Jeanette Foster Kennedy (Jennie) was born in Toronto, Canada in 1868. When she was orphaned in her early teens she went to live with her aunt and 7 cousins in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. She was an extremely gifted child, artistic, intelligent and adventurous — so much so that when given the opportunity to fly in a hot air balloon and a plane, she took it. (Back then these activities qualified you for daredevil status.)
She graduated from the Brantford Young Ladies’ College, (one of the most prestigious schools in Canada) where she earned a scholarship to study art in Paris. She declined the opportunity, opting to marry her sweetheart, Robert Butchard when she was 18.
Robert was raised in his family’s hardware business and while the couple was on their honeymoon in England he learned the process of producing cement in bags rather than barrels (the common practice at the time). He returned home and shortly after established the Owen Sound Cement Company. Jennie became a chief chemist for the company.
In 1902 the couple and their 2 daughters moved to Tod Inlet in Vancouver where raw materials for the cement were plentiful. They purchased a homesite property with a limestone quarry and established the first Portland Cement plant. The business was extremely successful and within a few years, the 3.5 acre quarry was depleted.
During those first few years in Vancouver, Jennie, who had never had an interest in gardening, fell in love with the abundance and variety of vegetation on the West Coast. She planted a small flower and vegetable garden at her home. Her new hobby became a passion and a short time later she commissioned a well-known Japanese Garden Designer to design a formal garden on the property.
While she appreciated her husband’s success, she wasn’t so happy with the environmental impact (aka, big hole) on their property. So being the adventurous, intelligent and artistic woman she was, she set to work transforming the site.
Laborers that were no longer needed at the quarry to extract limestone were put to work cleaning out the rocks and debris left behind. Countless loads of topsoil were brought in by horse and cart. Jennie herself hung from a buson’s chair to plant ivy and dwarf trees in the quarry’s walls. She had trees planted to hide the old cement plant.
It took over 10 years, but she turned that ugly, scared pit into what is known today as the “Sunken Garden” of Butchart Gardens. Today the gardens (yes, there are more than just the Japanese and the Sunken Garden) receive over a million visitors a year and are registered as a National Historic Site of Canada.
You can’t keep a good woman down.
*Would you like to see some pictures? Check out my visit to Butchart Gardens.