Quarries are not generally noted for their elegance, but the glorious Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island show a makeover at it’s very best.
Having successfully avoided them all of my life, in the last two months I have surprisingly found myself in quarries – and loving the experience.
Just recently The Bloke and I attended the acclaimed play adaptation of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, as part of this year’s Adelaide Festival. The play was staged on a quarry floor, in the foothills of Adelaide, and the audience was seated facing in to the quarry wall. It was an inspired choice of venue, evoking the agelessness of this ancient land. The last light of the summer evening bathed the yellow stone walls of the quarry in golden light, as we watched the tragic story of two Australian families unfold.
And just a few weeks earlier, in the chilly northern winter, we were invited to visit the glorious Butchart Gardens, on Vancouver Island.
These gardens also speak of the history of the region, having been developed on the site of an exhausted quarry owned by Robert Butchart. He and his wife Jenny lived near the quarry. In 1909, when the limestone extraction was completed, Jenny set about turning the quarry pit into a sunken garden.
Clearly on a roll, she also commissioned Japanese garden designer Isaburo Kishida to design an oriental tea garden for their estate. Throughout the 1920’s she then turned her very artistic eye to the tennis courts and kitchen gardens, transforming them into an Italian garden and extensive rose gardens.
The Butcharts eventually handed the house and gardens over to their grandson, Ian Ross, who continued their legacy, developing the house and grounds into what is now one of the top tourist destinations in the region and a National Historic Site of Canada.
The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island are world renowned for their floral displays, and each year over a million bedding plants in some 900 varieties bloom from March through to October.
Happily, this special spot is still family-owned, with the current owner proudly continuing the family legacy, hosting a continuing program of concerts, fireworks displays and community events.
While it was the dead of winter when I visited, there is still plenty to be enchanted by in these gardens. Thoughtfully, in the winter months the Butchart cafeteria is cleared and transformed into a glorious riot of spring colour. Parts of the house are open for visitors to explore and, no matter the season, there is much to give joy in the rest of the gardens.