Spring Garden Insights


By Brian Nixon, Horticultural Manager

The official start to spring this year was on March 20th, but at The Butchart Gardens, we began to see hints of spring in early February. We have learned from past experience not to get too excited when we see these early splashes of colour as the transition from winter to spring can be unpredictable, and, quite frankly, nerve wracking. Cold snaps can be a gardener’s worst enemy as tender new growth begins to develop on many of the plants in the gardens. This tender growth is susceptible to cold damage which happens when freezing temperatures rupture plant cells. If cold damage does occur the plants will typically survive, but they might need some tender loving care to nurse them back to health.

Narcissus providing a splash of colour in early February

Now that spring has officially arrived, our gardening team is busily preparing The Gardens to welcome our visitors – performing tasks such as scratching flower beds, pruning shrubs, cutting grass, mulching, and raking backgrounds. While these tasks are not necessarily required in order for the spring show to arrive, these fine touches are what define us here at The Butchart Gardens, and provide the plants the best opportunity to thrive for our visitors to enjoy.

Lawn maintenance provides a manicured backdrop for the flowers to shine

An enormous amount of planning goes into the spring flower display that our visitors from around the world come to enjoy. The planning for this year’s display took place last April, during the peak of the spring season. We call this “bed planning”, and it requires a hands-on approach where each and every flower bed is critiqued one by one. Some of the things that we are looking to perfect are colour combination, flower timing, textures, and flower height. After all of the meticulous planning that goes into the spring display, we patiently wait and see what next year will bring. Our goal is to continuously strive for perfection, and if possible, improve from the previous year’s floral display. If you are a frequent visitor, have a close look around to see if you can identify some of the subtle changes that we have made.

Various bed combinations throughout the Sunken Garden

There are so many things to love about the spring season in the garden – the songbirds singing, bees buzzing, and the fragrant scent of spring flowers. The longer days provide us more time to enjoy the beauty that spring has to offer, and we do not need to bundle up while enjoying the flowers. Spring is the beginning of an entirely new growing season, and the long winter provides many gardeners a substantial amount of time to put their gardening plans into motion. If you are from a relatively mild climate, I’m sure that you appreciate spring just as much as we do here on Vancouver Island, and in many other locations across Canada.

The American Robin, a harbinger of spring

As we enjoy the spectacular beauty that our spring show provides, the greenhouse technicians are hard at work tending to the thousands of summer plants to be transplanted into the gardens in May. The entire summer flower display that fills this 55-acre garden is being grown in 26 greenhouses covering 0.8 hectares (2 acres). Once the plants have been potted, the majority of the work will be watering each and every plant on an almost daily basis. These plants will remain in the greenhouses until we start summer planting in mid-May.

Inside the greenhouses plants are tended to before being transplanted into the gardens

Visiting The Gardens in the spring is truly an unforgettable experience, from the flowering ornamental fruit trees to the endless displays of tulips and daffodils lining many of the pathways throughout. In addition to the flower beds, dazzling with colour, there are pots, urns and hanging baskets located in multiple locations to enjoy. The Begonia Bower is one place where you can really appreciate the hanging baskets up close. Thea Hegland writes a detailed “What’s in Bloom Now” blog that I suggest you read. Here you will find a comprehensive list and description of the plants that are currently in bloom.

Flowering ornamental fruit trees to the endless displays of tulips

Something that I really enjoy in my role as the Horticultural Manager is connecting with visitors, and hearing their experiences while visiting The Gardens. Our goal is to provide a wonderful garden experience for everyone who has the opportunity to visit, and is a perfect place to connect with friends and loved ones or even take a stroll on your own. Research supports the benefits of spending more time in the outdoors, enjoying plants, and surrounding yourself with nature. I invite you to come and enjoy the endless displays of brilliant colour, and breathtaking landscapes that spring has to offer here at The Butchart Gardens.