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Alpine Gardening with Brian Bixley

Image credit: Kathy Purdy,

Brian Bixley confronts nature in his alpine garden, Lilac Tree Farm, located northwest of Toronto, at Shelburne, Ontario. Situated at the eastern edge of the geological formation known as the Niagara Escarpment, this is a location where winters are cold and the earth is rocky. Through his sublime writing, collected in a publication titled “Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate”, he shares the physical challenges and the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experiences encountered in creating and tending his garden.

Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening alerted me to this author’s work. Please click here to read her excellent review. The book is a collection of essays that originated in other publications such as Hortus, Horticulture, Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society, Journal of the Ontario Rock Garden Society, Journal of the Scottish Rock Garden Society, Trellis, In the Hills, and in the newsletter of the Civic Garden Centre of Metropolitan Toronto.

Writing in an intimate, warm, and friendly style, Mr. Bixley has created a gardening book suitable for winter reading, when one might curl up in front of the proverbial fireplace that glows in our imagination. Although contemporary, fast-paced living makes it challenging for some of us to take time to read anything but how-to books, this publication merits consideration.

In the same way that harried people need to stop and smell the roses, busy gardeners may recharge their personal batteries by relaxing to read about the horticultural experiences of others. A well-written work, as this one is, enhances that experience. The best way for me to express how much I enjoyed reading Mr. Bixley’s essays is to share a passage - one that the publisher used to illustrate the back cover:-

"Many of the essays in this collection are about the ’consumption’ of gardens rather than their ‘production’. They are less about what went into making our garden, but more about what came out of it: despair and jubilation, chance successes, shifting enthusiasms, tranquility and turmoil, the ambiguous poetry of a frail and temporary beauty. The decision to “make a garden” is momentous, since the consequences of that decision fill our eyes, our minds, our hearts."

Whitfield Press published “Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate” in 1998 [ISBN: 0-9683982-0-0]. Since it is no longer available from Amazon, interested readers can order it directly from the author at

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