IIAlaska08: Alaska Cruise

Victoria’s Fabulous Butchart Gardens

 

July 28- August 6, 2008

 

IAlaska08: Flight to Vancouver

VAlaska08: Skagway & Train Ride

IIAlaska08: Visit to Butchart Gardens

VIAlaska08: Glacier Bay

IIIAlaska08: Ship M/S Ryndam

VII: Shopping in Ketchikan

IVAlaska08: Juneau for Whale Watch

VIII: Flight Home to Memphis

 

By LEWIS NOLAN

 

Return To Nolan Travels Home Page

 

To View Photo Album of 298 Pictures mainly taken by Betty Nolan, Go to http://ritzpix.com, sign in and look for lewis_nolan/ photos. Or, email lewis_nolan@yahoo.com so he can send you a link with automatic admission to the website. (Page updated Aug. 31, 2008)

 

Monday, July 28, 2008 – Excursion to Butchart Gardens and tour around Vancouver, Canada

 

The highpoint of our stay in Vancouver and one of the peaks of our entire, 9-day trip to Canada and Alaska was our excursion to the nearby town of Victoria and 2-hour visit to the fabulous Butchart Gardens.

 

Betty is a dedicated gardener and her tireless labors has made our home in East Memphis a wonderful spot of beauty and relaxation on just over a half-acre in a prime residential neighborhood. We are members of the Memphis Botanic Garden and have sat in lectures and taken classes there. We have visited over the years some of the most renowned gardens in the world, including the Kew Garden outside London, the Luxembourg Garden in Paris, the Living Desert Museum and Garden outside Tucson and showcase, municipal gardens in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Flagstaff, New Orleans and other cities.

 

But in terms of the beauty and majesty of flowering blooms and graceful stands of seasonal plantings the Butchart Gardens is the most awe-inspiring display and celebration of botany we’ve ever seen.

 

Our visit there started with a pickup by a tour bus at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel. The bus was driven by an affable and knowledgeable chap by the name of Jack Kastelein of West Coast City and Nature Sightseeing Ltd. Its website is www.vancouverSightseeing.com and telephone number is 604-451-1600. 

 

Based on her experience personally and with other customers, our travel agent – Beth Beall of Gulliver’s Travel in Memphis – had booked us on the West Coast tour vendor rather than the one provided by the ship-sponsored vendor.

 

It was a 12-hour tour, which we found to be quite interesting even if a bit long. We enjoyed a quick drive with commentary (Jack provided a lot of local information on this and other aspects of the tour) around downtown Vancouver (pop. roughly equal to that of Memphis, 640,000). We then took a 90-minute cruise on a BC Ferry, on which we had a quick sandwich; and scenic ride through a saltwater passage to Victoria.

 

Victoria is the capital of the Province of British Columbia and reminded us of a tidy and proper town of England. Like the rest of Canada, it recognizes Queen Elizabeth of England as its soverign but has a quarrelsome Parliament which acceded to the wishes of its French-speaking Eastern residents and made French an equal partner in terms of official names and signage. We later drove around the expansive Stanley Park overlooking the city of Vancouver and stopped for a sandwich, chips and huge Diet Coke ($23) from a hilltop next to a beautiful bay.

 

The tour bus also drove around some small towns in the Victoria area on the Saanich Peninsula of Vancouver Island. We had purchased the all-day bus tour through Gulliver’s Travel in Memphis as part of our cruise package; the retail tour price is $170 per adult, with discounts given children.

 

Betty and I found the Butchart Gardens tour to be the hands-down, most beautiful gardens we’ve ever visited. That superlative – and such are only cautiously made by this onetime newspaper journalist who learned how self-defeating they can be – comes after spending more than a little time at such noted gardens as the municipal ones in Memphis, Santa Barbara, CA; Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, Honolulu, Niagara Falls, Canada; Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson, AZ; Cornwall, England (including the grand Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan and Barbara Hepworth Garden in or near St. Ives in Cornwall) and other locations. We’ve savored our time visiting huge royal gardens operated by the national governments in Washington; Paris, France; and in Kew, England.

 

We routinely carve out time to visit local gardens when visiting new places. At our home in Memphis, we have a residential lot a little over one-half of an acre that Betty has transformed into a neighborhood Garden of Eden. I once endowed the installation of a small rose garden in Betty’s honor at the National Ornamental Metal Museum, which overlooks the Mississippi River from a high bluff on the southern part of Downtown Memphis.

 

In 2004, Victoria’s Butchart Gardens celebrated its 100th anniversary. It was honored by the designation of National Historic Site of Canada. It was founded by Robert and Jennie Butchart when they acquired the land at Tod Inlet on Vancouver Island. A promotional brochure says, “Starting with sweet pea seeds and a rose bush, Jennie began a lifelong project to create garden.

 

“With great vision, she transformed the barren, worked-out limestone quarry excavated to supply the Portland cement factory nearby (owned by her husband who went on to accumulate a fortune), to the Sunken Garden that contain a skillful mixture of rare and exotic shrubs, trees and flowers often personally collected during the Butcharts during their extensive world travels. Now 22 hectares (55 acres) of breathtaking gardens on the 130-acre estate are visited by more than a million people each year.”

 

Butchart Gardens operates daily year-round, with special displays and plantings for the seasons and “The Magic of Christmas.” Always open are the Rose, Japanese, Mediterranean  and Italian Gardens plus the Star Pond and Piazza. Butchart opens open daily at 9 a.m., except at Christmas when it opens at 1 p.m. Evening entertainment is provided from June 28 through August 30. Fireworks shows are on Saturday nights.

 

Its toll free telephone number is 888-824-7314. There is a website with information and lots of dramatic photos at www.butchartgardens.com (offers garden art and other merchandise for purchase) and email at geninfo@butchartgardens.com. It is still owned by the Butchart family and employs 50 fulltime professional gardeners plus 40 or more for 8 months of the year. The nighttime viewing times as well for visitors to tour the well-lighted Gardens in the evening.

 

We talked with one young professional, who explained that Butchart Gardens aims to produce on a year-around basis a “spectacular show” of flowers and plantings. From what we personally witnessed, they succeed very nicely as it was far beyond the beauty of other gardens we have enjoyed. The excavated area where limestone was unearthed forms a truly majestic setting for the “Sunken Gardens” of hundreds and hundreds of blooming plants on display. The Sunken Gardens are lined with exquisite flower beds, manicured grass lawn areas and curving, neatly made brick pathways.

 

Unlike most public attractions we’ve visited, dogs on leashes are welcome. Provided at no cost in case of rain (as on the day of our visit) are clear, plastic umbrellas. Also made available at no charge are wheelchairs, child strollers and bicycle racks.

 

Food service at Butchart includes Afternoon Tea served in the former family home (a tradition that started in the early 20th Century) plus a Dining Room, Blue Poppy Restaurant, Coffee Shop and several outdoor facilities with sandwiches, hot dogs, soft drinks, etc., open in season. Also available is a huge, well-stocked seed store and gift shop and a Plant Identification Center where professionals are prepared to answer questions.

 

Visitors are given at no charge a 24-page Flower and Plant Guide that contains more than 100,   postage stamp-sized photos and information about the huge number of flowers and plants that thrive in the garden. (Some were new to even the knowledgeable Betty, who works with a great many plants that thrive in our home climate.)

 

The Butchart catalog of plants common to their garden begins with “Alyssum, Sweet” and runs through “Zinnia.” To give it the feel of a private rather than a public garden, there only a few individual signs giving the plant names, largely confined to the Rose Garden. But the Guide includes the common name for the plant as well as the Latin name, the plant type such as Annual, Perennial and Biennial; specified growing conditions necessary for the plant to thrive such as sun, partial shade and shade; blooming season; common plant growth height; and flower color.

 

Admission to Bouchart costs $26.50 for adults – and to our way of thinking is well worth the price. Children aged 5-to-12 are charged $13.

 

After our tour that Betty wished would have been longer than 1 ½ hours, we poked around Victoria and enjoyed poking around the historic Empress Hotel – where the mother of our daughter-in-law honeymooned a decade ago – and a beautiful marina in the downtown area. We enjoyed pretty good sandwiches and a gigantic salad for a $26-lunch at Sam’s Deli downtown. We re-boarded the tour bus at the designated spot, rode back to Vancouver on a big car ferry and retired about 10:30 p.m.

 

Holland America had arranged to pick up the two of us and about a dozen other cruise passengers the next morning. We happened to meet in the lobby some passengers who were just delivered back to the hotel after spending a week on the ship and they had nothing but praise for the boat and its services.

 

A modern tour bus – driven by an affable, older man (Jim Kelley) who tried hard to please – picked us up in the hotel lobby at mid-morning. He drove us around downtown Vancouver and showed us such sights as a nearby Jazz District full of nightclubs that offer music. Among the points he made during his guide talk were:

  • Vancouver has the highest per capita income in Canada, $58,000.

 

  • The influx of Chinese that followed the absorption of Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China brought Vancouver’s Asian population to 40 percent of the total. Its “Chinatown” is supposedly the biggest in the world outside of San Francisco.

 

  • Average single-family homes currently sell for $600,000 – nearly double the U.S. average.

 

  • Many wealthy Chinese fleeing the Communist takeover of Hong Kong in the 1980s propelled Vancouver’s huge escalation in property values.

 

  • Vancouver climate is the warmest in Canada. It snows only occasionally and even then quickly melts.

 

  • Downtown is a metal, glass and concrete forest of high rise office buildings and condo developments.

 

  • Businesses where we bought drinks and food would take our U.S. dollars but gave change in Canadian money, at a slight exchange advantage.

 

  • Other than a few places adorned with the British Royal names of Queen Elizabeth and others, the Queen is only a ceremonial monarch. There are few overt displays of the British Commonwealth that are evident.

 

  • While our tour was only for a few hours, it seems that Vancouver is the most vibrant city in turns of economics and culture that I’ve visited. The prosperity and trappings of success in terms of architecture and parks around the beautiful harbor on one side and green mountains on the other make it a truly beautiful place.

 

  • There are lots and lots of citizens and visitors walking about the downtown area in comfortable, leisure clothes. Many wear blue jeans, sandals and sweatshirts on days like that of our visit with sunny skies and a temperature near 70 degrees.

 

  • Prices in Vancouver seem to be New York-high. We paid over $9 for an overly large container of Pepsi, a large cup of cappuccino and a bag of chips at Prospect Point in Stanley Park – named for Lord Stanley, a Queen’s Representative. But we had a great view of the town and harbor from a construction site for a new parking lot serving the park.

 

  • The prices high around town that we checked were underscored by the $52 charged us at the hotel for after-hours room service of a club sandwich, French fries, small salad and two bottles of Coors Lite. A small breakfast delivered to our room cost $23.

 

  • On the Holland America ship, the M/S Ryndam, a single can of Diet Coke costs $1.95.

 

After our tour bus ride around downtown Vancouver, we drove into the big boarding area for cruise boats and were pleased to see how quick and hassle free it was to board the ship, M/S Ryndam. It had been more than a decade since we boarded a big Carnival Lines ship in Florida for a Caribbean Cruise, which had been a hassle through-and-through.

 

We were fortunate to have an eager-to-please room steward who tries hard to keep our in-room ice bucket full during the day and evening. A small supply of canned soft drinks and bottled water on our table is replenished when necessary.

 

The early indications of the high level of service we quickly came to expect – and receive - from all aspects of the ship – reminded me of the high recommendations of Holland America made by a lady of a certain age we had met several years ago when on a cruise on the Danube River. The woman, who grew up in Cincinnati and is retired in Vero Beach, FL, said she had been on the line 25 times and found it far superior to other lines. She was a retired CPA and a widow whose husband left her so well fixed that taking cruises was her hobby.

 

Continue With Part III of Travelogue  /  Return To Nolan Travels Home Page