TRAVEL: Yes, A Piece of La Verne Is Growing Very Nicely in British Columbia

October 16, 2009
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img_1905There it was in its rightful place, climbing to the sky in the rose section of glorious Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, hundreds of miles and a country away from our fair city – the Pink Promise Rose created (well, God really created it) by Jim Coiner of Coiner Nursery in La Verne.

In 2004, during its 100th anniversary, The Butchart Gardens was designated a National Historic Site of Canada, and deservedly so. Beside’s containing Jim Coiner’s Pink Promise, The Butchart Garden contains 55 acres of breathtaking gardens whose magnificent blooms and floral displays entertain and awe a million visitors a year, including some from La Verne.

Amid all the color and splendor, it’s hard to believe that The Butchart Gardens began in 1904 when Jennie Butchart planted some sweat peas and a rose bush in a worked-out limestone quarry that had been abandoned by her husband, a manufacturer of Portland cement. Slowly, by collecting rare and exotic shrubs, trees and flowers from the pair’s overseas travels, she sought to transform their scarred canyon into an earthly Eden, which eventually became known as the Sunken Garden.img_1912

Started as a hobby, the Gardens constantly expanded, spilling over into the Japanese, followed by the Rose and Italian Gardens. In a gesture toward their visitors to Brentwood Bay, the hospitable Butcharts christened their estate “Benvenuto,” the Italian word for “Welcome.” By the 1920s, more than 50,000 people came each year – and numbers continue to increase annually.

Interestingly, few of the gardens’ horticultural occupants are labeled. Mrs. Butchart was reluctant to label the plants in her midst. She wanted her friends to enjoy them for their beauty and this practice continues. Fortunately, the Rose Garden, with its lawn surrounded by dwarf boxwood hedges and a flagstone path, is one of those exceptions. Many varieties of the Hybrid Tea Roses are marked with their country of origin and the year they were registered with the American Rose Society. That is how I discovered La Verne’s Pink Promise.

img_1927While there are many separate gardens at Butchart, I found myself lingering longer in the Japanese Garden, which was ablaze in fall with stunning, reds, russets and golds. It is also the same garden in late spring, where you’ll find Himalayan Blue Poppies. Mrs. Butchart was one of the first in North America to grow this rare and delicate flower with the expert assistance of Japanese landscaper, Isaburo Kishida. Through a neatly trimmed break in the trees of the Japanese Garden, visitors can also glimpse a scenic cove where visiting seaplanes and boats dock.

Every season, and, for that matter, every hour in the day, reveals a different carousel of color to explore and be dazzled by. The lush setting also invites you to enjoy a seasonal lunch or tea, traditions that have long been savored by garden visitors. With admission, you have the option of purchasing lunch for an additional $15 per person, which my wife Colleen and I chose with little hesitation.img_1932

In a room overlooking Mrs. Butchart’s private garden, Colleen enjoyed an appetizer of organic greens with honey vinaigrette, dried apricots and root vegetable chips and a lamb stroganoff entrée, complete with mushrooms, caramelized onions and egg noodles. I selected the grilled house-made Italian sausage with white beans and roasted tomatoes for my appetizer (absolutely amazing) and the seafood pot pie in a Brioche pastry swimming with wild salmon and halibut in a white cream sauce.

Naturally, I couldn’t let our afternoon affair end there, so we went off menu and split a lemon tartlet with fresh blueberries for dessert.

The delicious treat was heavenly, just like the gardens in which we had been wandering.


img_1960The Butchart Gardens, which are still family owned, are located on the Saanich Peninsula of Vancouver Island, a short drive north of Victoria. The Gardens opens daily at 9 a.m., except Christmas, when it opens at 1 p.m. Closing times change seasonally. Visit for full hours and rates.

After crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles, Wash., to Victoria, I stayed two nights at the Bedford Regency (800-665-6500) at 1140 Government Street, which is a good, but not impossible, walk from the ferries arriving and departing from Victoria’s inner harbor. The Bedford was in the heart of the action, neatly sandwiched between two outstanding pubs, The Irish Times and The Bard and The Banker. From the hotel, it’s also easy walk to the Fairmont Empress, the Victoria Parliament Buildings, Munro’s Bookstore and Rogers’ Chocolates.

img_1972In my rental car, which I had picked up at Sea-Tac airport (between Seattle and Tacoma), I took Blanshard Street out of town (north), which becomes Hwy. 17. Follow 17 north approximately 11 miles, exiting onto Keating X Rd. (Exit 18), which becomes Benvenuto Ave. that will lead you to the gardens. Detailed maps and directions can be found on the web site.


To make your garden beautiful, visit Outdoor Elegance in La Verne. Owner Doug Sanicola has personally visited the gardens, which have inspired him to provide the most elegant outdoor furniture to be found anywhere in Southern California.

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