Whatever the plants within his “corrals,” he groups them with gusto. There are expansive swaths of plume poppies (Macleaya cordata syn. Bocconia cordata) combined with lacy-leafed cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) and giant knapweed (Centaurea macrocephala)-both are large, thistle-like perennials. He backs up his beloved Pacific Giant delphiniums with grey-leafed Scotch thistles (Onopordum acanthium) and yellow Carolina lupines (Thermopsis villosa). In a shady spot under the maples, he's positioned an eye-popping display of giant sweet coltsfoot (Petasites japonicus var. giganteus)-more than one metre tall with leaves the size of trampolines. And he uses Fuller's teasels (Dipsacus fullonum) liberally everywhere.
“People say I must be nuts growing teasels. The farmers around here regard them as nuisance weeds,” he says, chuckling. “But I love their shapes, and they look great poking through the snow in winter.”
Tall plants aren't the only attractions in this gardener's garden. Trevor's home is fascinating, too: it's what's known as an “earth house,” inserted right into the side of a hill. (It was built 26 years ago. Trevor bought the property in 1997.) The roof is covered mostly in grass, but up there, concealing his satellite dish, he's also planted two unusual shrubby varieties of willow: Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki', with variegated leaves in a pale oyster pink and cream; and Arctic willow (S. arctica), which shimmers in a glorious haze of pale turquoise when the wind blows.
It's hardly surprising that this imaginative, industrious country gardener exhibits such a passion and flair for plants. He first learned about the great green world at the knee of one of the most revered gardening gurus in England-Christopher Lloyd. Trevor's dad, John, was a gardener at Lloyd's country home in Great Dixter, Sussex, for many years. Now in his 80s, Ashbee Senior still lives down the road from his famous employer. Father and son often toured “Lloydie's” garden together-and Trevor remembers being so inspired by what he saw that he knew horticulture would become his life's work. He subsequently trained with a local parks department before coming to Canada.
Not much has changed now that the younger Mr. Ashbee is middle-aged. He admits that it still thrills him to no end to see a seed sprout, then grow into a new plant. He raises almost everything in his garden from seed, partly because “from a practical point of view, it's so much cheaper,” but also because he loves the whole process-the waiting in suspense, the germination, then nurturing the seedlings. Indeed, his enthusiasm is so infectious, he's even managed to persuade high school students in Fergus to take an interest in gardening. Aided by these young volunteers, Trevor now tends masses of bedding plants in the school greenhouse every winter (they're used to pretty up Fergus and Elora, once spring comes). He also opens up his garden to the public to raise money for community activities.
“I enjoy doing it because I've adored plants since I was a kid,” he says. “I never get tired of starting seeds.” And if those pinpricks of life happen to grow into something tall, well so much the better.