Quirky Attractions in the Kootenays
Unique, historic, and cultural gems to visit.
It’s not really fair for someone who lives in Victoria to complain about the grey days of winter. We’re blessed with one of the more temperate climates in Canada, and while our winters can be a bit soggy, there’s usually no sidewalk shovelling, icy streets or slushy puddles to deal with. In fact, February is when spring starts to appear. It first pokes its head from the damp soil in the form of little white snowdrops, crocuses and yellow daffodils. In March, the city starts the annual Flower Count, highlighting both billions of blooms and the region’s mild weather.
As a longtime resident of Victoria, I really feel spring’s arrival when the plum trees on downtown’s View Street burst into a thick cloud of bright pink blossoms. And this happens mid-February! If you’re looking for the full flower experience, you’re in luck– Victoria is known as The Garden City, after all.
I’d be amiss to not include the world famous Butchart Gardens. Set in the dramatic shell of an old limestone quarry, the gardens have been around for 100 years and are designated a National Historic Site of Canada. From mid-March to May, more than 300,000 bulbs begin to paint the landscape. (For peak bulb action, try to time a visit around mid-April.)
If you don’t have time for a visit to Butchart (it’s about a 40-minute drive from downtown Victoria), find your way to Abkhazi Garden. Prince and Princess Abkhazi started their stunning gardens in 1946, a collaboration born of love and tragedy. From the street, the garden is hidden by tall hedges, but once inside, you’re surrounded by enormous rhododendrons, towering Garry oaks and naturally terraced landscaping. You can also partake in the very Victorian activity of Afternoon Tea in the beautiful heritage home overlooking the garden. It’s maybe a 10 minute drive from downtown Victoria to Abkhazi Garden, but I highly recommend walking, as the route winds its way through one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Victoria.
Not too far from Abkhazi Garden is the sprawling estate of Government House. This historic site is the home of British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor, and is surrounded by lush gardens, ornamental ponds, native plant gardens, an orchard and a natural Garry oak meadow. The highlight may be the exquisite rose gardens, followed by the view of the ocean and Olympic mountains to the south. The property is open to the public, and Government House can be toured once a month– tour dates for 2016 can be found here. And while they’re not flowers, keep an eye out for the giant sequoias in the neighbourhood. There’s one just around the corner from Government House on the corner of Moss and Richardson street, that might just be the tallest tree in Victoria (it also happens to be my favourite tree in the city).
Within Beacon Hill Park, you’ll find manicured flower beds, rose gardens, ponds brimming with ducks and geese and the occasional peacock, and even a reclining Moss Lady. But make your way through grassy meadows, where white fawn lilies droop gracefully beneath the shade of Garry oaks, some more than 300 years old, to the sunny slopes facing the ocean in the south end of the park– there, in early spring, you’ll see a riot of bright yellow daffodils, that by late April give way to a stunning explosion of camas lilies, spread like purple carpet all the way to the water. The prevalence of camas in the park is due to years of cultivation by the Lekwungen First Nations people, who harvested the flower’s edible bulbs.
Up at the University of Victoria campus, the Finnerty Gardens are home to more than 1,500 rhododendrons, whose blooms peak through April and May, amongst 4,000 other carefully cultivated trees, shrubs and flowers. Download the self-guided walking tour and wind your way through the gardens and onto the trails of Mystic Vale, the lush forest surrounding the university.
You don’t even have to leave the streets to see beautiful blooms in Victoria. In April, city workers begin the process of assembling the approximately 1,600 baskets of flowers that hang from lamp posts all over downtown. More than 25 plant varieties make up these hanging gardens, including petunias, geraniums and carpet roses. You can learn how to make your own Victorian hanging basket here.
And making Victoria’s streets even more beautiful are the blooming ornamental trees lining its sidewalks. Magnolia, camellias, cherry and plum are most common, and blossom slowly over the early spring months, breathing life back into a city weary of winter rain. This helpful list explains which flowering trees can be found on particular streets. If you’re on your way to visit the beaches at Dallas Road, take a detour through the Fairfield or James Bay neighbourhoods– residential gardens and flowering trees will be coming into full bloom.
Despite our rainy reputation, if you visit Victoria this spring, with any luck the only seasonal showers you’ll experience will be a flurry of pink petals drifting in the breeze.
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