Victoria on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in Canada is known as “the garden city”. Gardening here is a serious business! So serious we even count the flowers in the annual Victoria Flower Count. For the record, a whopping 25,864,976,064 blooms were counted in 2017. Actually the flower count was started as a light-hearted promotion to raise community pride and increase awareness of Victoria as a tourism destination. Oh, and we like to rub it in to the rest of Canada that spring starts here!
For a flower aficionado such as myself, this is a fabulous place to live and I spend a lot of my time in spring and summer with a camera glued to my face.
And while Victoria is known for its justifiably famous Butchart Gardens, there are a lot of other places to see if you love gardens and particularly if you love to photograph flowers. And many of them are free.
Some of my favourites are:
1. Finnerty Gardens
You’ll find this beautiful garden, particularly known for its collection of over 1,500 rhododendron and azalea plants – one of the best collections in Canada – on the grounds of the University of Victoria. In addition to the more than 4,000 different trees and shrubs, there are several tranquil pools, winding paths and benches scattered throughout the gardens.
The best time to see the rhododendrons in flower is April and May.
The gardens are open year round and you can find a self-guided walking tour map here.
Where is it: University Drive
2. Government House
Government House can be found not too far from downtown Victoria in the upscale residential area of Rockland – a lovely part of town to wander and look at some gorgeous heritage architecture.
The extensive gardens of Government House are open to the public and include a number of different garden areas including – roses, rhododendrons, irises and lilies, herbs and an English Country garden – just to name a few. There’s also a Tea Room that’s open in the summer.
Where is it: 1401 Rockland Avenue
3. Playfair Park
One of my favourite spots to visit in April and May, Playfair Park is a secluded park in the District of Saanich (Quadra) – about a 15 minute drive from downtown and near to Government House. One of the things that makes this place a standout is the Garry Oak meadow which in April is filled with delicate fawn lilies and in May explodes with purple camas lilies. There’s also a large grove of rhododendrons and azaleas with meandering paths that lead you below bowers of blooms, while on the ground, bluebells – blue, pink and white – flower in profusion.
Where is it: You can access the park from Rock Street and at the end of Cumberland Road. The main parking lot is located off Rock Street.
4. Beacon Hill Park
Located right in the heart of Victoria’s downtown core is Beacon Hill Park. This is a lovely spot to wander through the landscaped grounds with lakes, ponds and stone bridges. There’s plenty of birdlife for the keen photographic eye including waterfowl, peacocks, bald eagles, great blue herons (look up!) and even some owls. There’s also a petting zoo for the kids.
The gardens vary throughout the year, but at different times you’ll find masses of daffodils, cherry blossoms, magnolias, spring bulbs, fawn lilies and camas lilies. There’s also an alpine and rock garden.
Where is it: The park is bound roughly by Douglas St, Dallas Rd, Cook St and Southgate St. If you’re downtown, the park is just a short walk from the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
5. St Ann’s Academy
Near Beacon Hill Park, St Ann’s Academy is a National Historic Site.
The historic school and Roman Catholic Cathedral are surrounded by heritage gardens. The Novitiate Garden features a geometric herb bed, perennials and a recreated 1925 summerhouse while the 1910 formal garden at the north-west corner of the property contains rare trees and the remains of a unique fountain. You can download a botanical guide here.
Where is it: 835 Humboldt Street
The whole of Victoria seems to bloom from late February all the way through to September. You’ll find public flowerbeds and flower baskets all through the downtown area. And residential areas near the downtown such as James Bay, Rockland and Fernwood, just to name a few, not only have some beautiful old houses, but also many lovely gardens.
What Gear Do I Use?
I tend to like to be very mobile when I’m photographing gardens so you won’t often find me with my camera on a tripod using macro focusing rails or anything like that.
My go to lens for flowers is a Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro. I love this lens. I mean I REALLY love this lens. And no, you don’t have to use it just for macro (it’s a 1:1 macro). I use it for just about everything but its especially good for portraits.
I also like my Nikon PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt-Shift Lens because of its ability to shift the focal plane – you can get some really nice effects playing around with the tilt function and flowers. Although the real reason I own this lens is for architectural work, it pulls double duty. If you can’t justify this rather pricey glass, then a Lensbaby is also a great option for flowers and will get you the same effect.
I do my post-processing in both Lightroom and Photoshop and love to work with Photoshop Actions by Florabella and Sarah Gardner.