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The Butchart Gardens in March offer a mood of dark quiet, wisps of foggy intrigue, and solitude.

The Butchart Gardens in March offer a mood of dark quiet, wisps of foggy intrigue, and solitude.

Prior to our long road trip last month, M had called from Boston and asked me, “What’s the weather on the coast like in March?”

I exhaled with doubt and not a little cynicism, “Wet. Grey. Temps in the 40s, maybe around 50.”

“That sounds great!” he gushed. It left me puzzled for several minutes, till I remembered he was going to fly away from New England, and a record snowfall in Boston. Obviously rain was an improvement, and 40s sounded like a heat wave.

Though it was cool and wet, it suited me just fine and kept most of the other tourists and locals away. We practically had the grounds to ourselves, as you will see from the photos.

A road trip on the coast in March may be just what the doctor ordered, as long as you bring a bright fuchsia rain jacket and a friend with a great attitude.

A road trip on the coast in March may be just what the doctor ordered, as long as you bring a bright fuchsia rain jacket and a friend with a great attitude.

My earlier blog post referencing our trip to Butchart Gardens included only a couple of lovely shots and a promise to post again. Here it is! Lots of photos. In fact, way too many for a blog post. If you really want to see a bunch of garden photos, please visit my Flickr page.

Jennie Butchart was the chemist for the family business, but her soul’s work was gardening. She and Isaburo Kishida began designing a Japanese Garden in 1906. Mrs. Butchart also had her eye on Robert Butchart’s quarry. As her husband exhausted the limestone quarry in 1908, Jennie was having topsoil hauled in to line the floor. One of the first things she planted was a row of poplars to block the view of the concrete factory, and those trees remain. Mr. Butchart was very supportive of his wife’s garden, and was pleased that the grounds and ponds were suitable to his own hobby of collecting birds.

The couple gave the garden to their grandson Ian Ross for his 21st birthday. Mr. Ross revitalized the garden and the couple’s home, and hosted events – such as the symphony – to share the place with the community.

By the 1920s, more than 50,000 people a year were visiting Jennie’s garden, and today visitors number nearly one million each year. In 2004 the garden was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The garden has grown to 55 acres and spread well beyond the old quarry pit. In addition to the Sunken Garden (in the pit), other main gardens are the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Italian Garden. (More info at The Butchart Story.)

The welcoming sign

The welcoming sign

The Sunken Gardens are one of the first things a visitor sees. It's a truly amazing and beautiful garden in a hole left from a old quarry.

The Sunken Gardens are one of the first things a visitor sees. It’s a truly amazing and beautiful garden in a hole left from a old quarry.

The water feature

Ross Fountain, built by Ian Ross

Another view of the Sunken Gardens

Another view of the Sunken Gardens

The Carousel. Look at those wonderful animals!

The Carousel. Look at those wonderful animals!

This is where they prepare their own starts from seeds.

This is where they prepare their own starts from seeds.

bells in the rain

bells in the rain

Petals provide enough rays of golden sunshine to suit me this day

Petals provide enough rays of golden sunshine to suit me this day

Twisty branch of Corylus with catkins

Twisty branch of Corylus with catkins

Cherry blossoms covered the ground as though it were snow!

Cherry blossoms covered the ground as though it were snow!

Entrance to the rose garden. It was not rose season when we were there.

Entrance to the rose garden. It was not rose season when we were there.

Entering the Japanese garden, I had M place a pebble onto the Torii gate for us. While I was in Japan, it was explained to me that, since the torii is a gate to the spirit world, the rock holds a connection back to your own world, so you have a better chance of being able to return. I don't know if it's a true Japanese tradition, but I love it. Torii that I saw in Japan frequently had pebbles along the top.

Entering the Japanese garden, I had M place a pebble onto the Torii gate for us. While I was in Japan, it was explained to me that, since the torii is a gate to the spirit world, the rock holds a connection back to your own world, so you have a better chance of being able to return. I don’t know if it’s a true Japanese tradition, but I love it. Torii that I saw in Japan frequently had pebbles along the top.

The Japanese garden is large and well done.

The Japanese garden is large and well done.

Lantern balanced on an uneven rock.

Lantern balanced on an uneven rock.

Path through a pool

Path through a pool

Butchart Cove is directly behind the Japanese garden, and is picture perfect.

Butchart Cove is directly behind the Japanese garden, and is picture perfect.

Part of the perfection of gardens is arranging features so that, when viewed from different angles, what you see forms a portrait.

Part of the perfection of gardens is arranging features so that, when viewed from different angles, what you see forms a portrait.

Frogs in the Star Pond.

Frogs in the Star Pond.

In the Italian garden.

In the Italian garden.

M had been asking me periodically what the plants were called, how they grew, were they found in the wild. We walked into the greenhouse and our roles reversed! M talked with delight at how many of the plants we saw grew wild in Sri Lanka where he grew up, and he found it a delight to see those same plants showcased as  "exotics" in the garden.

M had been asking me periodically what the plants were called, how they grew, were they found in the wild. We walked into the greenhouse and our roles reversed! M talked with delight at how many of the plants we saw grew wild in Sri Lanka where he grew up, and he found it a delight to see those same plants showcased as “exotics” in the garden.

Dripping with colour

Dripping with colour

Like cotton candy

Like cotton candy

Orchids are my favourite flower.

Orchids are my favourite flower.

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Thursday we were able to spend the whole day in Vancouver, and that was a boon, because this huge fabulous city deserves as much time as you can give her.

One of the first things that struck me was the number of apartment high-rises sprouting like shiny stalks from a garden. On both sides of the highway bridge, grey and glossy in the daylight, home to how many tens of thousands of apartment-dwellers, I don’t know. Right away M and I could see that people want to live in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

We agreed that it would be a good idea to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour, to get a sense of the place. I think those tours are a great idea for your first time in a big city: get off and look around at the interesting places, and then get on the next bus when you’re satiated. We took the trolley tour so we could push back the windows and take lots of photos.

I was struck by the creative architecture in Vancouver. I’m not used to so many modern skyscrapers in a single city reflecting so many elegant, sweeping curves. No fish-eye lenses used in the photos below: those are curved buildings. Seems like I’ll spot one stunning example in any given city, but here, there were many. Too many to catch them all from the window of the trolley.

One nice stop was the lookout over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park. This is a 1000 acre forested city park on a high hill overlooking First Narrows, separating North Vancouver from Vancouver. The huge park holds gardens, biking and running along the seawall, memorials, wildlife, and some really old Western Red cedar trees.

We were hungry by the time we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville Island, and it was the perfect place to be hungry. M was fascinated by the large open-air market, and commented how it was similar to the one he had seen in Arcata, California. I am used to these markets, so it was fun to be amazed again, through his eyes. We stopped at the butcher to ask for a recommendation on where to get a good steak. M owed me a steak from a little mishap on day one (someone forgot their camera battery charger and we had to turn around and go back). This resulted in our finest meal of the trip: steak and lobster perfection. The flavour was not better, but equal to the oysters earlier, but the presentation was fine dining this time.

We took the last trolley out of there, and the driver was hilarious and gregarious. Since it was the last trip, he delivered each person on board exactly to their final destination, even if it wasn’t part of the tour route. Score!

By then it was evening and we had to blast on out of town. Before we knew it, we were going through the border crossing. The man at the gate headed directly for the back of the Jeep, pulled out the luggage, and lifted the storage lid in the back, like he knew exactly what he was doing. The only thing we had hidden back there were nearly six pounds of Tillamook cheese! It had been my idea to keep it in the back, likely the coolest place in the car. For 10 minutes we had been grilled with pretty official questions, and then we were asked, “Why do you have so much cheese?!” M and I burst out laughing. “It’s Tillamook!” I answered. “Have you tasted it?”

As we made our way south in m.p.h. rather than kilometers, we debated whether to bang out the last few hundred miles and go all the way to Portland that night. M asked if he would miss anything by skipping Seattle. I said, “Well, it’s a city on the water. It’s beautiful, eclectic, West-coast laid back, diverse, and energized. The architecture is awesome. The food is outstanding. And since you like outdoor markets so much, Seattle has one of the best.”

I texted my brother about recommendations for places to stay, and – as I suspected would happen – got an invitation to stay at their place! Woo hoo! Their place is a treasure. They rent a three-bedroom home (we won’t disclose the amount, but the owner has neglected to increase the price for years) with a full yard and fruit trees and a garden only blocks from the Space Needle. It is surrounded on all side by apartment buildings, and the entrance to the house drops down a hill, so you can’t even see it from the street. As we were chatting before bed, we found out we were walking distance to Kerry Park – a famous overlook spot for the city – so M and I went for some spectacular nighttime views.

One Wall Centre

One Wall Centre

Carina

Carina

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Couldn't find the name of this one - love the bronze colour.

Couldn’t find the name of this one – love the bronze colour.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. "Not to the kid who owns it," quipped M. And he's right.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. “Not to the kid who owns it,” quipped M. And he’s right.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

The Lion's Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

The Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

Steam-powered clock

Steam-powered clock

Vancouver's Chinatown

Vancouver’s Chinatown

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

My brother and his girlfriend's oasis in Seattle.

My brother’s and his girlfriend’s oasis in Seattle.

Look at this handsome fellow.

Look at this handsome fellow.

Best thing about waking up this morning was that we were still at the Waddling Dog! He was gracious enough to allow me to snap his photo as we checked out.

We were at The Butchart Gardens right when they opened, and M and I walked for a couple of hours in the drizzle. We were both so glad we added the gardens to our trip. Two good things about touring the garden today: the grey skies prevented the sunshine washout in our photos, and there were very few people around. See? I’m a Pollyanna to the core.

Her Royal Highness, Victoria

Her Royal Highness, Victoria

The Sunken Garden was our favourite, followed by the Japanese garden for me. I’m not sure if he would choose a different second best garden. The grounds are immense and March was a good choice because the trees were blossoming and the bulbs were at peak. Tulips and daffodils and hyacinths galore! As it rained and rained, M decided he would like to work there. He wanted to have the job of watering the plants.

While most of the plants were familiar to me because the climate on Vancouver Island is similar to Portland, we finally got to a section where M knew all the plants: the indoor room, filled with orchids and other exotics that I find hard to imagine growing wild, like M described it.

We returned south along Highway 17, now becoming familiar. M is constantly astonished at the laid back nature of Vancouver drivers, who are extremely polite and make room for the Jeep while we change lanes. Not like Boston drivers. Back in Victoria we took one of those little yellow water taxis I included in my post yesterday. It was inexpensive and fun. We got out at Fisherman’s Wharf and ate fresh sturgeon for lunch – yum! I was stuffed for the rest of the day. While we ate, we watched kids feeding mackerel to seals off the dock.

Victoria is a lovely city. We saw interesting  architecture, history, statues, cultures. M (from Sri Lanka) and I (from the US) both have a history of British Colonization…but much different obviously. Coming across the many references to Britain, the Queen, the crown, etc. caused a reaction in him each time we saw something new. I am getting a bit of an education on this trip, I will say. And I trust he is as well. If only you could hear the discussions we’ve been having for days on end while the Jeep carries us around the wet West.

Rain. Yes. Lots and lots and lots.

After a good look at the key points of downtown, we were ready for the next adventure. We got onto the Tsawassen Ferry without so much as a bump in the road, and by evening were on the mainland. We went through the rain and dark in search of my blogger buddy from Quillscratches. We found her! We went and had eats and drinks and chats and then I had to break it all up because I just need my sleep. M has been such an accommodating traveling companion.

Here’s my plan: I’ll drop a couple photos on you and add an IOU for a new post dedicated just to the Butchart Gardens, since I took many many photos and don’t have the time to go through them all tonight. Cheers! Thanks everyone who has been travelling along with us and commenting. It has been a lot of fun to do this trip with a group of friends. 😉

Delicate twins. Beds of Flowers are often raised, making close-ups of tiny, ground-hugging flowers easier.

Delicate twins. Flower beds are often raised, making close-ups of tiny, ground-hugging flowers easier.

This is what we were able to see because it is March.

This is what we were able to see because it is March.

The Sunken Garden.

The Sunken Garden.

Darling little water taxis.

Darling little water taxis.

Kids feeding the sea lions. Look at the expressions on their faces!

Kids feeding the seals. Look at the expressions on their faces!

There was also an otter.

There was also an otter.

Next fish for me?

Next fish for me?

We loved the colorful floating village.

We loved the colorful floating village.

Here's another look at all the house boats at Fisherman's Wharf.

Here’s another look at all the house boats at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The most impressive architecture in town is the Parliament Building.

The most impressive architecture in town is the Parliament Building.

Parliament Building domes

Parliament Building domes

Grand entranceway

Grand entrance way

Confederation Garden Court

Confederation Garden Court

A hunter so intent on its prey that it held still while I got close for a photo.

A hunter so intent on its prey that it held still while I got close for a photo.

British history is embraced in Victoria, British Columbia's capitol city.

British history is embraced in Victoria, British Columbia’s capitol city.

The hour and a half ferry journey from Swartz to Tsawassen was more interesting than the previous ferry ride, because we wound our way through islands.

The hour and a half ferry journey from Swartz to Tsawassen was more interesting than the previous ferry ride, because we wound our way through islands.

M on the deck in the wind.

M on the deck in the wind.

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