Victoria, British Columbia — JENNY BUTCHART always had an eye for color. As a young woman, that eye brought her a scholarship to study art in Paris. Fortunately, she refused it; otherwise Victoria might have lost out on its most unusual tourist attraction: the fabulous Butchart Gardens. Here, the expression ``a riot of color'' comes to vivid and glorious life. On a hot summer day it's possible to imagine a kind of visual shout rising in the Sunken Garden from the undulating beds of red geraniums that compete with neighboring orange marigolds and bright pink petunias. Dahlias abound in lemon, puce, and rust, while snapdragons in warm maroons and golds trumpet alongside pure yellow and orange tuberous begonias.
The array goes on as far as you can see. Many of these brilliant beds are bordered by forget-me-nots in spring and blue lobelias in summer.
It was plainly a lady of bold imagination and firmness of character who created this fantasy land out of what, more than 50 years ago, was an old quarry. Robert Pim Butchart once ran a cement factory on the grounds, and bits of the factory ruins poke above the Sunken Garden, creating an odd Martian terrain of flatness and abrupt hillocks.
Bring your cast-iron elbows if you come here on a summer weekend. Phalanxes of tourists pour along the winding paths; the many benches contain solid rows of citizens, firmly planted there while resting up for the next assault. Tour groups come from all over. I saw one Japanese man drop to his knees to take a photo of a trembling spray of fuchsia. Later, I heard his whole group cooing with pleasure at the ferns, mosses, little streams, and bridges in Mrs. Butchart's Japanese garden. This, one of her early efforts at gardening, was done with the help of a non-English-speaking Japanese gardener. Its austerity is a shock after the rest of the gardens -- like a cool, quiet room after a noisy street. A popular feature is a ``moon'' cut in the hedge, through which you can see Bentwood Bay, where Mr. Butchart used to moor his yacht.
The Butcharts traveled all over the world -- admiring gardens, it would seem, as they went -- for there is also a formal Italian garden, set in what was once the family tennis court.
A favorite of mine is the rose garden. Hundreds of kinds of roses cover trellises and frame fountains and sundials. Anyone who has ever contemplated a garden catalog and dreamed of planting every rosebush listed will consider this a spot to linger.
Don't linger so long, however, that you miss Butchart's teatime. Victoria has been described as ``more English than England''; this is not true except perhaps for an emphasis on gardens and afternoon tea found throughout the city. Go early to miss the crowd.
On occasion, Mrs. Butchart used to like to slip in among the waitresses incognito and serve tea to visitors herself. Once, when an elderly gentleman attempted to give her a tip, she replied, ``Oh, no, thank you, sir! Old Mrs. Butchart would never let me accept anything!''
Every tourist worth his Baedeker heads for Butchart Gardens on a visit to Victoria. But this pleasant city has another attraction of equal note which, while not exactly neglected (a million people visit every year), is not as universally known: That's the city's imaginative and informative Provincial Museum. Victoria's Provincial Museum Although Victoria's Provincial Museum is not large, the range of displays could captivate anyone.
Canada's provincial museums are limited by law to exhibiting items relevant to their own provinces. In British Columbia, that means the Indian art and culture, the history of the province, and the environment. But there is no textbook dryness here; although it is not a large museum, the range of displays could captivate anyone.
For instance, to those who think a diorama consists of poor examples of the taxidermist's art improbably gathering dust in a brilliantly lighted glass case, the dioramas in the museum's ``Living Land, Living Sea'' exhibit come as a revelation. The largest diorama is a room-size re-creation of the Great Forest -- the type of environment found here on the coast from California up to Alaska. Elk are shown browsing underneath amabilis fir and Western hemlock -- ``trees'' so convincing that you can observe one young visitor after another feeling the trunks and asking, ``Is it alive?'' and ``Is it real?'' (They're actually fiber-glass casts of tree trunks, but most of the foliage is genuine; the leaves are chemically treated.)
In a diorama of the seashore, a museum worker sits on the ``rock'' tidal pool singling out various underwater creatures with a pointer and flashlight to a solid and attentive ring of adults and small children. ``This one's got a bit of seaweed growing on his back -- trying to conceal himself,'' the guide comments almost affectionately, pointing to one Bohemian-looking specimen. ``Sometimes they're hardly recognizable as crabs at all -- they look like little walking gardens.'' The pointer moves. ``This one's a sea cucumber -- just part of him. The other part's underneath that rock.''
After admiring the seals and sea lions, posed effectively on their fiber-glass rocks, catch the escalator up to the ``First Peoples'' exhibit on the third floor. There, in dimly lighted cedar cases, are tools and artworks the British Columbian Indian population made before their contact with white people. Topics are divided into various categories, such as technology, transportation, weaving, hunting, use of plants, and tanning of leather. These displays are beautifully executed.
The best example of the museum's user-friendly approach is one glass case containing some 20 masks: Kwakiutl Sun, Haida Bear, Tshimshian Otter, and Bella Coola Whale. Every few minutes a ``show'' begins here; a single light illumines one of the masks, which then seems to hang eerily in the darkness. The light shifts -- the mask looks as if it is moving -- as a deep, slow Indian-sounding voice tells a tale: the myth connected to the mask and the family that owned it.
Next, trail down the staircase to the display of Indian art created after the Indians had been exposed to white people. The first display shows a witty mask of a white man with brown fur for hair and beard done in the subtle Tshimshian carving style.
In the next room you can see part of an Edward Curtis film, once thought lost forever: ``In the Land of the War Canoes.'' The film, one of the first anthropological films ever made, features a rollicking ``bear'' dancer standing in the prow of a canoe.
Farther on, giant Curtis photos form a moving backdrop, as a voice -- that of Bill Reid, a West Coast Indian artist -- explains one of the reasons for the dying out of the Indian culture: up to three-quarters of the Tshimshian, Kwakiutl, and Haida tribes were destroyed in the space of a few years by diseases said to have been brought by white settlers. As I stood there listening, one tourist next to me commented on the dignity of the Curtis faces.
Also, visitors won't want to miss Thunderbird Park, a grassy area next to the museum where one of the museum's two resident carvers might be at work in the carving shed. Practical information
The Butchart Gardens open at 9 a.m. year-round, but closing hours vary with the season. Although spring is said to be the most spectacular time in the gardens, high season is April through early October. The entrance fee in summer is $6.50 (Canadian) for adults, $3.50 for 13- to 17-year-olds, $1 for ages 12 and under.
Gray Line Bus Tours and Marguerite Bus Tours will take you to Butchart; if you drive yourself, take Highway 17 out of Victoria and follow the signs. The drive takes about 25 minutes.
The Provincial Museum is free; its hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., seven days a week.