Canada’s warmest climate, on Vancouver Island, creates the ideal conditions for a unique botanic garden with a history that is increasingly relevant today. Here are some tips for planning the perfect visit to The Butchart Gardens from Victoria or Vancouver.
Rewilding might be all the rage now (or at least it should be), but back in 1912 it took a rather visionary mindset to gaze upon the yawning chasm of an open-pit mine and think it could ever be anything other than scarred earth. But that’s exactly what Jennie Butchart did. Her husband Robert was a cement manufacturer and owner of the quarry, which exploited limestone deposits located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
Jennie and Robert had made their home nearby and already had a Japanese Garden down by the water of the Saanich Inlet, later adding the Rose Garden and a flourishing Italian Garden, part of which replaced an old tennis court. Jennie ordered that topsoil be transported to the exhausted mine with the vision of turning it into what today is the most celebrated feature of The Butchart Gardens: The Sunken Garden.
Whilst this was by no means the first example of rewilding an unsightly spoil heap, it was no less visionary, and the enduring popularity of The Butchart Gardens is testament to that. Today it is home to hundreds of varieties of plants and is listed as a National Historic Site of Canada, attracting visitors from all over the world. An additional Mediterranean Garden has also been added to the site.
Vancouver Island, itself a revered natural space with a mostly mountainous and forest-covered interior, stretches 456km (283 miles) from Cape Scott Provincial Park in the northwest, to Victoria on the southeastern tip. Across the Salish Sea lies Vancouver city, and the USA. The island has diverse microclimates, thanks largely to the mountains, which means the east and west coasts are extremely different.
But it is around Victoria in the southeast of the island where you’ll find the most unique climate. It is said to be the mildest in all of Canada, and akin to that of the European Mediterranean shores; capable of hosting vineyards and citrus orchards. The Butchart Gardens also hosts rhododendrons, tulips, magnolias, begonias and chrysanthemum during the year, among many other species. Read on for how to see them all for yourself.
Hours, Directions & Parking
Hours: The Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay opens daily from 9am to 5pm, although last admission is at 4pm and occasionally earlier if capacity has been reached for the day. It is recommended that you allow around two hours to explore the gardens.
Brentwood Bay is about 20 minutes’ drive from Downtown Victoria. The gardens are on the southwest side of the village, by the coast. It is easiest to reach the gardens using your own vehicle or on a guided tour, although there is some public transportation available, too.
Directions from Victoria & Parking: Get on the Patricia Bay Highway 17 heading north out of Downtown Victoria. Follow it for around 4.3 miles (7km) then take exit 11 onto the 17A northbound. After another 3.5 miles (5.7km), take a left onto Wallace Dr. for 2.3 miles (3.7 km). Look out for the small white arrow sign pointing out the turn to The Butchart Gardens on your left. Be careful here as the junction is a little hazardous.
If you’re coming from Brentwood Bay, it’s just a few minutes’ drive south along Wallace Dr., keeping an eye out for the signs for the gardens to your right. Ample parking is available for cars and larger vehicles.
Public Transport: The 75 bus runs between Brentwood Bay and Victoria roughly once an hour. There is a bus stop in the main car park of the site, with buses stopping here all the way through the opening hours of The Butchart Gardens.
Tickets & Tours
Tickets only: At the time of writing, it was not possible to buy a day ticket to The Butchart Gardens in advance or online. Admission is payable on arrival. From Oct to mid-June, tickets cost C$33 per adult, C$16.50 for ages 13-17, while tickets for children aged 5-12 are C$2. From mid-June to the end of Sept, tickets cost C$36 per adult, C$18 for ages 13-17, and C$3 for children aged 5-12. Babies and toddlers get free entry. Please double check opening hours and ticket prices before your visit as both are liable to change.
If you plan to visit more than once in a year, you can buy a 12-month pass to The Butchart Gardens. Prices are C$69 per adult, C$35 for ages 13-17, while tickets for children aged 5-12 are C$7.
Tours: Most tours to The Butchart Gardens depart from, and return to, Vancouver. The best ones make a day of it, adding other experiences into the mix along the way, such as a tour of Victoria. Below are three of the best options.
Victoria and The Butchart Gardens Tour from Vancouver – C$195 – The best value tour to The Butchart Gardens from Vancouver is this popular, 13-hour coach trip. Heading first to the gardens, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the various sections, such as the Sunken Garden. Next, you’ll be driven to Victoria, where you’ll have a few hours free to explore the city at your leisure. For onward trip travellers, you can end your tour here. Otherwise, this tour price includes the return ferry from Victoria to Vancouver. Be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins during the crossing. This tour departs daily. Book at Getyourguide.com.
Vancouver to The Butchart Gardens, Victoria & Cruise Tour – C$214 – This alternative tour includes an island cruise between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay. As your boat passes between the islands of the strait, look out for whales and sea lions in the water and eagles in the sky. Wander through the themed green and flower-filled spaces at The Butchart Gardens, then take a tour of Victoria before taking the ferry back to Vancouver. Book at Getyourguide.com.
Butchart Gardens Seaplane Flight and Dinner from Victoria – C$299 – For a tour that departs from Victoria instead, there is an excellent four-hour luxury trip that packs in plenty of unique experiences. Begin the tour by travelling to The Butchart Gardens in the most memorable way possible: by seaplane. You’ll soar over the city, the peninsula and then the gardens, landing at Butchart’s own private dock. From plane to plate, you’ll get a three-course meal at the Dining Room restaurant on site, before taking an evening stroll through the gardens for an hour. The return journey to Victoria is no less spectacular: by limousine! Book at Getyourguide.com.