BC is crowdless, almost. Parking is no problem and roads are uncongested.

Fourthly, Victoria’s weather. May high temperatures typically average 16 – 18C (61 – 65F) with lows averaging 6 – 8 C (43 – 46 F) so it is pleasant, and April showers are a thing of the past. The warm climate here is the best in Canada.

May we see you? We hope so.

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