The Butchart Gardens 2017 Winter Notebook

by Rick Los, director of horticulture, The Butchart Gardens

The words ‘Garden’ and ‘Winter’ are words not typically synonymous with each other and certainly don’t conjure warm feelings or images that might draw you outdoors. The terms we commonly hear associated in regard to the winter garden are: structure, form, texture, contrast, colourful stems and berries, curious seed heads, interesting bark etc.

Although these descriptive terms are accurate, they still don’t do very much to excite or entice anyone (apart from the keenest plant lovers) to come out and visit a garden.

That being said, this is truly an exciting time to visit our garden as not only do we have an abundance of the descriptors listed above, but we actually do have plants in bloom as well as an abundance of plants that provide incredible fragrance. Furthermore, if this isn’t enough to satisfy your horticultural cravings, we have created the spectacular indoor ‘Spring Prelude’ garden display which will satisfy even the most discriminating person’s desire for garden beauty – but more on that later!

Admittedly this is probably the most challenging time of the year to write about as there are vast differences in the garden in January compared to what you would experience during the latter part of March.

Throughout the garden many flowers do make an appearance in January, but to me it’s the enthralling fragrance emanating from these flowers that is more impactful than the flowers themselves. A fine example of this is the Himalayan Sweet Box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) with its abundance of inconspicuous white flowers. These insignificant little flowers produce the most intoxicating fragrance, causing many people to stop in their tracks to try and find the source of this powerful perfume. Other fragrant early bloomers include Hamamelis and Viburnum which along with their non-fragrant companions Snowdrops (Galanthus), Hellebores, Heather (Erica) and Mahonia provide reliable colour. All of these unique plants are to be cherished as they stoically provide colour for us when we need it the most, while enduring the most demanding conditions.

As we move into February the diversity of colour and fragrance steadily expands as more plants dare to expose themselves to slowly rising temperatures and slightly longer days. Some of the plants that we can expect to see blooming at this time of year include what we see in January as well as certain sturdy varieties of Camellia, Bellis, Pansy, Primula, Crocus, Eranthis, Scilla and early Narcissus. The month of March begins the lead into the most exciting time of the year in the garden, springtime, and always provides the most unpredictable experiences as the weather plays such a big part in what you will experience both visually and physically. Nevertheless, any garden that claims to be world class has to be beautiful in every season and we believe that we are no exception as we do everything possible to be exceptional throughout the year!

If you do visit and need help in finding or identifying any winter blooming plants, our wonderful gardeners are always more than willing to provide any assistance that they can. Although it is somewhat hard to believe, we still have the occasional visitor expecting to find roses blooming outdoors at this time of year, but as much as this would be a treat, this is an impossibility for now……….

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