Delight in the beautiful blossoms and stately trees of Canada’s peaceful garden city
Dubbed the “City of Gardens,” Victoria, BC, blooms with colorful flowers and show-stopping gardens. Even in bleak November, hanging baskets of yellow and purple pansies brighten doorways of downtown shops near the city’s picturesque Inner Harbour. Come February, with most of Canada still blanketed by snow, Victorians celebrate the city’s annual Flower Count. For one week, they count all the crocuses, daffodils and pink cherry blossoms flowering in the sunshine — an astounding 1,392,393,203 in 2014. And in spring, bountiful rhodos and azaleas paint the city with huge splashes of hot pink.
But anytime from February to fall is a great time to visit Victoria, and when you do, here are the top five gardens to see:
In the early 1900s, Jenny Butchart wanted to beautify the limestone quarry her husband had mined. With topsoil transported by horse and cart to the abandoned pit, she set about creating the “sunken garden.” She had flowering trees planted, and she tucked ivy into the sides of the quarry walls. Additional Italian, Japanese and rose gardens were added later. Today, the world-renowned Butchart Gardens wow over one million visitors a year. We particularly love the magnificent displays of annual flowers, curving manicured lawns, weeping willows and small lake with the 21-metre dancing Ross Fountain. If you visit in summer, don’t miss the Saturday evening fireworks.
Open to the public, the gardens surrounding the official residence of British Columbia’s lieutenant governor include a cut flower garden, orchard, and native plant section. Discover shade-loving hostas, perky geraniums, a Garry oak woodland, and apple, plum and quince trees. Also enjoy the small waterfall and duck pond.
Beacon Hill Park
Stroll through Beacon Hill Park in downtown Victoria, and you’ll see spandex-clad joggers pounding the trails, moms pushing baby strollers and grey-haired gents chatting on park benches. Shaded by maple, arbutus and soaring Douglas firs, the 200-acre landscaped park is interlaced with moss-covered bridges, lakes, rock gardens, lily ponds and meandering paths. Peacocks and ducks roam about freely. On our recent visit, we spied a huge bald eagle on top of the totem pole (the world’s largest), which towers 38 metres high in the park. The park’s south end offers sweeping views of Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Range.
Hatley Castle and Gardens
Grand in scale, this Edwardian estate once belonged to coal baron James Dunsmuir, a former premier of British Columbia. He and his family lived in the lavish 40-room “castle” built in 1908. White orchids imported from India graced the conservatory, and 120 gardeners and groundskeepers tended the formal gardens. In summer, you can tour the rosewood-panelled rooms inside the stone mansion, now the administrative centre for Royal Roads University. Also be sure to smell the candy-coloured roses in the walled rose garden, admire the boxwood-hedged Italian garden and explore the Japanese garden with its pond, well, and stone lanterns.
This is the “garden that love built.” The small (one-acre) but oh-so-pretty West Coast garden was created by Peggy Carter and her husband, Prince Nicholas Abkhazi, who settled here after reuniting post-World War II. Tucked away in a residential neighbourhood, it’s very natural in design, playing up the shapes of the showcased rocks, trees, bushes and alpine plants. There are magnificent oak trees, huge 50-year-old rhododendrons with gracefully sculpted branching trunks, Japanese maples, and duck ponds. Nicholas especially liked waterfall effects, and so rock-hugging firs cascade down boulders in front of their former home, now a tea house.
Where to stay
This romantic adults-only hotel with just 23 rooms nails the boutique hotel experience. Elegant “Emerald” rooms in the separate coach house offer king-size beds, marble bathrooms with rainshowers, Malin+Goetz bath amenities and wood-burning fireplaces. Rates include freshly-baked welcoming cookies, evening appetizers served in the lobby, and a delicious three-course breakfast (spinach frittata with chicken apple sausage and fried yams, anyone?). www.abigailshotel.com
You can’t beat the location of the aptly-named, 64-room Magnolia Hotel, a few steps from Victoria’s main shopping avenue (Government Street) and two blocks from the Inner Harbour. Newly-renovated rooms are serenely decorated in dove-grey and silver hues. Book a “Diamond” harbour-view room for smashing views and a gas fireplace to cozy up to when temps dip. Nightly turndown service and chocolates round out a deluxe stay. www.magnoliahotel.com
It’s a scenic 100-minute sail on BC Ferries from West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay terminal to Nanaimo, then a two-hour drive south on Vancouver Island to Victoria. Or you can take the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, which is 20 minutes from Victoria. www.bcferries.com
See Tourism Victoria www.tourismvictoria.com