Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Garden Saved By Two Dead Ducks

Dad and I spent our final day of the cruise on a shore excursion to the famous (though we had never heard of them) Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island in British Columbia.

Victoria is a lovely city bordered by mountains on three sides with extremely mild temperatures. We were told it seldom gets warmer than 90 degrees and hardly ever goes below 32. Snow usually melts within 12 hours. Our guide joked that it's an island of "flower beds, newlyweds, and nearly deads." He told us that one newspaper quipped, "Victoria Island is where the elderly go to spend time with their grandparents."

Robert Butchart and his wife, Jennie, began manufacturing cement in the late 1800s and became the largest provider of the material on the West Coast. They moved to Victoria in the early 1900s because Robert had discovered a limestone quarry - an essential element in cement manufacturing in those days - and they built their home on the property. The story, passed down to his grandchildren we were told, goes that Robert enjoyed collecting birds. He had a favorite pair of Woodland Ducks that he had purchased and transported all the way from Germany.

One year, while traveling in Europe, the family received word that both of their Woodland Ducks had died after an eagle attack. Since they were already mostly there, Robert insisted on going to Germany to purchase new ducks.

Jennie would hear nothing of it, insisting that if they went, they would miss their steamship home. Robert put his foot down and insisted and off the family trekked to Germany. After making his purchase and arranging for the ducks to be sent back to British Columbia, the family rushed back to England only to find that they had missed their boat by two days. So they had to make alternate travel arrangements.

What boat did they miss? The Titanic.

And that's how two dead ducks saved the Butchart Gardens. What happened is the quarry turned out to be not all that large and Robert opened a new one a few years later, leaving Jennie stuck with the problem of a huge, empty quarry in her backyard. One day a friend remarked to her that she would *never* be able to do anything with that eyesore and Jennie Butchart took that as a challenge. She had farmers truck in tons and tons of fill dirt and began planting flowers, of which she was something of a collector and aficionado. She hung by her toes to plant ivy along the sides of the quarry walls.

For the first few years, the family would allow whomever wanted to stop by the gardens and admire them, and the family even served them tea.

In 1921 Jennie finished her floral remodeling of the quarry, calling it her "Sunken Garden." In 1926 they took out their tennis courts and used the space for an Italian garden, and three years later the couple transformed their vegetable garden into a rose garden. Ownership of the grounds has remained in the Butchart family ever since.

I've put many photos of what are possibly the most colorful and diverse gardens I have EVER seen on my Facebook page. Now, mind you, I'm not a flower guy. I know pretty much nothing about them. If you ask me what my wife's favorite flower is, I'm likely to say, "Pillsbury." But these gardens were just lovely to gaze upon. A balm to the soul, even.

We're told that during the tourist season, the family now employs 600 people. 100 of them are gardeners and 55 of those are *master* gardeners. The head gardener and his assistant live right on the grounds. They change the displays five times every year - once each season and a second time between Winter and Spring.

= = = = =

Pop and I fly home tomorrow and I may add a few more photos I took with my cell phone but have no way to get them onto a computer while I'm in digital roam. So check back at Facebook in a day or two.

It's been a great trip. I've eaten at least three kinds of chowder, had so much salmon I feel like swimming upstream, had a taste of kelp marmalade, and ridden on two boats, countless buses, and one tram. I've hiked halfway up the side of a mountain, pushed my father in a wheelchair around 55 acres of gardens, and walked at least three miles around the ship. I've seen so much beauty in the wilderness that my eyes may never hurt again, and I've heard so many foreign languages I feel like we've visited the Tower of Babel.

And none of it would have been possible without the kindness, generosity, and genuine love for family shown by my father.

Thanks, Dad.


Mark's Musings is published on a periodical basis - right now on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Pop quiz: What kind of salmon does the ring finger signify? Told you I'd be testing!

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