IIAlaska08: Alaska Cruise
Victoria’s Fabulous Butchart
28- August 6, 2008
By LEWIS NOLAN
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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
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
and Garden outside Tucson and showcase,
municipal gardens in Atlanta, Chicago,
New Orleans and
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;
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
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.”
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 email@example.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
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,
influx of Chinese that followed the absorption of Hong Kong by the
People’s Republic of China
Asian population to 40 percent of the total. Its “Chinatown” is supposedly
the biggest in the world outside of San
single-family homes currently sell for $600,000 – nearly double the U.S.
wealthy Chinese fleeing the Communist takeover of Hong Kong in the 1980s
huge escalation in property values.
- Vancouver climate is the warmest in Canada. It
snows only occasionally and even then quickly melts.
is a metal, glass and concrete forest of high rise office buildings and
where we bought drinks and food would take our U.S. dollars but gave
change in Canadian money, at a slight exchange advantage.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
With Part III of Travelogue / Return To Nolan Travels Home