Butchart Gardens director coming

With spring around the corner (hopefully), gardeners can get some tips from a renowned horticulturalist who is making a presentation in Trail next week.

Richard Los, director of horticulture at Butchart Gardens, will share the story of this amazing 55-acre garden, situated 23 kilometres north of Victoria. He’ll also be on hand to answer any gardening questions from the public.

Butchart Gardens is a 107-year-old privately-held, family-run operation (no government-funding, no endowments) which is open year-round. The current owner, Robin Clarke, is the great grand-daughter of Jennie and Robert Pim Butchart, the original owners.

Los grew up in Ontario, where his father owned greenhouses.

“In the dead of winter, it could be freezing outside but you could go inside and experience the fragrances, the earthy smell,” he said. “Whenever I smell that earthy smell it takes me back.”

He graduated from Olds College in Alberta with a degree in landscape design, and had every intention of setting up his own landscaping business when he and his wife moved to Victoria in 1988.

But the opportunity to work at Butchart Gardens came up. Los worked his way “up through the ranks,” and currently oversees the Gardens’ 200 year-round employees.

“It gives me a great deal of pride, but I have amazing staff. They’re enthusiastic and are always getting positive feedback from the public. When customers pat employees on the back every day, it makes my job easier.”

The best part of the job, he says, is the constant redesign and changes in the five gardens which include: a formal garden, a sunken garden, a rose garden and Japanese and Italian gardens, with connecting in-between areas.

“The garden is so old and is always in a state of upgrading or repair.

“Things get crowded out, so we are constantly spacing and adding new plants. Jenny Butchart wouldn’t leave things. She wanted the new and best and most interesting.”

The gardens are designed to inspire and entertain.

“We want an experience that is over the top. We want people to go away and rave about us.”

All plants are grown by staff at the garden, nothing is purchased from outside.

“We want a sustainable landscape – best suited to climate or conditions, and the beauty. There are so many steps in the planning process – everything has to be timed. We start a year ahead of time for the display. We’re quite anal about quality.”

Open year round, Butrchart features displays in the original family home, which has been converted into a restaurant and museum. The winter program, Spring Prelude, turns a 6,500-square foot cafeteria into a conservatory where high ceilings and massive windows let in lots of light, so there is always something blooming.

Butchart Gardens is not without its challenges, Los added.

In 2006, seven greenhouses succumbed to the ravages of a huge snowstorm.

“But it was a blessing. It took a lot of old plants that needed to go. Last winter, we lost 90 per cent of the hybrid tea roses. It’s not major but there’s always something. It makes the job interesting.”

Los is excited about seeing Colombo Piazza, which was the first recipient of Butchart Gardens’ Reclamation Award through Communities in Bloom in 2009.

“We got such a positive feeling about the Communities in Bloom program and the people involved. I loved that it was a grass roots movement, and that it is national.

“We brainstormed how to be involved and came up with land reclamation. It’s a natural, since Butchart Gardens is a land reclamation site – it was once an old quarry.”

The first year, there were about a dozen entrants when Trail’s Colombo Piazza caught the judges’ eyes. Last year, there were double the applicants.

“It generates interest – what communities can do.”

Los’s visit will be open to the public. It’s being held at the Colombo on April 12 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is by donation to the food bank.