TW Viewpoint | Industrial Wasteland to Place of Beauty: Butchart Gardens

November 11, 2017 | Stuart Wachowicz

North of the city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, a famous landmark holds a story which shows that even in this troubled world, mankind is capable of amazing and beautiful things. What can we learn from this stunning reclamation project?


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Robert Butchart, the son of a Scottish immigrant to Ontario, inherited his father's cement business. By 1900, he saw great potential in the developing province of British Columbia and moved to Vancouver Island. He had learned that the Canadian Pacific Railway had plans to replace the wooden bases of the thousands rail bridges with concrete and seized the opportunity. He discovered a large soft limestone deposit suitable for making Portland cement, just north of the small city of Victoria. He bought the property, built a home and started the quarry and cement works.

Robert's innovation made his company hugely successful. He pioneered the use of paper bags for shipping cement instead of barrels, making his product easier to transport, and much cheaper. This enabled his company to be a major supplier of cement in the rebuilding of San Francisco following the earthquake of 1906. He became very wealthy.

Eventually the initial quarry became exhausted. Robert's wife Jenny became tired of looking at the deserted excavation near her home. She complained so much that Robert eventually gave her free rein to do whatever she wished with it, money not being an issue. Jenny went to work.

Part of her motivation was that her friends repeatedly told her that no one could get anything to grow in the ugly rocky pit. Jenny never turned down a challenge and she was determined to prove them all wrong. The challenge was daunting: a huge quarry, waterlogged at the bottom, strewn with abandoned and rusting equipment amidst other debris. It defined ugliness.

While Jenny was not very knowledgeable of gardening at the beginning, she did hire expert gardeners. She also worked very hard and was often seen hanging by a rope on a cliff face pushing soil and vine roots into cracks in the rocky wall.

Hundreds of horse carts of soil were brought in, drainage was installed and years of hard work invested. Between 1907 and 1912, with the guidance of an expert Japanese gardener, one of the finest Japanese gardens in existence was developed. The crowning glory of the project was developed between 1907 and 1921, and after 12 years of relentless effort, the Sunken Garden was completed. Jenny's energy and projects were inexhaustible, eventually becoming a family affair, and today the Butchart Gardens are now renown as one of the top five public gardens on earth.

The old quarry is no longer a place to avoid. Hundreds of thousands of people now come from far and wide to view this dazzling display twelve months of the year. A desolate wasteland transformed into a garden of breathtaking beauty.

This is what one person's vision and diligence, and the support of a very industrious family can accomplish. There is so much modern society can learn from Jenny's garden.

Desolation can be reversed:
The old quarry was a wilderness, desolate, ugly and largely lifeless. Yet the Butcharts' example shows that, with enough will and effort ugliness can be reversed and made beautiful.

The power of a family working in harmony:
Mr. and Mrs. Butchart were in complete agreement on this project, and over the generations other family members have continued the work, showing what can be achieved when a family works together for a common goal over time.

The contribution of sharing and generosity:
Jenny wanted others to come and enjoy the beauty of the garden, even at one time building a tea house where visitors received a free cup of tea, until the volume of visitors made this impractical. The Butcharts were generous. Generosity and sharing makes effort seem more worthwhile and brings pleasure to all.

Vision, diligence and perseverance, with a right purpose, produce good fruit:
Jenny had a vision, and did not shy away from challenges. The Butcharts exemplified the willingness to work hard toward a goal and to struggle to surmount obstacles. Their vision was to develop to improve the world, and stick to the task.

The result is the creation of a place where now millions go to be encouraged and to be inspired by beauty.

This world needs a restoration to be what it was intended to be. It will eventually be populated and led by people who strive for beauty and peace, and who are led by a hardworking, diligent and generous spirit. If you would like to learn more about this plan we encourage you to subscribe to our Tomorrow's World magazine.

I am Stuart Wachowicz for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.

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