A nice, cosy, non-actionable think

All this practical stuff is setting my teeth on edge.  When I started out, I’d have been happy if the only physical action resulting from this blog was a slow, contemplative rubbing of the chin and a distant look in the eye.  Somehow I’ve been lured into action-items.  They’re well covered by the mags.  The great need is for a challenge to our thinking.

Anyway, that got me trawling through the pics, and turned my attention to the chromatic cacophony of Butchart in BC, Canada.  Aussies usually pronounce it Butch-art (which in a floral sense, it sort of is), while the North Americans like it more as Boo-chart.  I guess, since it’s theirs, we should follow their lead.  I don’t.

The following is Butchart in a nutshell.

Both literally and figuratively, you get the picture.  Great swathes of the loudest, blockiest, least subtle colour that the plant breeding world can cook up.

Now lets be clear.  I don’t want a garden like this.  I wouldn’t mind, just for a few years, being responsible for achieving it.  The horticultural challenge interests me to a very limited extent.  But this is not the way I, or anyone I know, gardens or wants to garden.

But I’m so glad that someone does garden like this – or rather that someone still gardens like this. Maybe one garden like this is enough, but thank goodness for the one.

Both of these pics were taken in the quarry garden.  There’s fabulous stories of old Mrs. Butchart hanging down the bare walls of the quarry from some sort of sling, planting ivy into the cracks to green up the great scar left by her husband’s concreting plant near the site.  And the fact is that this space just feels so good – it embraces and surrounds you so emphatically – that it’s hard to imagine a garden style that wouldn’t work down in there.  You’re so deeply in this garden, and would have felt so even before there plants arrived.

Elsewhere the annuals follow a more disciplined colour theme, but are no quieter for it..

But then, just when you think you can patronisingly dismiss it all as an achievement ‘in its way’, and have thought of all the nice things you can quite genuinely say about it, you’re disarmed altogether by a really good plant or planting, really well grown.

Out near the giftshop there’s several of these Hydrangea paniculata, which are seriously exemplary specimens.  Nearby there’s crazy, explosive hanging baskets that again, you couldn’t describe as subtle, but show an awareness of plant form and floral diversity that isn’t at all evident in the great blocks of carpeting colour.

In the woodland, there are quiet moments of undulating moss, and beautifully if bizarrely clipped conifers amongst otherwise soft, fuzzy planting.

There’s still that sense of serious grooming, but the thinking is altogether more subtle than elsewhere.  With gardens, as with people, something in us wants to box and categorise – to oversimplify in order to press the thumbs-up or thumbs-down button. Stupid, really.  But it’s there.


  1. My Grandparents adored this garden… and then again they were also in love with some weirdly lit fountains that performed to music. They were all they was talked about when they came home from ‘overseas’.. What is it about red and white flowers in beds that screams ‘I just plant what I’m told’ gardening! You’ll be pleased I have no interest in acting on this post!

    1. Yeah, I remember those fountains. And you know what? They were curiously compelling. Apparently if you go at night, you can see them lit in brilliant technicolor

  2. In the world of fashion, I believe this is called “colour blocking” but I think that it’s already last year’s news. Fashion is so fickle. I agree that it’s good someone is still gardening like this – good to get a jolt every now and then.

  3. What requires more technical skill?
    Great swathes of “naturalistic planting” as we in a Piet Oudolf style.
    Complex colour meditated herbaceous borders.
    Seemingly simple serene Japanese landscapes where no element can be removed without destroying the complete garden.
    I think that , in any discipline, as high art is achieved technical and artistic contributions cannot be distinguished . It requires more technical skill to maintain a garden that appears as if the hand of man is absent.
    I would argue that Buchart is a gloriously large painters box of paints; A huge lolly box of colours. However , enticing as they are , all these tubes don’t give you the ability to paint.
    But then, art is in the eye of the beholder as Penny says.

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