Although a permanent resident of Victoria, I have been remiss in my explorations of some of our ‘must see’ attractions here on the island. Because my personal inclination is to photograph in ‘wild’ and ‘natural’ settings I haven’t had much of an eye for some of the more manicured gardens and parks. However, I was recently prevailed upon to visit Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay which is about 30 minutes outside of Greater Victoria and I was immediately transported to my photographic happy place. Granted, my euphoria was interrupted once or twice by the realization that one of the hazards of being a photographer is being mistaken for a tourist again, and again, and again…
Butchart boasts over 900 varieties of plants in the summer alone (see their plant guide here) and the emphasis of the garden is, of course, the riotous colour and vibrancy of the floral blooms. My visit at the end of April coincided with the height of tulip season and I was soon happily snapping the many varying colours and varietals.
I was struck by the incredible diversity and the wealth of knowledge that is held within the garden. That so many different plants are growing and thriving in that space is incredible. I was also forced to consider the way that we perceive increased value in nature when it has been enclosed and commodified. There is just as much diversity present in the hundreds of mosses and lichens that grow all along our many trails and in unseen places but our perception of them is quite different. Butchart Gardens shows a very human intention to create spectacle and beauty, to inspire wonder and awe of this version of nature that we have created.
Through commodification, the enclosure of the garden, this space and its extensive natural capital is safe. No one is allowed to pick the flowers, trample the beds, or subdivide and build a housing complex. That last would be beyond unthinkable! Butchart Gardens, mowed over to build condos? What a heinous thought, what with its 100 years of blooming. And yet, our ancient forests, our ancient mosses, the ‘version’ of nature that is far older than we are, is not protected in that way. We have become so selective in our engagement with the green and growing that we will happily pay to look at a beautiful garden while we are blind to the ground under us, the trees over us, each and every day.
What constitutes value? What aspects of nature does society consider worth saving? I have found it impossible to divorce these questions from my understanding of our unseen and all-consuming neoliberal, capitalist economy. Suddenly, playing tourist for a day and photographing beautiful flowers feels a bit more weighty than one might expect from a sunny afternoon.