Brian Bixley, Garden Essayist, Shares a Bit of His Writing

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A Better Way to Plant Colchicums

In May of 1999 I opened up my new issue of Horticulture and started reading “In Search of a Mowable Groundcover.” Canadian author Brian Bixley described an ingenious planting scheme that involved interplanting colchicums with hardy geraniums. In the middle of August, he mowed down the geraniums. Two weeks later, they were the perfect height to set off the colchicum flowers, which bloom without foliage. Colchicums, with their unusual growing cycle, are notorious for being difficult to place well in the garden. This was the best design solution I had come across, taking advantage of the plants’ natural inclinations and being easy to maintain as well.

A New Cold-Climate Writer

Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate by Brian BixleyEven more exciting was the author’s bio line at the end of the article: “Brian Bixley, a retired economist, is the author of Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate (Whitfield Press, 1998).” In those days, the internet was in its infancy and information on cold climate gardening was hard to find. Shoot, any information on books was hard to find, as our family didn’t yet have an internet connection with access to Amazon’s huge database. To know that a book of essays existed was half the battle. To know there was a book addressing cold climate gardening was wonderful. I requested it from the local library, which had to go “out of system” to get it for me. I read it cover to cover and it entered my pantheon of books no cold climate gardener should be without. He had a second article in Horticulture, and then I never saw his byline, or any mention of him, again.

Brian Bixley, Rediscovered

More than ten years later, Brian Bixley resurfaced in my life, commenting on a blog post of mine. It was another one of those doors that blogging has opened for me, being able to communicate with a favorite gardening author. (And yet, if I had remarked breathlessly “Brian Bixley just commented on my blog!” to anyone I know, I would have gotten, at best, a blank look.) From that began a somewhat erratic email exchange. I wanted to know if he had published, or intended to publish, any more books. No books were planned, but he writes Garden Notes, a newsletter of sorts:

My Garden Notes are written six times a year, before each of our five Open Days, plus a Postscript. I regard the Notes as a kind of staying-in-touch love letter; my happiest moments are when those friends call or write to say, “I can hear your voice.” My friends are, for the most part, forgiving of my literary and gardening sins.

I asked if he would let me publish some of those notes on this website. He was hesitant.

I have little interest in the technicalities of gardening, just enough to ensure that we have–and here I shall be overtly immodest–a very beautiful garden. My stuff is only “helpful’ to people who wish to reflect on the very nature of “a garden”, on what it means to be a a gardener, and on the relations between gardening and the other arts. I am not easy on my readers. I trust that they will at least have heard of Proust, and accept that I quote him untranslated; that they know who Eliot is; and that they will be amused by words they have not met before, like “twiggified’ and ‘epizeuxian.’ Will your readers forgive all that?

I’m betting you, my readers, will not only forgive “all that” but delight in it. Look for the first excerpt from Brian’s Garden Notes tomorrow, with more to follow on an irregular basis.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Pat Webster October 1, 2010, 12:00 pm

How do I subscribe to Brian Bixley’s quarterly letter? I garden in a climate colder than his, love Proust and expanding my vocabulary. It sounds as if the newsletter would suit me fine.

Kathy Purdy October 1, 2010, 2:21 pm

Pat, the best thing to do is go the next post over (September at Lilac Tree Farm), and leave a comment to that effect. Since Brian is the author of that post, he will receive an email notification of each comment on it, and that email will have your email address, so he can contact you.

Craig @ Ellis Hollow October 1, 2010, 7:07 am

He may claim that he’s not about how-to, but that idea with the geraniums and colchicums is the kind of stuff I want to read. And I’ll plow through Proust and wade epizeuxian passages to get that kind of stuff.

Joan Lambert Bailey September 30, 2010, 9:23 pm

How exciting! I know that feeling exactly. Earlier this year I met a fellow blogger here in Tokyo at an event. I was certifiably giddy, which then proved mildly embarrassing for us both. Since then we’ve chatted more, and I’m calmer. But it is so exciting to finally have an exchange of some kind with a writer you admire. Congratulations!

Steve Boulden September 29, 2010, 12:43 pm

How fortunate and exciting to have a favorite author write a post for your blog.

I read this first a day late. Then went and read Brian’s post. Then just thought I’d come back here and say…..

How cool is that? Great stuff too.

Thanks.

Frances September 28, 2010, 11:34 am

We await with great anticipation. I love an author who is not easy on their readers! And perfect solution to where to plant the colchicums. 🙂