The Hunt for Blue Poppies

The Hunt for Blue Poppies:  A Rare Opportunity

I’m a serious flower lover and can name many flowers on sight.  Last year while preparing for a workshop, I learned of a poppy I had never heard of.  While it is grown in a number of botanical gardens, it can’t be found in Southern California.  We just don’t have the right growing environment.

Vancouver Island is the world's eighth-largest island, with several outstanding gardens.  This is why my workshop host selected it.  The island provides a growing environment that is just right for one of the rarest flowers in the world – the meconopsis betonicifolia or the blue Himalayan poppy.  This unique flower is the national flower of Bhutan.  If Bhutan is unfamiliar, it's a small country sandwiched between India and Tibet, east of Nepal and north of Bangladesh.

Map at left from

According to U.K. based The Gardens Trust, these poppies are difficult to grow and demand a rich, moist, cool, shaded site.  They thrive at high altitudes (between 9,843 and 17,045 feet) in a climate with summer monsoons, intermittent strong sunshine and frequent fog.  Yep, that is not where I live.

Photo right - my first blue poppy sighting

As I prepared for a floral photography workshop in Victoria, B.C., I learned that these rare blue Himalayan poppies just might be in bloom during my visit.  Of course, if they were in bloom, I wanted to be able to see and photograph them.

During the last week or so before my trip, I began seeing reports on social media that these poppies were beginning to bloom, and I crossed my fingers that they would still be there when I arrived. 

Travel Arrangements to Victoria

If you’re planning a trip, get clear when you make your travel arrangements to the city of Vancouver versus Vancouver Island.  Yes, you can fly to the city of Vancouver (YVR), but then you will need to travel to the island.  There is a ferry service from Vancouver, but the airport is not near the ferry, and your flight may arrive too late to make the last ferry of the day.  

I know this since it happened to me.  My flight into YVR arrived too late to make the day's last ferry.

The ferry ride is just over 90 minutes, but the trip from the airport to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal takes at least a half hour depending on the traffic.  BC Connector does offer a bus service to and from the airport/ferry and your local Victoria stop.  Upon arrival, your bus drives onto the ferry and takes you to your destination stop.   Fortunately, a bus stop was a couple of blocks from my hotel in Victoria.

Photo left from the ferry ride

FYI, reaching the island by ferry from Seattle, WA, or Port Angeles, WA, is also possible.  The map above shows the relatively short distance from those two ferry access points.  Five of my workshop colleagues came via Seattle but ran into significant flight delays and missed their ferry connections.  As a result, they had an unplanned overnight stay in Seattle.  Fortunately, our first group session was not until the afternoon.

I made the best of my situation by staying overnight in Vancouver and visiting another outstanding garden – the VanDusen.  I could spend my morning there and then go on the ferry in the afternoon.

Click the image at right to see a short video about my rainy day visit to the VanDusen..  Some bits are a little shaky as I did not have a stabilizer with me.

The Hunt for Blue Poppies

Beautiful British Columbia Gardens

If you plan to visit British Columbia (B.C.), here are the gardens I enjoyed on my trip.

VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C., Canada – One of two gardens belonging to the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association.  In the middle of Vancouver, it features 55 acres, including an Elizabethan Maze.

Abkhazi Garden, Victoria, B.C., Canada – Exquisite heritage home and garden created by Prince and Princess Abkhazi.  Development began in 1946.  There is a tea house on the property where we enjoyed a traditional tea service.

The Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay, B.C., Canada – Iconic 118-year-old display garden.  Butchart was designated a National Historic Site of Canada for its 100th birthday.  There is so much to see here, and I especially enjoyed the Japanese garden with the contrasting azaleas and blue poppies.

Government House, Victoria, B.C., Canada – This is the Lieutenant Governor's official residence.   Grounds include formal gardens on 36 acres.  

Hatley Castle, Victoria, B.C., Canada – Another historic Canadian site dating back to 1908 with three lovely gardens.  There is a walled rose garden, a Japanese and an Italian garden.  There are hundreds of heritage trees significant for their size, rarity, and diversity.

Horticulture Center of the Pacific,  Victoria, B.C., Canada – Besides the public gardens, the center houses the Pacific Horticulture College.  There are a variety of gardens on the property, many of which I didn't have time to see.  The lavender clematis and rare yellow peonies were my favorites.

All these gardens are lovely, but if you make it to the island and can only see one, you must visit The Butchart Gardens.  I went there twice, and I did not get to see everything.  It truly is the garden lover's equivalent of Disneyland.  If you will visit more than once in 12 months, their 12-month pass is the way to go.  By the way, the onsite restaurant is super popular.  It's called The Dining Room.  It's a must if you enjoy high-tea dining experiences.  You'll need to make reservations.  You can reserve your tea time on Open Table, where The Dining Room has a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars.

And the Award-Winner is....

During my trip, I found and photographed blue poppies in several different gardens.  The award-winning Ta-Da!  is just one of these rare beauties.  It is available today as a print and will be available as a note card in my upcoming Limited-Edition Singles Collection II.

Thank you for reading!  I hope you enjoyed the post.  Feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback.  I love hearing from my readers.

PS:  If you love poppies, click here to read about another poppy that almost became the California state flower