Butchart Gardens on a Rainy Day

This Used To Be a Quarry

Everyone knows that gardens always look their best under bright sunlight. There is, however, one garden that looks great even on a rainy day. I am referring to Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, British Columbia. There is something about the plants there that shine in all weathers. When in Los Angeles, I love to hang out at Descanso Gardens, Huntington Gardens, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and the South Coast Botanical Gardens—but none of them hold a candle to Butchart Gardens.

The only garden in North America that I could conceive of as competing with Butchart is in Nova Scotia at Annapolis Royal: The Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. Perhaps it has something to do with both gardens being more in the temperate climatic zone. In Los Angeles, at certain times of the year, even the most beautiful plants can look a little dusty and bedraggled.

Sign at the Garden Entrance

I have visited both gardens twice, and I love both of them. But then, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that there are other great botanical gardens of whose existence I am not aware. As much as I have traveled, I have seen only little bits here and there. Martine and I went to Annapolis Royal to see the citadel, not even knowing of the garden’s existence. The citadel is nice, but the gardens are spectacular.


Native Greenery

A Trail Through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

A Trail Through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

It’s remarkable how many of the plants we regard as being typical of California are actually imports. For instance, there is the jacaranda tree, which originally hails from Bolivia and Argentina, and the eucalyptus, an import from Australia.And it’s not only the trees, but also wildflowers, “weeds,” grasses, and other plants which came from elsewhere and spread like wildfire. Did you know, for instance, that the Tumblin’ Tumbleweed of song is actually called the Russian Thistle and comes from, you guessed it, the steppes of Eurasia.

On a hot Saturday last weekend, Martine and I took a circular trail through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting native California plants. We went through some forty ounces of cold Dasani water as we took every opportunity to sit down on shady benches and look around us.

We had tried to visit the Botanic Garden once before, but that was at the time of the Jesusita Fire of May 2009, which actually consumed part of the gardens. In fact, part of the gardens that were affected are shown in the photo above. In four years, the grasses and shrubbery bounced back quickly, though many of the tree trunks are scarred with burn marks.

The wilder parts of Southern California, such as the Botanic Gardens, which are in the foothills of the mountains around Santa Barbara, have a distinctive look and feel. They are not as “friendly” as Eastern forests. Mainly, that is because so many of the plants are somewhat prickly. In the spring at least, there is ample greenery everywhere; but once the fall months approach, much of it dries out and turns light brown until the next rainy season starts the whole cycle over again.

The road to the Botanic Gardens is tricky. You head uphill past the Santa Barbara Mission and take three or four roads to get to your destination. Fortunately, there are helpful directional signs along the way. Although the Gardens don’t get that many visitors, it is a worthwhile place to visit and good for soothing the soul of someone who has just survived a brutal tax season.