A Visit to Lilactree Farm

Dear Readers, you might remember that in April last year I reviewed ‘Minding the Garden – Lilactree Farm’ by Brian Bixley, a fascinating book about a year in the life of a garden in Ontario, and lots of other things besides. This year, the stars aligned so that, on an exceptionally sunny day, we were able to visit Brian and his wife Maureen at Lilactree Farm, to see the garden in its spring glory. I should say that my photos don’t do the garden justice, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of what a delight it is.

I have noted how splendid the scilla was in Collingwood, but it really comes into its own here, along with the chionodoxa: the shrubs stand ankle-deep in different shades of blue and pale pink, with hellebores, winter aconite and summer snowflake marking the changes.

On a sunny bank outside the house there was a fine selection of fumitory – I’m familiar with yellow corydalis, which grows like a weed in London, but these were a rainbow of lilac and pink. Known as ‘bird-in-a-bush’, the wild type of the plant (Corydalis solida) is a pale lavender, but there are several varieties in pink and coral. They looked spectacular growing amongst the chionodoxa, and were very popular with the bees – the bumblebee in the second photo is, I think, a Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens), but as it was the first one I’d ever seen I was enchanted by its completely black, furry abdomen. Bumblebees are important pollinators of long-throated flowers such as fumitories, and the bees certainly need the early nectar and pollen, so everyone is happy. In fact, I have never seen a bank of flowers so abuzz with bees and hoverflies – I even asked Brian if he was keeping bees but no, these are travelling to enjoy his largesse.

There was a row of daphne just coming into flower, and a tricolour bumblebee(Bombus ternarius) was foraging – again, a new species for me, and surely one of the most handsome bumblebees anywhere.

The garden has what I always think of as ‘good bones’ – the structural elements, such as the sculpture and the blue posts below, will look different throughout the year, as they are enhanced and supported by what is happening botanically. The sculpture below twinkles in the sun, reflecting aspects of the landscape.

And when you reach the top of the path, you have a wonderful view over the hills and woods beyond.

The blue posts below provide a strong linear element in a garden of many curves. In the spring they pick up the colour of the scylla. I would love to see them later in the year as other plants come into flower.

Blue posts with scilla

It was wonderful to see Lilactree Farm after falling in love with it through Brian’s book. It seems to me that it’s a prime example of gardening with passion – Brian grows what he loves, and is constantly experimenting to see what will work in the temperamental Canadian climate. He is not a ‘wildlife gardener’, and yet his garden is absolutely full of life. By growing a variety of plants with a long flowering season, Brian has created a place which is welcoming to pollinators as it is to people. It was an Open Day for the garden, and there was a constant stream of people coming to see it, many of them repeat visitors who obviously love it. It made me yearn to see what it’s like in the summer, or in autumn. But in spring, when we have been so deprived of colour and scent, it is a real treasure. I could imagine myself sitting under a tree with a book in a pool of scilla and feeling very content with life.

You can buy Brian’s book ‘Minding the Garden – Lilactree Farm’ here.

Chionodoxa luciliae

Blue posts with scilla



2 thoughts on “A Visit to Lilactree Farm

  1. Ann Bronkhorst

    If yellow corydalis thrives in London, maybe the pink and blue ones would too. Any chance you could pop one in your bags?


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