What do you do with a 55-acre limestone quarry after the rock has been mined? If you’re Jennie Butchart, you turn it into a world-renowned public garden. And you begin the massive undertaking in 1909, when all the dirt and plants have to be moved by horse and cart.
On Vancouver Island in Canada’s British Columbia province, Butchart Gardens have since become a National Historic Site and a destination for more than a million visitors each year. The gardens feature more than 900 varieties of plants showcased in several themed areas, including a Japanese garden with over 500 rhododendrons and azaleas, an Italian garden with 18 formal beds, a Mediterranean garden with drought-resistant plants from around the world, a rose garden with 280 different varieties, and the Butchart centerpiece: the sunken garden.
The sunken garden itself took nine years to create and is located in the former limestone pit. A bird’s-eye view from the upper rim highlights the garden’s architecture, while pathways at its base give visitors a close-up view of the trees, shrubs and annuals as well as 65,000 bulbs that are planted each spring.
In 1920 the Butcharts started the Benvenuto Seed Company, which collected seeds from the gardens’ plants and sold them through an annual mail-order catalog. Over a century later, visitors can still purchase a wide variety of seeds from the gardens’ gift shop, although the Tibetan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis baileyi) is the only type still harvested on site by Butcharts’ master gardeners.