Victoria boasts one of the world's great green spaces. Conceived of and created in the early part of the twentieth century by Jennie Butchart, wife of Robert Butchart, who made his fortune mining limestone and manufacturing Portland cement, the Butchart Gardens began in the exhausted quarry on their property. Determined to beautify the ravaged pit, Jennie arranged for tons of topsoil from neighboring farms to be delivered (by horse and cart), and painstakingly began planting the floor and the walls of the once-empty quarry. Today, a hundred years later, it is known as the "Sunken Garden," and remains an enchanted place of color and bloom.
It's hard for a photo to capture the magical, Alice-in-Wonderland quality of this scene. You must imagine the ivy-covered walls of the pit coming down on either side of this image; these photos are shot from up towards the top, where a little log cabin perches high above. You have a strange sense of vertigo looking down into and beyond the quarry floor.
But it's only the beginning, because the gardens, in their varied and sophisticated nooks and crannies, go on and on. For 55 acres, miles of daisy-lined paths, secret coves and willow canopies, apple orchards and rose bowers meander and beckon.
In autumn, there is a quiet, fading beauty to it all.
Jennie always wanted it to feel like a private garden, so there are no plaques, or nameplants, or educational displays to break up the vistas, small or grand. You look, you wander, you rest, you smell. You do not have to read, which is wonderful, somehow.
There is a great fireworks display right here, in the summer, I think. You look over this field from a wide lawn.
My favorite spot, though, had to be the apple orchard.
The great tangle of gnarled wood, curling leaves, ripe green fruits just gets me every time. I have always preferred orchards to just about every other type of human-planted spaces. There is something about all that wildness restrained into shady, dappled rows that pleases something deep within me. If I could have, I would've climbed into these perfect craggy branches and stayed the afternoon, eating apples.
Oh to be an apple-tree percher!
Oh for all days filled with sun-spots and sweet spots.
Oh for a tripod. Seriously. It was just too lovely. This was about as close as I could get to this blushing pom-pon without blur.
Tucked back in there is the house. It's hard to imagine what it must be like to wake up to this kind of yard, shrouded in morning fog, no people around, deer on the lawn.
In the early days, Jennie would serve tea to everyone who came to her garden; eventually when the number of cups reached into the tens of thousands, they convinced her to charge for it. But it's not hard to understand why the Butcharts wanted to share this place. If you'd worked so hard on something so beautiful, you'd want to show it to anyone who cared. Our tour guide said that they were known to invite visitors right into the house if it was dinnertime. By all accounts, the family was supremely generous and beloved by all.
There are a million ways to frame each quiet view.
The Japanese garden renders you quiet without your notice.
Far off, water.
See it: a wedding on the lawn, party dresses and champagne, paper lanterns and candlelit tables.
When we finally reached the beginning again, they were hanging Christmas lights on the big house. We were hungry — in the off-season, the cafes and restaurant are closed for anything but tea — and headed back to town.
We had taken a bus tour of the city that morning (I always like to do this in new cities, because I tend to get anxious unless I'm oriented in a general way to where I am) and had passed a restaurant downtown that I had read about in one of the travel magazines. At Luciano's, we had one of the best meals I have ever had, anywhere. I had the mushroom penne and a side of creamed spinach that was, no kidding, the most delicious creamed spinach I have ever tasted in my life. It. Was. AWESOME. Also, it was 5 p.m. and this was the first thing we'd eaten since early that morning. But still. Luciano made us very, very happy.
After dinner, we walked around, went back to the embroidery and yarn store, then bought a couple of books at Munro's, and Andy got some chocolates to take back to our hotel room for later.
Roger's Chocolates has been here, in this location, since 1891. It's like box of truffles inside, dark and luscious and decadent.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to look out across the harbor at the buildings of Parliament.
And up at the statue of this guy.
And then turned to cross the street to our hotel.
And went in, and up the elevator, and onto the sixth floor, just to take one last look down before turning in for the night.
Man, was I ever tired.