Guest post: Rick Los, The Butchart Gardens

Any garden that’s a major tourist attraction can’t afford to sit on its aster. The Butchart Gardens is no exception. I first visited back in July. An impressive experience, even if you aren’t a gardener – the garden’s theatrical quality gives it a crossover appeal that is a reason why the Butchart Gardens is the top tourist destination in Victoria, B.C.

If you are a gardener, you look at all the annuals, roses and checkerboard mown lawns and wonder how the heck they do it.

I started paying attention to the garden maintenance crews at work. Back at home, I checked Butchart’s website for facts then emailed PR director Graham Bell to ask for more numbers. He forwarded something wonderful: a reply from the gardens’ director of horticulture Rick Los. So wonderful, I asked if we could use it as a guest post. Here, with thanks, is Rick’s reply:

“The gardening department at the Butchart Gardens consists of 50 full-time staff and a seasonal complement of 19-20 staff (March through November) or students (May through September). I always say that it is a little deceptive when we throw out these numbers because there aren’t nearly as many staff working in the actual garden as one might think.
To begin with there are 3 department managers overseeing 14 supervisory staff. Each area of the garden is broken into specific areas of responsibility, greenhouse production being the largest with 16 full-time staff. We have two-full time arborists, 2 full-time and 2 seasonal staff in our tree, shrub and perennial nursery and 2 working full time off site.
The department also runs the Plant Identification Center (2 full-time and 4 seasonal staff) and 3 full-time staff take care of landscaping projects and our composting facility. So you begin to get a pretty good idea of what the number of staff doing the physical gardening work actually is.
For most things we work in general numbers as gardening/horticulture is not quite a precise science. Each year we compost a few hundred cubic yards of organic waste which we use for garden beds and greenhouse production. We are pretty well self sufficient in being able to supply ouselves with all of the product that we require for these purposes.
We have over 2 acres of greenhouse facilities where we grow all the plant material that we use in our displays. Our summer planting consisted of close to 300,000 bedding plants (291,617 to be precise!), just one of our multiple plantings during the year. Each and every display bed in the gardens is planted at least twice each year and some beds are planted up as many as 5 times.
As you probably realize, soil management is critical as this is probably some the most intensive horticulture practised anywhere on the planet and we are now sustaining ourselves using only fully organic fertilizer products. In spring, along with tens of thousands of biennials, we display the colourful blooms of close to 300,000 (288,790 to be exact last spring!) new bulbs imported from Holland each year.
The quality that sets us apart from other gardens more than anything else is our attention to detail in areas such as lawn maintenance and the refusal to allow weeds to get established in any of our garden areas.
All our lawn borders are edged manually each week to give the borders a clean, sharp look and all of the garden areas are weeded manually without the use of herbicides. This may sound overwhelming when you are dealing with over 50 acres, but the key in any garden is to never let the weeds get out of control. Any weed that is left to go to seed can multiply itself by frightening increments and it is extremely rare that we ever allow this to happen.

Deadheading of spent blooms is also a critical and time-consuming job, but again this essential to keeping the garden clean and to also promote the development and growth of new flower buds.I could go on, but I think that this should give you a bit of an idea of what we are all about. There is never a shortage of work for us and never a shortage of compliments to our staff from our many visitors who appreciate all of the effort that goes into creating and maintaining our garden.”

Having read how the magic happens, I thought you might want to see a little of the magic itself – a small portion of the hundreds of photos I took at Butchart.
The classic view of the Butchart Gardens
Mrs Butchart’s Private Garden – you can look, but not enter.
A river of massed annuals, not a single deadhead in sight.
Arbor into the rose garden. You saw those planters being deadheaded from the opposite side, above.
Meticulously clipped hedges frame the entry to the Italian Garden.
An exuberant riot of colour in the Italian Garden. Not pictured is the Japanese Garden, as subtle as this is loud.


  1. Wow! What color. Thank you for showing me what we missed. Can you believe we went to Victoria but only for the day and didn't go to the gardens. Not enough time. Arrived 11am ferry left 5 pm ferry. Visited my second cousin. Next time.

  2. Wow, that is a bright, bright garden. Thanks for the info about how it is maintained — interesting. Like Lancashire Rose, we didn't have time to visit the gardens, or even Victoria, but the trade-off was that my family and I were able to visit the San Juans. So much beauty to see in that part of the world!

  3. Patrick, According to Butchart's website, the gardens are mostly wheelchair accessible. There are a few viewpoint areas that have stairs. I did note that some of the pathways are steep (such as in the Japanese garden). Give them a call before you go, and I'm sure they'd try to assist you.

  4. What amazingly bright photographs! Another excellent post. I am really looking forward to visiting this garden, maybe next year. I hope a single weekend gives me enough time.

  5. Helen, thanks for this post. I visited Butchart Gardens in September the first year I was blogging and did several posts about it, but the colors were less riotous in fall. I, too was impressed by how willing the staff were to answer the questions (and sometimes photos) I sent by email after I got home. I can see that it would be fun to visit earlier in the season. -Jean

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