While bad weather and limited open attractions often accompany traveling in the off season, sometimes, a little winter travel can yield an incredibly unique experience that simply can’t be purchased. Butchart Gardens, Canada’s world-famous botanical garden, is one of British Columbia’s top tourist attractions. In the summer months, lovers of all things flowers flock to Butchart Gardens, and the crowds can be overwhelming for those who had hoped nature would bring some solitude.
Kevin and I, however, visited on a chilly, rainy day in late November and had the Gardens all to ourselves. Pretty incredible, right? We only passed two other couples and a few maintenance employees throughout the entire duration of our visit, and the entire experience was simply otherworldly. Do you ever find yourself at a popular attraction, trying to take some photographs only to be foiled by fellow tourists who keep getting in the way? This is a particular pet peeve of mine, and although I sometimes love the energy of an urban destination, I also enjoy peaceful moments.
After leaving Butchart Gardens, Kevin and I hopped back on the ferry and headed towards Vancouver, where our hotel room looked out over an adult video store and hypodermic needles littered the sidewalk. Vancouver is exciting and fun, but I spent the more stressful moments of our downtown evening thinking about Butchart Gardens, and it made for a perfectly balanced day of travel.
The Beauty of Butchart Gardens
Kevin brought me to Butchart Gardens in November 2014, just days before Thanksgiving. He’d been to the Gardens before as a small child, but this marked my first visit. I’ll confess, the price of admission, which is adjusted with every season, gave me pause. We only had one day to spend on Vancouver Island, and naturally, the rain had been constant and the clouds showed no sign of letting up. I wondered if we’d even be able to enjoy the Gardens in the cold rain, but thankfully, Kevin convinced me that the ticket cost would be well worth it.
Of course, Kevin was right. Aren’t these Gardens just fairy-tale magical?
Incredibly enough, a mere hundred years ago, The Butchart Gardens were merely an ugly, diminishing limestone quarry on a plot of private land owned by the wealthy Butchart family. Robert, a cement industrialist, and Jenny, a chemist and hobby gardener, together designed, planned, and built the stunning garden that we all enjoy today. Quite the talented pair, I know, and their son continued their botanical legacy and helped the Gardens grow into a must-see attraction.
Kevin and I spent a few hours just wandering around, exploring many parts of the Gardens twice. The Sunken Garden, pictured above, stole my heart while Kevin’s favorite was the Japanese Garden (see below). Butchart Gardens is not to be rushed; plan to spend at least two hours walking around, and take your time to explore all the little paths and ponds.
Note the canvas on the right side of the photo holding a massive amount of clear umbrellas.
A lovely little pond with stepping stones. I don’t recommend falling in.
Carousels Aren’t Just For Kids
I feel as though every globetrotter has their own set of odd travel quirks that hold great personal meaning. History buffs flock to battlefields (even when there’s nothing left to see), castle collectors will drive two hours out of the way just to visit another medieval stronghold, and breakfast food aficionados will plan a trip to Brussels just to sample an array of waffles.
Personally, I have a number of travel quirks, and riding every merry-go-round in sight is one that Kevin and I both share. Sure, the circular motion makes Kevin’s stomach churn, but so long as we haven’t just eaten a meal, he’s good to go.
The charming carousel in Butchart Gardens. I particularly loved the rose detail along the top, which certainly is fitting given the setting. We had the whole carousel to ourselves, and the attendant had to run the ride specially for us. The merry-go-round is incredibly affordable; we didn’t pay more than a few U.S. dollars per person.
Of course, Kevin made a beeline for the panda – one of his two favorite animals!
Chilling with a carousel statue…we have a tendency to do that.
The Upside To Traveling With Your Partner
Perhaps the coolest part of my tour of the Gardens involved watching Kevin recall spots that had stood out to him when he visited as a child. He would excitedly point to a statue or viewpoint that he remembered well, or comment on something that he presumed must be new. There’s so much literature available about the benefits to traveling alone – which is awesome, I loved getting to explore Paris by myself – but there is little written about the perks to traveling with your partner. If you’re in a relationship and have the opportunity to travel to a new place that your partner visited as a child, seize it.
There are innumerable benefits to traveling, and you can learn so much about yourself by exploring new places. Turns out, you can also learn plenty about your travel partner, and I found it fascinating to visit a place of childhood importance to Kevin. I loved hearing him talk about what interested him at age ten versus age twenty-two, and seeing just how much early travel influenced him. After all, when we met, he was the well-traveled one.
I know, it’s a little surprising that there’s more to traveling with your partner than fighting over directions and when to take a bathroom break!
“I remember this house!” Kevin excitedly exclaimed before sharing a memory of his childhood visit.
Kevin enjoying a serene pond in the Japanese Garden, a part of the Gardens he loved as a child.
That Kevin and I had Butchart Gardens nearly to ourselves is one of those travel experiences that simply can’t be replicated. The Gardens also look far more stunning in person than in photographs; the shots I’ve featured in this piece don’t do the rich fall colors and meticulously manicured topiaries justice. Nor can my photos accurately capture the feeling of serenity in this massive, tourist-free garden.
In fact, I’d say that this visit to Butchart Gardens is one of my top five favorite travel memories. Not only did it launch a series of international trips with Kevin, but I learned what is now my cardinal rule of travel: the weather doesn’t matter. Seriously, it can be twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit and snowing or seventy degrees and sunny and good times will still be had. Also, how unique is it to enjoy a world-class attraction with almost no other visitors causing lines or crowding sights? Just the icing on the cake, trust me!
- If you visit Butchart Gardens during the rain, don’t fret. There are plenty of umbrellas to borrow at no extra cost; simply return the umbrella before you leave. On rainy days, you’ll notice umbrella stands conveniently scattered throughout the Gardens and parking lot. No ridiculous one-dollar plastic poncho for you!
- There is a lovely cafe in the Gardens that, in true British fashion, offers afternoon tea for an exorbitant price. Reasonable hot chocolate and pastries can be purchased, and there’s a fireplace and comfortable seating area where you can eat your snack and recharge.