Wish I Were Here: Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island, BC

It’s been 15 years since I last visited Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia, one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever been to. Among its many wonders is the 55-acre Butchart Gardens, located just 20 kilometers northwest of the glorious city of Victoria.

Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia, features 55 acres of fantastic flowers. Photo courtesy Butchart Gardens

During the 2020 COVID pandemic, Butchart Gardens is restricting the number of visitors allowed on the property at once, and it has canceled its famous fireworks shows and garden concerts. Check the COVID-19 guidelines  before you go.

In 1904, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved to Vancouver Island and over decades turned a former limestone quarry into a dazzling, landscaped gardens that has become popular with visitors and locals alike. Today, The Butchart Gardens is a National Historic Site of Canada. With millions of bedding plants in over 900 varieties, there’s more horticultural beauty than you could possibly explore in a single day.

Looking at photos of the various gardens are reminding me of the beauty of Butchart Gardens. I hope to visit them in person again whenever travel is safe again.

The Sunken Garden

The green-cloaked hills of the Sunken Gardens are actually remnants of an old limestone quarry used to make cement. Instead of slag piles there are beds of flowers, trees, and shrubs—as well as benches for relaxing on and enjoying the scenary.

Protruding from its center, a rock mound offers a lookout point of the Sunken Garden, while its walking path winds past the graceful Ross Fountain and peaceful Bog Garden.

The Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens was created on an old quarry. Photo courtesy Butchart Gardens

The Rose Garden

I never can resist rose-covered arches, and the ones at Butchart Gardens entice you into the Rose Garden, a Shangri-La of vibrant blooms and luscious scents from summer to early autumn. Pure romance, this garden boasts a glorious collection of floribundas, ramblers, climbers, and Hybrid Tea Roses.

Aah…summer roses in an arch. Photo courtesy Butchart Gardens

The Japanese Garden

This is one of the first gardens the Butcharts created, and they commissioned a Japanese designer, Isaburo Kishida of Yokohama, to create this serene and sensual space that includes water features and stepping stones and a dragon fountain. A grand Torii gate marks the entrance, inviting visitors to step inside the Japanese Garden where maple and beech trees rustle and Himalayan Blue Poppies blossom in late spring.

Stepping stones in the Japanese Garden. Photo courtesy Butchart Gardens

The Italian Garden

In the 1920s, the Butchart family  converted their tennis court into a bustling, colorful courtyard. Today the Italian Garden is ornamented with a bronze-cast statue and a flower-studded pond. I still remember enjoying Italian gelato in this lovely garden on a sunny day.

Green Gardens: Butchart’s Environmental Practices

Tending the gardens includes stewardship of the land. Here are just some of Butchart’s eco-friendly efforts:

  • Use of reusable wood flats instead of plastic
  • Repurposing of wood waste, branches, and leaves into mulch and/or compost
  • Use of manual, mechanical, and nonchemical weed-control methods
  • Drip irrigation wherever practical
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program to control insect pests and diseases
  • Composting program
  • 100-percent biodegradable bags for visitors’ purchases
  • Recycling cardboard, paper, plastic, and Styrofoam
  • Forest Stewardship Council–certified calendars for sale
  • Sources local ingredients, organic where possible, for onsite eateries
  • On-site edible flower and herb garden
  • Composts all food waste, including dairy cartons
  • Use of compostable plates, cutlery, straws, and glassware as possible
  • Recycles all glass, plastic, and metal, including wine, beer and soda bottles
  • No single-use water bottles. Added water stations in restaurants and throughout the Gardens.
  • Use of low-energy fixtures with motion sensors and timers
  • Low-flow toilets throughout the grounds
  • Recycled water from streams and repurposing water for cooling
  • Recycles and reuses all metal wiring and firework props

Click here for more Vancouver Island travel tips.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photo courtesy Butchart Gardens


London’s Regent Street Sparkles for the Holidays

London’s Regent Street has been celebrating its 200th anniversary during 2019, so this Christmas it’s decked out in style.

Delicate twinkly lights enhance London’s Regent Street, a historic shopping hub and home to the world’s largest toy shop, Hamley’s. ©Visit Britain/Erica Paris

Established in 1819, Regent Street has been at the heart of London for two centuries. Today, it’s a world-renowned destination for shopping and dining. Regent Street is flanked with flagship stores and famous shops of every kind. Of particular note are the famous toyshop, Hamleys, and the grand timber-framed department store Liberty.

Surrounded by diverse interlacing smaller streets—including the wellness hub found on Mortimer Street, and foodie havens Princes Street and Heddon Street—Regent Street offers an unmatched array of pioneering global names and independent brands.

Regent Street’s position in the heart of London means that it’s just a stone’s throw away from other vibrant destinations, including Oxford Street, Carnaby Street, Soho, and Covent Garden, as well as the nearby open spaces of Green Park. For those seeking culture, the theatre district and London’s Chinatown are within short walking distance.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer




A Flock of Witches Paddles California’s Morro Bay for Charity

Each year, a shadowy group of witches and warlocks creates a fun and frightful scene when they take over Morro Bay, California, the weekend before Halloween . Local professional photographer Danna Joy Dykstra-Coy witnessed the event and memorialized the 2019 scene with these amazing photographs.

The annual Witch’s Paddle at Morro Bay, California. Photo © Danna Joy Dykstra-Coy

“We started the Witch’s Paddle event in 2013 to celebrate Halloween,” says Annette Ausseresses, one of the original witch paddlers. “Since then, we’ve seen the idea really take off, and now there are Witch’s and Warlock’s Paddles happening from coast to coast.”

The Halloween fun is even better now that it has an altruistic aspect. “We decided to add a donation component to this year’s event and get the public involved,” says Ausseresses. Canned goods and/or cash donations were collected at the Witch’s Paddle by the Food Bank of San Luis Obispo County, a network of community partners dedicated to alleviating hunger in San Luis Obispo County and building a healthier community.

Solo witch in the harbor of Morro Bay. Photo ©Danna Joy Dykstra-Coy

The public is invited to join in the paddle or to watch the floating coven in the harbor. (Please note that there’s no instruction, lifeguards, or supervision at the event. Participants are encouraged to follow Coast Guard requirements for personal flotation devices, and each person is responsible for providing their own equipment and costume.) For board rentals, contact Morro Bay Stand Up Paddleboarding, which can make sure all scary participants are fitted with the most suitable board.

Explore Morro Bay by Foot, Car, or Broomstick

Located along coastal Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo County just south of Big Sur—and midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco—Morro Bay offers activities that range from ocean-side golf, kayaking, sailing, hiking, fishing, surfing, biking, and bird watching, to kite flying, shopping, dining, wine bars, local craft brews and miles of unspoiled beaches.

This active, seaside fishing village has a bustling waterfront and offers a fun and funky getaway for travelers who seek great wine, seafood, and outdoor adventures.

Morro Bay is famous for massive Morro Rock, named “El Morro” (Spanish for “crown-shaped hill”) by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.

Witches paddle near Morro Rock to raise money for the local food bank. Photo ©Danna Joy Dykstra-Coy

Morro Rock is so prominent that it’s been dubbed the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” It’s a State Historic Landmark, bird sanctuary, and home to nesting peregrine falcons.

The rock itself is the last of a line of long-extinct volcanoes, which include nine peaks, called the Nine Sisters, ranging from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay.

Morro Bay’s charm and mild Mediterranean climate offer an idyllic coastal escape great for kayaking, surfing stand-up paddling, hiking, camping, and more, so bring your broom and join the fun.

For more information on things to do and see in Morro Bay, visit www.morrobay.org.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer, editor, and writing coach

Floating flock of witches on Morro Bay. Photo © Danna Joy Dykstra-Coy


River & Woods Chef Gets Creative with Sustainably Caught Fish

I didn’t even know I liked mackerel, much less sardines. But Chef Daniel Asher, of Boulder, Colorado’s River and Woods restaurant made me a convert—and proved his prowess in the kitchen.

Chef Daniel Asher, of River and Woods restaurant in Boulder, started a summer luncheon with sustainable Bela sardines and a smorgasbord of other complementary flavors. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Chef Daniel Asher, of River and Woods restaurant in Boulder, started a summer luncheon with sustainable Bela sardines and a smorgasbord of other complementary flavors. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At a special event, Asher showed off the Bela Seafood line, a family-owned business that has fished off the Algarve coast of Portugal for generations. Bela’s tuna, mackerel, and sardines are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

“I’m always on the lookout for sustainably produced foods that are truly delicious,” says Asher. “We cook sustainably here at River and Woods, but flavor comes first, so we’re very picky.”

Chef Daniel Asher ©Laurel Kallenbach

Chef Daniel Asher ©Laurel Kallenbach

Apparently, Bela’s fish—which comes packed in organic extra-virgin olive oil in cans or jars—passed the Asher test. And, as it turns out, mine. Chef Asher started us out with sardines, presented on a gorgeous smorgasbord table with smashed avocado, baby kale, fresh lemon, crisp-fried onions, and nori, with which we could make little sardine burritos.

Hesitantly, I chose a small sardine in olive oil with organic piri-piri (an African chili pepper used in Portugal) and drenched it with lemon and added avocado. To my surprise, the sardine was mild, and I went back for seconds!

Grilled sardines, flavorful chowders, mackerel, tuna are the local dishes in the Algarve, Portugal’s hottest tourist destination. (Someday, when I visit the Algarve, I’m told I must try the cataplana—a combination of sausage, clams, and ham stirred together with paprika, onions and coriander.) Of course, sardines are the staple of almost every dish in coastal Portugal.

And here’s the scoop on Bela’s sardines: they’re wild-caught by purse-seine netting, washed by hand, and then cooked prior to canning. They’re hand-packed within hours of the catch and never frozen. And these little fish are good for you: A serving of sardines delivers 11 grams of protein, omega-3s, vitamin D and calcium all in one, low-calorie meal!

A Tuna Waldorf Salad featuring Bela skipjack tuna: yet another of Chef Asher's sustainable creations. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Tuna Waldorf Salad featuring Bela skipjack tuna: yet another of Chef Asher’s sustainable creations. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bring on the Seafood

Next Chef Asher served bamboo cones filled with a Bela Skipjack Tuna Waldorf Salad with cinnamon-coated almonds, mizuna, Just Mayo vegan “mayonnaise,” rosemary-olive oil “caviar” and local carrot shavings. All of us “samplers” raved over this whimsical salad. And the tuna is pole-and-line caught.

Finally the pièce de résistance: Mackerel Paella that blended Mediterranean influences such as charred Valencia oranges with Colorado-grown quinoa and gourmet mushrooms from Mile-High Fungi. The mackerel was wonderful, and this oily fish is also earning kudos for its high omega-3 content.

Paella with Bela-brand mackerel at River and Woods ©Laurel Kallenbach

Paella with Bela-brand mackerel at River and Woods ©Laurel Kallenbach

Come on Over to River and Woods

Aside from enjoying the wonderful, sustainable fish dishes, I loved spending some time at River and Woods. The creators behind the restaurant strive for sustainable and local ingredients, and this friendly eatery aspires to creating what they call “community-sourced cuisine,” featuring Colorado comfort foods with innovative twists. For instance, meatloaf gets a makeover, and voilà, you’ve got Lamb and Oat Meatloaf with pumpkin-seed salsa verde and crispy sweet-potato bites. And don’t miss the Seasonal Deviled Eggs with rosemary oil pearls, English peas, breakfast radish, pea shoots, and microgreens.

In summer, you can catch live music in River and Woods’ “backyard’ dining area on Wednesday nights. And chances are I’ll be there too!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

More about restaurants that serve sustainable seafood:

Portugal's Algarve Region: where Bela Seafood is caught and packaged. This is Marinha Beach, a popular tourist spot. Photo Turismo de Portugal

Portugal’s Algarve Region: where Bela Seafood is caught and packaged. This is Marinha Beach, a popular tourist spot. Photo Turismo de Portugal