Looking for a romantic trip for two? How hard would you laugh if I suggested Butchart Gardens in August – its busiest season?

Butchart sunken garden

A riot of annual color, the Sunken Garden is at its best in July and August.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Butchart night fountain

As the sun drops, lights transform the fountain into swirling shapes of color.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Located on Vancouver Island, 14 miles north of Victoria, British Columbia, Butchart Gardens is an amazing place to visit year-round. My partner Mark and I just chose to go during the garden’s busy season, and we were not disappointed!

For a summer visit, Butchart’s website recommends arriving after 3 p.m. to avoid the tour bus crowd. (Not that there’s anything wrong with tour buses, but they can hardly be called “romantic.”) So Mark and I arrived at 3 on the dot (one should always be punctual, even on vacation).

We parked in the “Crab” section, which I took as a bad sign. This was our first trip to Butchart, and I expected vast quantities of people (read: screaming children). But we were happily surprised to see lots of open space (especially since the garden map given at the gate recommended a particular walking route, and as far as I could tell, everyone followed said route).

We entered Butchart’s Sunken Garden almost immediately and spent lots of time there, rather than just stopping to photograph it from the main viewpoint and move on. (I relish the thought of my scarlet-red jacket being in so many strangers’ pictures.)

The Sunken Garden was created in the early 1900s, when Jennie Butchart transformed the hole in the ground that her husband Robert had made. The fortune originally gained from the quarry helped supply the landscape architects, gardeners and plants needed to shape it into what it is today.

Butchart Gardens focuses on using lots of color to attract visitors, and it uses many common annuals: marigolds, verbena, salvia, begonias, petunias, black-eyed-Susans and thousands of heliotrope, with its touch of old-fashioned charm and vanilla fragrance. Some of the more unusual plants we saw included a flashy new annual phlox (Phlox drummondii ‘Petticoat Mix’); cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in shades of pink, magenta and purple; and pocketbook plant (Calceolaria crenatiflora), which is usually considered an indoor-only grower.

At the other end of the Sunken Garden is the pond. Most people race through here, since it has less annual color, but there’s a great little nook accessible by a short gravel trail, with healthy shrubs to hide you from the stares of curious onlookers. (Okay, so it’s really a bench and an ashtray, to encourage smokers to stay out of the garden. But work with me here.)

We had dinner on the balcony of The Dining Room Restaurant, with a view of Butchart Cove, the Italian Garden and the Rose Garden. Not bad for setting the right mood, romantically speaking! After dinner we wandered toward the concert lawn to hear the jazz band. (I’m not saying there were lots of seniors there, but when we appeared, the median age of the crowd dropped by about 10 years.) We listened to music as the sun set, before heading back through the gardens to enjoy the night lights.

I never expected a visit to British Columbia’s No. 1 tourist site to be romantic, but I guess with good planning and a little luck, hey, anything is possible.