Is October the Optimal Time to Visit Outdoor Gardens in the Pacific Northwest? (2019)

✍️ 🕑 October 18-20, 2019 plant photographyfall foliageflowersferrieslighthousessunsetsbeachesBritish ColumbiaVancouver IslandVictoriadreary daysState/Provincial Parkshitchhikingborder crossings • Places: Breakwater Lighthouse Abkhazi Garden Goldstream Provincial Park Beacon Hill Park Butchart Gardens

During my stint in New York City, I had more frequent trips to the west coast than ever before. I was working as part of a "distributed team," most of whom were on the west coast, so it was absolutely cheaper to make the east coast people fly over repeatedly whenever there was a reason to try to get people face-to-face. As ever, I had interest in "work-adjacent personal travel."

In past visits to Seattle, I had tacked on stops at Olympic National Park and Vancouver (post forthcoming). This time, I thought I'd visit the Canadian city of Victoria, famous for its gardens and its beautiful architecture.

Of course, October might not have been the best choice of time to do it.

An illustration of why October might not be the best time to do it. (In the form of a selfie.)
An illustration of why October might not be the best time to do it. (In the form of a selfie.) open_in_full   info
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An Aside: Some Recommendations from a Local

Before getting into what I actually did during my visit, I'll share some recommendations that I got from a local before I visited:

I recommend you drive to the top of Mount Douglas and watch the sunset - you can also see all of Victoria from up there. Also, make sure you try the poutine at Pink Bicycle - if you like truffles, try the truffle one (if you're a vegetarian, they have vegetarian mushroom gravy). The best configuration is with cheese curds (instead of parmesan) and to add blue cheese (which costs extra).

If you like animals, make sure you visit the farm at Beacon Hill Park: https://goo.gl/maps/axmJFdo62X6bSYv67 You can see peacocks, donkeys, alpacas, and pat many, many baby goats. If you sit on the rocks and bend forward, they sometimes even jump on your back!

Also, if you have time, I recommend exploring the Gulf Islands (Saltspring Island is the easiest to get to in terms of ferries) - the sunset from the top of Mount Maxwell is something special.

Can you guess which one of these I followed?


Day 1

Journey & Arrival

I booked an after work flight from JFK to Victoria with a layover in Calgary. Unfortunately, my flight out of JFK got delayed, so I spent a night in the Calgary Airport instead of in my desired accommodations.

I took the following day off work for "traveling from New York to Seattle," but I groggily checked my email in a coffee shop nonetheless.

My manager wanted to talk, and as it turned out, wanted to tell me that there had a reorganization, and I would now be managed my someone else.

"Yes, yes. This makes sense. This is a good change," I blearily spoke into my computer.

I needed more coffee.



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The following week, I had face-to-face meetings in Seattle, but the rest of the weekend was ahead of me, with a brand new city to explore! Sunday night, I would take the passenger ferry to Seattle's city center. For now, I was going to enjoy myself, and see what plants and gardens I could see on a rainy, pre-Halloween weekend.


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My first stop was the waterfront, where I got to admire Breakwater Lighthouse and spot a rainbow.

(Oddly enough it is this specific walk to this lighthouse that I had in mind when I started writing my song, "The Sea" [also forthcoming])


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Perhaps, there would be a silver lining to my work-related cloud. (But then again, my new manager was living in California!)

The lighthouse from afar.
The lighthouse from afar. open_in_full   info

Back in the city center, the Empress Hotel is a Victoria icon.
Back in the city center, the Empress Hotel is a Victoria icon. open_in_full   info
Some sort of hipsterized poutine from The Pink Bicycle and a beer.
Some sort of hipsterized poutine from The Pink Bicycle and a beer. open_in_full   info

Abkhazi Garden

Abkhazi Garden caught my eye because... erm, it was apparently founded by an Abkhazian Prince, whose family had fled Abkhazia in response to the Bolshevik Revolution. I shan't summarize the details, and shall instead let you peak at the official signage:


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The garden is a nice spot, and also home to a teahouse, should you want to take High Tea in an exiled Prince's garden or something. (Victoria sure is a good place to act out that kind of fantasy.)


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It was a beautiful spot, but one that I couldn't help but feel would be nicer in another season. Say, when things were in bloom, and the weather was less drizzly.


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Chinatown & Fan Tan Alley

A witch flies over Downtown Victoria, or, someone is very excited about Halloween.
A witch flies over Downtown Victoria, or, someone is very excited about Halloween. open_in_full   info

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Day 2


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Goldstream Provincial Park

The one thing that I decided I wanted to do was to get somewhere further out from the city center. I knew the Pacific Northwest was full of beautiful hiking spots, and that Vancouver Island was home to famed locations like Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, but I also didn't have a rental car.

I went on Google Maps and looked at some nearby parks. I set the mode of transportation to public transit, and moved the pin for my destination around, up to a couple miles outside of park boundaries. Google was not about to tell me I could cut through the edge of a suburban-looking housing development, walk alongside a busy road for a mile, and thus gain easy access to a beautiful park, but I could coax that information out of them.

The one that seemed most spectacular, and among the least annoying to get to was Goldstream Provincial Park. My trip there was exactly as expected... except that I had to wait a good while for the bus to show up in Victoria's city center.

Looking out a bus window on the way to the park.
Looking out a bus window on the way to the park. open_in_full   info
Thankfully the shoulder here was comfortably wide.
Thankfully the shoulder here was comfortably wide. open_in_full   info

Goldstream has tall trees, the eponymous river with its famed salmon run, a waterfall, remnants of mines from a brief gold rush, and an old trestle bridge. Quite a package!

And it was home to some of the best fall foliage I've seen in the Pacific Northwest.


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It turns out that it's both illegal and very dangerous to walk on the trestle bridge, so I do not condone doing so. Strangely, there was only signage on <em>one side</em> of the bridge, and I <em>just so happened</em> to start my crossing from the side <em>without</em> the signage.
It turns out that it's both illegal and very dangerous to walk on the trestle bridge, so I do not condone doing so. Strangely, there was only signage on one side of the bridge, and I just so happened to start my crossing from the side without the signage. open_in_full   info

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The park's main waterfall is somewhat cutely called 'Niagra Falls'
The park's main waterfall is somewhat cutely called 'Niagra Falls' open_in_full   info
In this river, you could see the tail end of the salmon run
In this river, you could see the tail end of the salmon run open_in_full   info
The last few salmon weren't too colorful, but there were <em>a lot</em> of 'em!
The last few salmon weren't too colorful, but there were a lot of 'em! open_in_full   info

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Once I finished my walk through the park, I was effectively at the other side. I didn't feel like walking along the roadway, back through the park, back to suburbia, and back to a bus stop.

So, I thumbed a lift.

Not that hard on the island.


Craigdarroach Castle

I paid a brief visit to Craigdarroach Castle, a mansion constructed on behalf coal barron Robert Dunsmuir in the late 1800s. The place and the grounds were very nice indeed.


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I think it was closing, or about to close so I did not linger.


Beacon Hill Park

It was very late by the time I paid a visit to Beacon Hill Park, but I'm glad that I did.

The park is home to a very impressive, very tall totem pole. It claims to be the world's tallest free-standing totem pole at 127 feet.


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Day 3

Emily Carr House

Given that I was staying quite near the Emily Carr House, it's only natural that I took a picture of it.


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Emily Carr was born in Victoria, and painted works showcasing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and indigenous villages. I've enjoyed seeing her work in museums, so it was cool to be near her old home.

Butchart Gardens

The main attraction for me was the Butchart Gardens, probably among Victoria's biggest tourist draws. Naturally, a public bus goes there from the city center, so it's an easy spot to reach.


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Even in October, or perhaps, especially in October, with the fall colors, it was spectacular.


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A Redwood Tree!
A Redwood Tree! open_in_full   info
The boat dock at Butchart Cove means that the gardens are accessible by private sboat in addition to car and bus...
The boat dock at Butchart Cove means that the gardens are accessible by private sboat in addition to car and bus... open_in_full   info

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Standing in the rain with my favorite god, Mercury
Standing in the rain with my favorite god, Mercury open_in_full   info

The Ferry to Seattle


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The Clipper Ferry is a rather expensive boat ride, one with tickets tiered for where you're allowed to view the surroundings from the boat. I got the lowest price ticket and spent a while looking out on the deck at sunset as we cruised towards Seattle through the majestic Puget Sound.


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Having crossed a maritime border, we all had to queue in a very long line for customs and passport control when we arrived. After the agent asked me a few questions about places I had visited on a previous trip, I was through.


So, overall, Victoria is a beautiful place, with ample opportunities to stroll through manicured gardens or enjoy high tea. My favorite of the places I visited, though, was Goldstream Provincial Park. Perhaps, I was more drawn to the allure of the forest than the marvels of modern landscaping. As was, I don't think I felt as connected to Victoria as other places I've visited. I would like to return there, especially to see the art at their museum, but I haven't gone out of my way yet to do so.

As for the change in management, everything was okay, and I probably exaggerated being worried about it for writerly effect. (I.e., to keep you in suspense.) We had already worked together, and got along quite well until I left that team.

Thanks for reading!

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