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Butchart Gardens
Keremeos Grist Mill
UBC Physic Garden
Point Ellice House
Royal Roads/Hatley Park
Historic Public Gardens to Visit:
British Columbia

Among the region's many fine public gardens are a surprising number of historic landscapes. Some are restorations of once-fine gardens that had fallen into disrepair and were brought back to their former glory. Others are originals that have survived for scores of years. A few are re-creations. These gardens are as diverse as the region's past. They include kitchen gardens planted by the Hudson's Bay Company during the fur trade, pioneer rose gardens, Victorian showplaces, historic conservatories, lavish estate gardens of the twentieth century, and more. Each of them welcomes visitors.

I've visited all of these gardens. While the ones I've seen were really wonderful, any garden can have a bad spell. There are all kinds of reasons for problems (the weather stinks, funding fell through, volunteers quit, etc.), but one does not want to book a flight and travel 3,000 miles to see them. To avoid such a debacle, contact the places in question and grill them for information. In other words, this page offers information, not endorsements or guarantees.

check Butchart Botanical Gardens

Butchart Garden, as seen on vintage postcard

Butchart Gardens c. 1930

Benvenuto Road 13 miles north of Victoria
PO Box 4010
Station A
Victoria, BC V8X 3X4
Phone: (866) 652-4422 Toll Free
website: The Butchart Botanical Gardens

Although this garden is nearly 100 years old, hardy anybody thinks of it as a historical landscape. Still, beneath the lavish flower displays for which it is famous, the garden has distinctively historic elements.

Jenny Butchart built these gardens starting in about 1904. One of her first projects was to beautify an old quarry. From the beginning, Mrs. Butchart thought big. She and a crew of workers moved mountains of soil to the site and brought in hundreds of choice ornamentals for the make-over. Today, the plantings are a lush tapestry of foliage, flowers, and form.

Over the next few decades, she added acres and acres of additional gardens. For example, the Japanese-style garden, which was inspired by a visit to Japan, dates from 1908. The rose garden, designed by notable landscape architect Butler Stevens Sturtevant, went in in 1929. Many of the garden's other displays also have rich histories.

Today, the gardens are awash in flowers virtually year round, but there is a renewed interest in their history, too. Curators have assembled vintage photographs, historic household items, garden memorabilia, and other items in a retrospective exhibit at the garden during the winter months.

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check Keremeos Grist Mill

R.R.#1, Upper Bench Road
Keremeos, BC V0X 1N0
Phone: (604) 499-2888
website: Keremeos Grist Mill

The Keremeos grist mill, built by Barrington Price in 1877 and restored in the 1980s by B.C. Heritage, is the province's sole surviving grist mill that has both its original building and machinery. In addition to the historic mill, the site also has an orchard of heirloom apples, fields of historic varieties of wheat, and gardens of old-time vegetables.

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check Physic Garden, University of British Columbia Botanical Garden

University of British Columbia (UBC) Botanical Garden
6804 S.W. Marine Drive
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4
Phone: (604) 822-3928
website: Physic Garden

Although built in recent years, the UBC's Physick Garden reflects a much earlier time -- the late Renaissance, to be precise. It is a replica of a monastery garden, re-created from a 16th-century Dutch engraving. Like many early herb gardens, this one is surrounded by a wall. Inside, the garden is designed in a circle. A sundial stands in the middle, surrounded by rings of beds outlined in brick. They display a variety of historic herbs and a few woody plants. Although herbalists of the day thought all of them were medicinal, later scientists have determined that some were helpful, some were really harmful or even deadly, and some were merely the stuff of old wives' tales.

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check Point Ellice House

2616 Pleasant Street
Victoria, BC
Phone: (250) 380-6506
Fax: (250) 356-7796
website: Point Ellice House

In 1889, Peter and Caroline O'Reilly entertained Victoria's aristocracy in a garden at Point Ellice that was, from all reports, a showplace. Trees and shrubs complemented the Italianate home, and the 2.2 acre grounds were appointed with a tennis and croquet lawn, a rose garden, a kitchen garden, and other amenities. Today, this garden is being restored to its original design, and turn-of-the-century flowers once again bloom among the original trees and shrubs. Heirloom vegetables fill the kitchen garden. Old roses, lilacs, hardy fuchsias, camellias, magnolias, holly, elms, redwoods, and other period plants reveal the taste and style of old Victoria.

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check Royal Roads and Hatley Park Gardens

Hatley Park, as seen on vintage postcard

Hatley Park Gardens

2005 Sooke Road
Victoria BC, Canada V9B 5Y2
Phone: (866) 241-0674
website: Royal Roads and Hatley Park Gardens

In about 1908, James Dunsmuir, a coal and railroad magnate, built his dream house, a 17,000 square foot home on 650 acres overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Nicknamed "The Castle," it was complemented by suitably elaborate grounds featuring a Japanese garden, an Italian formal garden, a rose garden, a conservatory, sweeping lawns, specimen trees and banks of shrubs. Although Dunsmuir died in 1920, the family owned the estate until the late 1930s. Since then, it has been home to a military college, and is currently a university campus.

In recent years, much of the original landscape (except the still-absent conservatory) has been renovated. Today, the grounds are once again appointed with formal gardens, manicured perennial borders, heritage trees, and assorted ponds and fountains. Across sweeping lawns, the grounds also include a Japanese garden, an English natural garden, a rose garden, and a rock garden.

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