August 6, 2001
My sister, the celebrity
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
In Canada, my sister is a celebrity. She has been invited to be the guest of the Butchart Gardens Dining Room in Victoria, British Columbia and I accompanied her on the trip there.
The restaurant is the original home of Mr. and Mrs. R. P. Butchart who transformed a quarry site on their 130-acre estate into a flower wonderland. Now, nearly a hundred years later, their stunning gardens are open to visitors from all over the world.
As we step inside the restaurant, we notice large sun-filled rooms with walls the color of cool mint.
At the front desk, my sister states her name and says she has reservations for two. Upon hearing her name, the hostess looks up from her reservation book, smiles and says with a sparkle in her eye, "Welcome. It's so nice to have you as our guest. We have reserved the best table in the house for you. Or, perhaps you'd prefer to dine outside since the weather is so nice."
My sister says that the best table in the house will be fine. We are seated at a table covered in a white tablecloth with silver place settings, cranberry-colored cloth napkins and a purple and white orchid posing in a vase. From our window table we see an expansive view of the Italian and Japanese Gardens, and beyond that, the ocean glinting in the sun. Our server's assistant pours water and ice into thin, tall water glasses that resemble flower vases.
We are presented with menus that list entrees without prices. Our server explains that as their guests we can order whatever we like. "It's on the house. So order lots," she says .... (wink, wink).
We both order the same thing, after all we're sisters. Soon, the gazpacho with pesto croutons arrives. The chilled soup tastes like what cuisine angels would prepare in a celestial kitchen. It's beyond anything mere mortals could dream up. The salmon is served with beet coulis, ginger beurre blanc, and coconut lime chili emulsion and with crispy yam chips. The presentation of the meal is a work of art with colored flower petals decorating the plate. The yam chips are divine.
The manager stops at our table to greet us. He shakes our hands and then crouches down to have better eye contact with my sister. He reminds me of a knight kneeling before the queen.
"How is the meal?" he gently inquires.
"Wonderful" my sister enthuses.
He chats a while longer. Strawberry shortcake marinated in Grand Marnier finishes off the spectacular meal. I have bachelor's button tea and my sister has coffee served in a silver French press. Throughout the meal the server and her assistant had hovered over us, pampering us with every slight request.
At the end of the meal, my sister says, "Could I get more coffee, it seems I let it get cold." No sooner had she finished her sentence, then -whoosh - the old French press was whisked away and in a nano-second a new one returned, re-filled and steaming. Our server presents my sister with an envelope. Inside is a card with a picture of a pink flower and a personal handwritten note from the manager. While leaving the table, my sister announces that she'd like to go outside and take a picture of the gorgeous sunset. The sky is streaked in pink and purple. I tell her I'll meet her out front and head toward the front entrance to exit.
As I do, two waiters in white shirts and ties rush to open the door for me.
By now, you must be wondering. Who is her sister? Madonna? Britney Spears?
My sister is a Washington state resident, a UW graduate, a teacher, writer, a mom and wife. Last year, while visiting Victoria, Wendy had hoped to celebrate her birthday at the Butchart Gardens restaurant. But due to some unforeseen scheduling by the restaurant, she wasn't able to dine on the day she was there. When the restaurant's manager learned of my sister's situation, he decided to make things right.
The manager invited her to return to the restaurant as his guest. One year later Wendy took him up on his gracious offer and called to make reservations. Prior to her arrival, the manager notified the restaurant staff that Wendy and her guest were to be pampered. The manager's only motivation was to make a wrong, right. He never knew (and still doesn't know) that Wendy and I are writers, or that an article would be written.
Outside of the restaurant, we are treated to acres of blooms in manicured gardens. It's 9 p.m. and the bulk of the tourists have returned to their hotel rooms.
Remaining visitors speak in hushed tones and stroll softly lit walkways in reverence. The summer air is scented with the fragrance of roses.
In the distance, bullfrogs croak out a concert and birds harmonize from the trees.
Suddenly ... a transformation takes place throughout the flower-laden premises. It is most magical. Pop, pop, pop ... lights all over the park switch on. Flood lights illuminate light the flower gardens in a dizzying array of colors. Orange lights splash on twisty tree trunks. Wrought iron railings glimmer in a fairyland of white lights.
A crazy quilt pattern of red, white, yellow and orange flowers glow in the dark. The sculpted sunken garden reflects blue, green and red hues in a still pond. The Ross Fountain sprays pink and orange water. A bed of delphiniums shimmers in white light, looking like shining spikes of blue and white pointing toward the night sky.
Back home, Wendy says the experience of being in the illuminated gardens was like standing inside an exquisite painting.
"It was all-around enchanting," she says. As for her special treatment by the restaurant manager, she comments, "He should be commended for what he did. It's good business."
She plans to write and thank the manager for providing excellent service way beyond what any celebrity from Washington state would have ever hoped for.