Those soft grey clouds bring snow: Wet snow, in flakes often as large as quarters, that swirl down from above in graceful pirouettes before landing, surprisingly heavily, upon the flowers still blooming in the gardens. For a brief, magical time the landscape - which often starts showing us spring in January - is dressed in white and in icy diamonds that reflect light in scattered rainbows when the sun breaks through the clouds.
Unused to the cold, islanders hunch their shoulders, tucking their hands into the pockets of inadequate jackets, or simply choose not to go out at all. So sad! They're missing an almost magical time, made all the more special by its rarity.
This year, the weather is different. For several days Winter left her soft grey coat hanging elsewhere and instead brought clear blue skies and unusually low temperatures. They brought a different sort of magic to our watery landscape, turning the waterfalls and freshets that run down our rocky hills into fanciful sculptures; magical castles and constructions of ice wrapped around the plants that grow at the edges of each small stream, kept bright and glistening by the water still trickling from above.
In the midst of this bright blue weather, my friend Laurel and I chose to visit Butchart Gardens. The gardens are one of my favourite island places. I have an annual pass and go there quite often, grateful that - unlike many other gardens in Canada - they choose to remain open year-round. There's beauty there in every season and I enjoy all of it, but the quiet months of winter bring their own special pleasures.
In November, Butchart Gardens offers greenhouse tours, guided by their knowledgeable gardeners, demonstrating how planning and plant propagation are carrying on behind the scenes even while much of the garden is dormant.
In December, we are treated to an amazing Christmas light display. It takes weeks to construct and is accompanied by outdoor skating, live musical performances, a carousel, and even fireworks.
My favourite of the winter-time displays comes in January though, when Butchart Gardens opens its doors to the Prelude to Spring. It's an indoor display; a garden bursting with spring bloom, including flowering trees and shrubs, a water feature with some huge koi and a pretty bridge, and several lovely spots in which you can pause, sit, and enjoy the view.
Here is some of what we saw. Click on any of the images to be taken to a slide show of larger views.