Who would have ever predicted that a little English garden background fused with some Indonesian influences would bring about a landscape reminiscent of southern France – but that’s exactly what happened when Guy and Farida Coates created their five-acre Whonnock destination garden called the Octagon Lavender Farm.
It began in 2002 as a custom-built, eight-sided brick home (topped with a cupola), which Guy designed for its natural light and easy access for his wheelchair.
He began developing the land by simply clearing the scrub and blackberries, converting it to lawn (which he cuts with his ride-on mower) and planting a few trees (including Katsura, Parrotia or Persian Ironwood and Paulownia), with an eye towards an informal arboretum.
Then Farida joined forces with this former librarian and used her horticultural background to suggest that they develop more extensive drought-resistant, or Xeriscape gardens, which is especially important with the typical low water table in summer.
The idea of a lavender farm came about as a result of a house-warming gift of three such plants, which seemed to thrive with minimal care.
They officially opened in 2008 and are now up to 1,500 plants (including those in the production rows) with 25 varieties of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and a few cultivars of Lavandin or Lavandula x intermedia (a cross of English and Spike Lavender), including ‘Alba’, ‘Provence’ (which is also good for cooking) and ‘Grosso’.
The property here is completely serene, devoid of any traffic noise, and the Coates really appreciate their animal neighbors, including the bears, deer, and coyotes – with the latter being kind enough to show up on the day of my interview with them.
Beyond the lavender fields and display garden, there are intricate plantings of drought tolerant thymes, yarrow, double poppies, St. John’s Wort and even a few exceptions, such as Honeysuckle and Bee Balm (Monarda), which Farida likes to grow for the local hummingbirds.
All the rain water is put to good use, as it is funneled from roofs, foundation and landscape drains into small swales that drain into a large ornamental pond on the lower property – which is tapped for irrigation in the heat of summer.
They have also built a studio on site, tucked between gardens on three sides.
Here, Guy, a self-taught sculptor, and Farida, who works in pastels and charcoals, create and display their artwork, as well as offer the occasional lesson. Which only makes sense, as a Provencal garden would hardly seem complete without a few artists about. In any case, I highly recommend a visit and since they are open until the end of August (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day), and the lavender is in full bloom, now’s as good a time as any.
Guy and Farida were also kind enough to share their recipe for Lavender scones for you budding bakers out there:
• Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
• Mix two 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tbsp. baking powder, 2 tsp. dried culinary grade lavender buds, ¼ tsp. salt and 1/3 cup sugar.
• Cut in ½ cup chilled butter with fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
• Stir in 2/3 cup of milk to make a sticky batter, turn out onto floured surface, roll to 1cm thick and cut out into any desired shape.
• Place onto a greased bakery sheet and brush the tops with 1 beaten egg.
• Sprinkle with a few lavender buds and bake for 12 minutes or until nicely browned.
Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (firstname.lastname@example.org).