MINDING THE GARDEN: Lilactree Farm
By Brian Bixley
Photography by Des Townshend
2020, Friesen Press ISBN: 1525555367
Paperback, 244 pages $24.99 paperback
To set the scene: Brian and Maureen Bixley live and garden in Mulmur, roughly 65 miles (~105 km) northwest of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Brian is the author of "The Canadian Gardener’s Journal; Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate," and a contributor to local newspapers and regional magazines, as well as Horticulture magazine. Lilactree Farm has been the subject and object of many articles and blogs and visits.
The Bixleys began with essentially a tabula rasa on former farmland. The building and growth of their gardens (plural) is recounted in a series of essays published over months and years, offering the reasoning – and occasional misjudgments – behind each added feature.
Brian Bixley's reflections and recountings offer us many an "Oh, yes" moment of self-recognition (see #6), as well as instances of "Aha!" following explanations and clarifications (#131). These offerings are presented in prose that is clear, cultured, graceful, and sparked with dry wit.
Perhaps this book is best dipped into and read as originally written: a periodic, episodic sharing of thoughts on gardens, gardening, gardeners... and their interactions with the rest of one's life.
Few of us have only rock gardens, either by geography or by preference. The gems of the rock/alpine gardens are here: x jankaemonda vandedemii, Kelseya uniflora, androsaces ... you know them all. But this is also about a gardener's mind reaching into and making comparisons with other arts. Bixley's musings include garden history, as well as analogies with what are generally termed the "fine arts" (architecture, literature, music) and points out that they have in common a basis in their need for structure and, quite possibly, critiques (#s 85, 87).
Des Townshend's serviceable photographs are fine, as far as they go; but they go no further and simply illustrate, not illuminate, and seem to possess no life of their own. That may be due to the use of matte-finish paper, as we (especially in the "Quarterly") are used to the snap and precision provided by glossy coated papers.
The occasional runaway sentences might have been better corralled by a closer attention [by an editor?] to punctuation. But then, I'm a nitpicking proofreader.
The upcoming winter months will be a perfect time to spend hours in the land of “What if.” Gardeners are most open to inspiration and stimulation from other sources when they’re dreaming about possibilities. And this book offers a wellspring of original thoughts and potent reminders of why we are all so deeply engrossed in gardening. For details on plants, and specifics on how to build the gardens to accommodate them, read The Rock Garden Quarterly. But for questions regarding how gardening integrates into the wider world and broader life, this book is both a response and a spur.
Thanks to Joyce Fingerut, reviewer, and Joseph Tychonievich, RGQ editor, for permission to reprint the review, which originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of the Rock Garden Quarterly.