There is a popular myth about a magical place near Victoria, BC.
It’s about the graceful expanse of a lovingly cultivated plantation known as Butchart Gardens.
Butchart Gardens was established after Robert Butchart married a young woman named Jeanette Foster Kennedy, better known as Jennie, and the enterprising couple moved to Vancouver Island to Robert’s newly established cement plant and limestone quarry, in 1902. Their house was built on the property, their family established, the first bags of cement were exported in 1905… and the production stopped just three years later in 1908. Some say the limestone ran out, other say the limestone was of poor quality and not suited to cement at all. Whichever was true, the Butcharts had established their home on a beautiful plot of land that had a three and a half acre gaping wound in the property.
Jennie Butchart was an avid gardener, and she is described as having “busied” herself with her gardens near their house on the property. I found out through further reading this past week, that Jennie also “busied” herself with the study of chemistry and pharmacology, that she loved flying and hot air balloons, she was artistically gifted, and she seemed to be a type A personality, who always needed to be working towards a goal. Prior to marrying Robert, she had attended a prestigious college for young women, and had planned to study art in Europe. She met Robert through mutual acquaintances, and married him instead!
Despite the failure of their cement business, we can assume that Robert continued to be a prosperous provider, as their family’s wealth seemed to grow, not shrink, even through both world wars and the great depression. During this time, Jennie’s garden expanded, and her vision for her gardens was brought to fruition through her seemingly limitless access to resources, be it labour, topsoil, garden nurseries, and even a couple of world-famous landscape designers!
Jennie and Robert Butchart are pictured here:
Throughout their life together, Jennie and Robert became known for their hospitality, serving tea to all who visited – whether they were invited or not! By 1915, they were welcoming over 18,000 visitors per year!
As interest in Jennie’s garden spread, the Butcharts hired staff and eventually began to charge admission. Tea was served by staff, and occasionally Jennie would unobtrusively serve tea to guests herself!
By 1921, Jennie had the massive quarry pit completely transformed by having endless cartloads of topsoil brought in by cart horses, and, with the help of a landscape architect, the barren crater had been transformed into the stunning Sunken Garden!
As my photos don’t quite do it justice, here’s a photo from Butchart Garden’s pintrest page:
Butchart Gardens is kind of like Disneyland for middle-aged women (and the middle-aged-at-heart). When you enter the gardens you’re handed a map of the attractions which are split into little worlds – the Japanese Garden, the formal Italian Garden, the Rose Garden, the Mediterranean Garden, and many spectacular fountains and statues to accent and anchor the landscaping.
All of these gardens were envisioned and brought to fruition by Jennie Butchart, with the support and resources of her husband Robert. Over the decades, Jennie became such a well-known ambassador of Victoria BC, that she was awarded “Victoria’s Best Citizen”.
Having devoted most of her life and all of her heart and soul to these gardens, it’s no wonder there are rumours that the ghost of Jennie Butchart can still be seen among the flowers! I certainly wanted to find out for myself!
Sweetie and I actually found out very quickly!
Sweetie sat on a bench in the Piazza while I popped into the washroom – and amazingly, while separated, we both made contact with Jennie at the same moment! For Sweetie, she gazed up at the second floor of one of the buildings in the Piazza – and was startled to see the face of an authoritative matronly woman looking down on her through the sheer curtains! There’s something that happens in your body when your brain senses something is different – your brain tells you that someone’s there, but your eyes aren’t quite seeing a solid physical body – something’s “off” so immediately the body reacts with a start. The moment the adrenaline hits the system, the eyesight sharpens and the figure disappears! But you *know* you saw something. Sweetie was pretty sure it was Jennie Butchart.
I, alone in the bathroom, took a moment to ground myself as I always do when entering crowded situations, and heard clear as a bell in my mind’s ear: I do *not* haunt my home. I watch over it! Of course I do! Where else would I be? (light intonation, like silent chuckling.)
I came out of the washroom and told Sweetie, “I think I just heard Mrs. Butchart!” Sweetie says, “I think I just saw her!!!”
There are even magical waterfalls which cascade down the steep sides of the ravine. The entire garden is a masterful exercise is colour, texture, scale and proportion. Jennie and her designer made this garden beautiful from every angle – especially above!
It’s surprisingly thrilling to be in the presence of such a living masterpiece!
To be clear – Jennie Butchart is *not* haunting her gardens! But yes, as expected, she does spend quite a lot of time there.
For Jennie, the word “haunting” does not adequately communicate her presence at the gardens.
She enjoys it, she always enjoyed having guests and expanding her vision of the gardens. Her great-granddaughter owns it now, and the whole family and team maintain the gardens and the business as they believe Jennie would want them to. They plant the gardens with colorful annuals to complement their showy and exotic collection of specimins from around the world. Their aim is to thrill, to delight, and to enchant each visitor, whether they’re an avid gardener themselves or a complete gardener novice such as myself.
Of course Jennie Butchart is there! But don’t you dare say she’s “haunting” the gardens! She’s still just as she was in life – proud, welcoming, somewhat formal, and very warm.
Jennie didn’t stay with us through our whole journey through the garden – but she did pop in a few times to drop some interesting bits of information.
The Queen *loved* the rose garden, (pointed out many specimens from Germany) and we completely replanted the Italian garden to receive her. It’s the most beautiful it ever looked – but I said they (the staff) must never try to duplicate the look of the garden on that visit – it was special, just for her! She requested to see my rose garden. She appreciated them (for what they truly were, unique gifts and specimens from all over the world, expertly maintained.)
She went on to explain that she wanted to maintain a sense of formality so that visitors would fully appreciate the gardens. This is why there were strict rules for guests, created from necessity. Costumes and cosplay are banned from the gardens, because these things distract from the gardens – the reason most people are visiting in the first place. Weddings must be formally booked, and if you show up in formal gowns without an appointment, you’ll be asked to leave.
Sweetie and I were surprised that such rules were necessary, and being handed this extensive list of rules along with the map at admission gave us the impression that the gardens were, perhaps, taking themselves a bit too seriously – but Jennie quickly showed us how those who show up in costume are not really there to appreciate the gardens, they are there for themselves. They impede the flow of people walking through the gardens, sometimes they even go off-path into the gardens themselves, causing damage!
Jennie showed me people stepping over fences in excitement, and one falling into a pond – what a disgrace, and what disrespect shown to the gardeners who spend long hours, day after day, perfecting the garden’s athestic, lovingly dead-heading, pruning, sometimes training tree growth for years! To be broken in a moment of carelessness! No, the gardens are delicate, graceful – really a pure form of beauty, meant to *represent* the perfection of life, in life, within ourselves. The installation of her Japanese garden taught her that gardens are so much more than superficial beauty – a really special garden, done well, maintained faithfully, will soothe and even uplift the spirit.
This is very serious business.
Jennie’s vision for the garden includes the manner in which her guests should take the gardens in – their attention not on themselves or other guests, but on nature, and the living art surrounding them, so that the gardens could do their work on the visitors, lifting them up, and creating a unique and delightful experience in their lives.
It was out of respect for her many guests (now one MILLION people a year) that these rules were in place.
As for the queen’s visit, as much as I tried, I never could find confirmation that Queen Mary ever visited Butchart Gardens, although the gardens have since received many royal visitors. I did a little research on Queen Mary while writing this post, and discovered she was the princess of Teck, a region in Germany. A few of the specimens of roses from Germany were gifted to Jennie (according to the little signs planted among the bushes) and I wonder if this is what Queen Mary admired in particular, or if she gifted any of these roses to Jennie herself! (Queen Mary was born and raised in England, not Germany, but there seems to be a connection through the house she represents.) The rose garden didn’t exist until 1929, so any royal visit to the roses would have happened after that time (though I’m sure there was a smaller rose garden in a different area.) The Italian garden was still a tennis court before 1926, and Jennie was very proud of having this formal garden in which to welcome her royal visitors, so it seems the visit she was talking about would have happened after 1929 and before 1939 (the start of WWII).
After 1939, Robert Butchart became ill, and he and Jennie moved to Victoria for better access to medical care for him – gifting Butchart Gardens to their grandson Ian Ross on his 21st birthday. Ian was called to war shortly afterwards, and Ian’s mother (Jennie’s daughter) and his aunt did their best to maintain the gardens themselves with limited manpower during the war. I feel certain that the royal visit Jennie Butchart is so proud of must have happened prior to this time.
Jennie Butchart is not alone in her spirit oversight of the gardens – she was accompanied by several dogs, a large parrot or cockatoo, and surrounded by human family. Among them, I’m sure, are her children and grandchildren, a couple of whom have owned and operated the gardens in Jennie’s stead. The gardens, clearly, are a part of Jennie’s heaven and after-life.
Similar to the garden’s rules about dress and conduct, meant to fully respect and create space to appreciate the magnificence of the gardens themselves, Jennie is quick to correct any notion of her “haunting” the gardens. She is not attached to her beloved homestead out of trauma, or unfinished business. The gardens are a part of her, and her spirit is a part of the gardens, for as long as the gardens remain in her family, and maybe even longer still.
Jennie’s spirit is both formal and warm, busy yet attentive. I’m sure, had I known her in life, I would have liked her very much.
If you’re ever in the Victoria area, I encourage you to visit these fascinating gardens. I will definitely return – the garden is constantly changing, and they’ll be different next time I go! Maybe I can head down there in the spring for the tulips, or the early summer, when the roses are all fresh and in bloom. This amazing place is the life’s work of Jennie Butchart, her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, and possibly more generations to come.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to visit!
I would also like to mention our additional travelling companions in spirit: my mother, grandmother, and great aunt – all of whom LOVED the gardens and got to meet Jennie Butchart in person!
When I travel, I like to wear my mother’s rings as a way of formally inviting her to join us for these adventures, and my mother does her best to send me little signs to show me she is along for the ride!
A spider literally came along for the ride in our car, generally content on the rear-view mirror until it became restless and we had to put it outside. Spiders are a sign from my mother – a sort of joke from the afterlife, but sincerely profound at the same time.
I explain the back story about the spiders, and other signs from my mother, here.
True to her promise, we also seem to encounter schnauzers with frequency when we travel as well, but this time, while in Butchart Gardens, my mother sent a very special dog to let me know she was there.
It was a cattle dog. Just like my big dog, Mocha, whom I miss very much. This lovely dog came with accommodating owners who let me pet him and give him lots of admiration.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Mocha!” the man replied with a smile!
This was my sign that not only was my mother there, and had managed to send me a dog with the same breed and NAME as my beloved big dog, I also understood it to mean Mocha was with her at that time, and with me as well.
The lesson to really take away from all of this is: Our family really doesn’t go very far!
I decided to launch a special coupon code in memory of this trip: Family2018
For the next 30 days, or the next 10 sessions booked, whichever comes first, this code will give you a $30 discount off of a one-hour session with me! (This code can only be used a limited number of times in total so this special doesn’t run away from me!)
If you’d like to book your session to speak to your spirit family, remember to use the coupon code Family2018 soon!