Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vancouver: whales and Butchart Gardens

In Vancouver, the 7.05am bus arrives at 7.05am. I took the picture late. We were already on and moving. No, that is not my wrist. Does it look like my wrist? And no, I didn't know there was another 7 o'clock either.

We were moving towards whales, we hoped. On a complimentary Prince of Whales (not that one, think I'd go on a tour with him??) tour, arranged by Vince, who has nice friends. Regular price? $600 for two. He bartered some of his yummy photographs in exchange.

Leaving the harbour for Victoria on Vancouver Island in our fast boat, 30 knots plus. The engines do something clever with the water. Maybe Vince will explain in a comment. A bit like whipping cream or egg whites - beating air into it to make it froth?

As a result, it gets cold. Very. Very. Cold. Vancouver in June is not New York in June. Add a waterwhipping boat and some choppy water in the Strait of Georgia and this person gets numb fingers and the shakes. This person was told to dress warmly and thought she had accomplished it with two layers of cashmere and a goosedown fleece. Nope. Into the oversize orange coat I went, on the top deck, bending in time to the boat's bucking over the swells. That was good for a while. Out came the woolly hat. Hm. Add Vince's black inner jacket under the orange one. Br. Later I escaped to the front which was protected, and wussed-out near a girl who had just swallowed one of my anti seasick pills. She never reappeared for the return trip so I don't think it took...

Eventually we reached the Gulf Islands on the far side of the Strait and entered calm water edged by steeply wooded hills and lots of a broomlike shrub in full flower.

We saw two bald eagles, so similar to our African fishing eagle, and later I saw one dip into the water for a fish.

Vince: where are the bloody whales?

There! One of many triangles. My first killer whales ever. We saw several groups, with outriders about a mile off...our guides said that the older whales possibly keep the harder, edge-fishing for themselves, leaving the easy pickins to the mothers and young. They are eating salmon heading for the Fraser River. 200 lbs are eaten per whale a day. We saw a smaller whale breach, jumping right out of the water and landing smack! sideways in the water again. It was beautiful, especially since it was not a movie. Sure looked like a movie. Oh urban child.

The water really amazed me. There were so many different currents at work, often with two distinct colours on either side of a fluid line where they met; strange upwellings, swift smoothnesses, roilings.

The last part, heading for the harbour at Victoria (where 30,000 seaplane flights leave and land a year), was the roughest, but it was a lot of fun. Like riding a huge horse.


Overly cute and Disneyfied bathtugs finishing their daily ballet.

And an obligatory stop to buy The Best Coconut Buns in the World, for Vince.

Post beer and sandwich break, racing to the bus taking us to Butchart Gardens, I stopped in midflight to photograph this wisteria outside the Empress Hotel.

Twenty minutes later, after some very boring Anywhere America outlying parts and then some rather Swiss countryside, we arrived at the super-organized gardens. We were there on a Saturday, so there were crowds, all well behaved and clicking away.

And what was in pots near the entrances, but schizanthus? - dear to me because I remember learning the impossible word as a very little girl in Bloemfontein, where my mom grew it in pots on the patio.

After fleeing the tourist-clogged main area of tea and coffee shops we headed up a hill and found after about 5 minutes, this view:

The gardens were first started in the empty pit of a limestone quarry, affording this perpsective from the sides.

Here, and elsewhere, I found myself really rattled by the number of annuals. Like, thousands and thousands of them. In beds. What exactly bugged me about them I can't say. But I can hazard a guess?! The uniformity? The rows? The 70's-ness. Disney again? The quick-fix fertilizer I imagine they need for instant oomph? The mass production? I don't know. They are not very interesting to me like this. They give me the creeps. I don't mind them tucked in here and there as a nice frothy or softening filler. But like this? It's drone-like. I can hear their mass-marching little green feet doing the approaching soft shuffle. AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

But. On the winding way down to the lower garden was a most wonderful rocky wall with very interesting things growing in it. Cotoneaster in bloom, and crawling with big, happy bees.

Thyme was tucked in here and there.

And armeria, sea thrift, making things seem Alpine.

And to seal the deal, gentians!

At the bottom, hummocks of shrubbed plantings were hugged (suffocated?) by the beds of annuals, and here, plunging me back to 1979 at least, nemesias! Not only South African but they used to be planted under my parents' window. I loved them. I still do. But this? It hurts!

The object of the lower garden's rambling yet official concrete path, this fountain against the tall evergreens. Not pictured are the crowds of couples vying for a spot to be photographed with it as a backdrop.

The journey back took us through perennials. Phew.

Lots of irises. I am very fond of them. Essence of iris root (OK, tuber, fine) goes into Chanel No. 19...And if my duty-free bottle was anything to go by it takes a lot of irises to yield that essence.

Get out of my way! It's my euphorbia! I saw it first! Move! You're blocking my light, dude! You're stepping on the effing annuals! So what, they deserve it!

Said euphorbia. No labels, so I can't help you there.

Gorgeous hardy this bee. Is it a bee? - their legs are very funny. Are they pretending to be bees?

More iris.

Um. I know it, I do. It looks like a fritillaria. Is it one?

A substantial perennial border. We were not allowed on the grass so I did not get closer.

I told you I liked them...

If you look carefully you will see the rear end of an imposter-bee. Maybe he was a real one.

Poppy and hollyhock buds...

And the same poppy, open, exciting cries of wonder from every person who passed it, all explaining to their non flower-literate friends, It's a very unusual colour for a poppy (yes, I did too).

We had to head back to our boat, which had come cleverly around from Victoria to the inlet below the Japanese Garden, to pick us up. We left too little time for this sloped series of lovely gardens within gardens, and I am sorry for it. It was very well done. No annuals.

Poppies don't count. Especially when blue.

Many, many different kinds of fern, very interesting trees and shrubs, running water, moss gardens.

But our barky awaits. Around her, there were translucent jellyfish in the water.

The trip back was a whole other animal. Blue sky, sun, smooth.

City of light.

Under the Lions' Gate Bridge with Stanley Park at its feet.

Past the sulfur mounds.

And home again, home again. The convention center nearing completion with a great greenroof about to be planted on its head.


  1. Hmm, where do I start? Water-whipping engines: yeah, I like that. They are Arneson Surface Drives, equipped with surface piercing propellers. :-) And you're not far from the truth with the frothing theory; they avoid cavitation by allowing air bubbles into an otherwise vacuum-filed (!) space against the blades. I'll probably post about it...

    Also: I'm glad you enjoyed riding the waters of the Strait of Georgia Horse, what a ride. And no saddle.

    As far as the euphorbia goes, though, I was the one who kinda stole the other guy's spot, and he moved on. Ha! ;-)

    And the whales... Well, I'll try to rescue a shot of the breaching youngling and post it...

  2. Yes, your pictures. Can't wait.



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