The Government House gardens is an excellent destination for any traveller looking to experience one of the best free gardens in Victoria.
Located on 36 acres, open daily from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year and is free to visit. Visitors can explore the formal gardens and rare Garry oak ecosystem and visit the Cary Castle Mews, costume museum and tearoom.
From the Victorian and sunken rose gardens to the Bruce Pavilion and Rotary Garden of International Friendship, there is something for everyone to enjoy at the Government House gardens.
The serene Duck Pond is located at the front of the property. Surrounded by bamboo and tall trees, the large pond includes sitting stones and fountains, providing a peaceful spot to unwind on a warm day.
Located at the entrance gate of the Government House, the English Country Garden resembles the gardens found in British estates and castles. It features a spacious green lawn surrounded by three primary beds. Filled with contrasting leaf shapes and textures and boasts beautiful blooms from June to October. The garden also includes trees, shrubs, bulbs, and perennials that provide interest and fragrance throughout the year.
One of the largest gardens on the property is Pearkes Peak, located south of the duck pond. Named in honour of former Lieutenant Governor George Pearkes, the garden is divided into three rocky areas with grass and paths in between. The garden is home to various vegetation, including Garry oaks, ornamental shrubs, native plants, and bulbs.
Named after Lieutenant Governor Robert Randolph Bruce (1926-1931), this pavilion features open ironwork and a tile floor.
The Victorian Rose Garden was designed based on the plan of the Rose Garden at Warwick Castle in England. It features boxwood-edged beds that are filled with pink and white roses.
The Iris Garden can be found on the east side of the property, along the path leading to the Nursery Garden. You’ll notice two iris borders lining the path, one showcasing blue and white iris. While some Iris blooms from February to September, the best time to enjoy them is during May and June.
The Nursery Garden is situated on the eastern side of the estate. It boasts a stunning view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains. The garden has two sections; one grows flowers and foliage that volunteers utilize to create flower arrangements for Government House, while the other is a vegetable garden. Volunteers tend to the vegetable garden using organic methods and grow a variety of vegetables that the chef of Government House uses.
Located on the west side of the property, the Sunken Rose Garden features a tiered fountain and a diverse selection of fragrant roses from both modern and old rose classes. This garden is in full bloom from June to October.
Located beside the Sunken Rose Garden, the Herb Garden grows various herbs that are utilized in the Government House kitchen. Additionally, traditional herb garden trees like the medlar and quince can be found here. The main attraction of the Herb Garden is a sundial, featuring a carved orca by the talented Salish carver, Aubrey La Fortune.
You can find mature rhododendrons near the main entrance gate and on the east side of Government House. Southern Vancouver Island is a great place for rhododendrons to grow, and some of the rhodos on the property have grown as tall as three meters.
The Cut Flower Garden boasts a splendid London plane tree that casts shade over hostas, hellebores, primulas, and other plants that thrive in shady conditions.
Located on the outcropping of rock below the swimming pool at the southwest corner of Government House, the Rock and Alpine Garden showcases exquisite plants from mountainous regions across the globe. The majority of the plants in this garden were grown from seeds and sourced from esteemed organizations from England, Scotland and more locally in Vancouver.
The Terrace Gardens are situated in a prime location behind the Government House, providing visitors with a breathtaking view of the woodlands, Salish Sea, and Olympic Mountains. The gardens boast a variety of plants that can withstand drought and wind from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and California.
The Woodlands is a rare urban Garry oak ecosystem that boasts a variety of wildflowers such as camas, western buttercup, and white fawn lilies—intending to conserve and rehabilitate this natural habitat while allowing the public to learn and appreciate it. The Woodlands offers open access through a public pathway where visitors can view the beautiful native British Columbia area.
You can find the Winter Garden on the west side of the Trades driveway. The plants there bloom from November to March, with various winter and early spring flowers. You can admire the rare Chinese shrub Stachyurus praecox and many Hamamelis (Witch-Hazel) shrubs, Lonicera fragrantissima, and Cornus mas. The ground beneath the shrubs is covered with pretty Primulas and flowering bulbs.
The garden’s design was first created in 1911 by G.K Maclean, a landscape architect from Vancouver. In 1957, Robert Savery updated the design to reflect the traditional English garden style.
The gardens were at their prime when the 1960s and 1970s had up to 17 gardeners working on the property to maintain its beauty. In the 1980’s, the number of staff gardeners fell to one.
In 1991, the ‘Garden Volunteer Program’ was introduced to enhance the existing gardens, create new gardens, and improve the maintenance of the Government House grounds for public use.
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Parking: Parking is free, locations are in front of Government House and a larger parking lot southeast of the main building. There is one Charging station.
Toilets: Located southeast of the main building.
Food: Tea Room is open four days a week during the summer.
Hours: The gardens are open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year.
Tours: Government House is only open to the public via limited guided tours. Visitors must register in advance.
Garden Tours: The Friends of Government House Garden Society offers Garden Tours. For more info, visit their website.
Government House is the office and official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Although the building is not open to visitors, limited free tours are offered, space is limited, and visitors must register in advance.
The Lieutenant Governor offers accommodation to distinguished visitors, including members of the Royal Family, international royalty, heads of state and other honoured guests of British Columbia.
Since 1865, there have been three Government Houses on this site. The first official residence, Cary Castle, was built in 1859. Six years later it was purchased as the residence of the Governor of Vancouver Island.
When British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871 Cary Castle became Government House, the official office and residence of the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of British Columbia.
In May 1899, Cary Castle was destroyed by fire. Renowned architects Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure were hired to design a new house on the same site.
The Rattenbury/Maclure-designed Government House officially opened in 1903. The House served British Columbia for 54 years until April 15, 1957, when it succumbed to fire. The only thing left standing was the porte cochère. Construction on the new Government House began in December 1957 and closely matched the design of the previous building. The current Government House officially opened on May 19, 1959.
The Conservatory was added in the 1960s as a gift from Lieutenant Governor George Pearkes and the family of Lieutenant Governor Walter Owens installed the swimming pool in 1978.
Historical information from ltgov.bc.ca
The Mews are a group of wooden service buildings from the 19th century located on the southeast side of the Government House estate. These buildings have been used to support Government House since they were built in the 1870s. The Government House Foundation has restored some buildings, including Rudi’s Tea Room, The Costume Museum and the Heraldry Exhibit.
Come and enjoy lunch, sweets, and refreshments at Rudi’s Tea Room, where food is sourced from as close as the Government House vegetable gardens.
You can find them in the charming Butterworth Cottage, located in the Cary Castle Mews, which adds to the historic ambiance.
The Tea Room features dine-in and take-out service. Seating is first come, first serve.
Opening: May – October
Hours: Tuesday- Friday, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
The Costume Museum is located in the Carriage House and showcases a large variety of period pieces, as well as rotating special exhibits. From former Lieutenant Governors’ uniforms and Chatelaines’ dresses to an original butler’s uniform, the Museum takes visitors on a sartorial journey through the history of the Estate and Office of the Lieutenant Governor. These historical artifacts are from both the Government House collection and thanks to the generosity of several donors. Visitors to the Costume Museum will also see the historic Landau Carriage on display. In 1901, the Landau was used by the Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary) on their tour of Victoria and Esquimalt.
Opening: May – October
Hours: Tuesday- Friday, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Last September, we had the opportunity to go on a Victoria Garden Tour. The tour commenced at the Gardens at HCP, progressed to Government House, and concluded at Abkhazi Garden.
We were pleasantly surprised by the size and variety of the gardens at Government House, as we didn’t know much about them beforehand. With multiple gardens, viewpoints, and paths, we had a great time exploring the property.
Parking is free, and the grounds are well-maintained and are only second to Hatley Castle regarding free-to-visit options in Victoria.
I’m sorry to say that the Tea Room and museums in Cary Castle Mews were closed during our visit, so I cannot provide any feedback on them. However, I highly recommend this Government House to anyone who enjoys nature and leisurely walks in beautifully maintained gardens.
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When are the gardens open to visit?
From dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.
Is there an entrance fee?
No, visiting the Government House Garden is free.
Does it cost anything to park?
No, parking is free.
Are pets allowed?
Yes, but must stay on a leash.
Are there tours?
Government House is only open to the public via limited guided tours. Visitors must register in advance.
The Friends of Government House Garden Society offers Garden Tours. For more info, visit their website.
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