Brentwood Bay, BC - Who would've guessed that one of Canada's most beautiful gardens would be flowering in a worked-out limestone quarry? Butchart Gardens, about an hour's drive from Victoria, celebrated its centenary last year and, like the multitude of plants it houses, it never stops growing. In 1904, Jennie Butchart, the wife of cement-company manager Robert Butchart, took over the quarry and began plans for a sunken garden near their house, dubbed Benvenuto (Welcome), in this plant-friendly climate.
A certified chemist who worked with her husband, Butchart began with nothing more elaborate than the gift of a packet of sweet pea seeds and a rose bush, but clearly she'd imagined something on a grander scale - 21 wagons hauled in topsoil to make the beds for the sunken garden.
Since then the site has grown to include a rose garden, a Japanese garden, an Italian garden, various fountains and an open-air concert stage.
What strikes you immediately is how carefully the gardeners have thought through and designed the various spaces. In one small section of the garden, maroon canna lilies tower above multicoloured coleus dabbled with the same maroon tones. Close by, softball-sized begonias in rainbow hues dazzle the eye.
Every area has its own aroma. Bees hum as they fly around the rose bushes and trellised arbours. The rose gardens grow 250 varieties from around the world. A recent rain has spotted their petals - ruby, parchment, lavender, salmon, one so red its bud is almost black, blends of yellow and orange, red and yellow, white and pink - and many of the flowers look like watered silk.
The centrepiece of the garden is that former limestone quarry, with paths circling it above and below. Filled with shades of green, a variety of leaf shapes and trees formally arranged, it's a mix of domestic garden and natural plants. The quiet water of a pond filled by a natural spring reflects the tones of the trees above it.
There's still one remaining chimney from its days as a cement factory, but it's off in the distance, almost hidden behind the tall trees. The overall design is a testimony to the artistic sense of the garden's designers. The plan is built on layers, with a foreground, midground and background, almost like a painted landscape. Squint at the scene and you can create your own Impressionist picture.
And if you want a break while wandering through the sunken garden, you can get a latte in a little coffee bar disguised as a moss-covered hut.
At the centre of the former quarry is a mound of rock topped by an arbutus tree, its copper bark stripping naturally to reveal an olive tone underneath. The rock is covered with ivy planted by Jennie Butchart, who hated its barren surface so much that she hung from a bosun's chair to insert the plants into every crevice she could reach.
As you walk around the mound, every turn presents a new vista. The views vary from season to season, offering a continually changing colour storyboard.
Butchart Gardens is vibrant even on a partly cloudy day. There's hardly a corner of the 20 hectares that's not planted. Huge coast redwoods, started in 1934, provide a striking backdrop for the more than a million bedding plants put in each year by a team of full-time gardeners, 30 in winter and 50 in summer.
And not only is the garden aesthetically attractive, but it's also ecologically sound. There are four reservoirs on the property, and water used for the plants is filtered back into them for reuse.