Whistling Gardens is a place that belongs to children’s fantasies. In its name and in its spirit, its meandering garden paths, oversized chess board and wrought iron domed gazebo, the place lends itself to the imagination. It was in fact a dream that started this whole thing, one man’s vision to transform what was once a corn field into a world-renowned public garden.
While it feels like a place that might’ve been around for decades, just five years ago the twenty acres of cultivated land was actually home to rows and rows of corn, nestled as it still is amongst concession roads and other farms. Darren Heimbecker began the transformation with few resources but has grown his collection of over 4,000 plants into the largest public peony collection in North America and – as if that weren’t enough – the largest public conifer collection in the world. Wandering through the grounds though, you can just as easily get lost in your own thoughts as you can get lost in the scale of the operation.
Home to 4,000 different plant species, an aviary replete with showy (and noisy) peacocks, leaping fountains and musical accompaniments written by Darren (who is also a part-time musician), and shows featuring Juno-award-winning musicians, the gardens’ growth as a tourist destination has been steady. It was recently featured in the Toronto Star for its hundreds of varieties of peonies that bloom simultaneously, a local event akin to the High Park Cherry Blossoms in Toronto. (We managed to catch the tail end of the peony blooms in June but didn’t manage to get this posted in time, so put a visit on your calendar for next year!) The gardens are gaining popularity as a remarkable destination for horticulture fans and weddings alike. All within a half hour drive from Paris.
We first visited the gardens in 2015 and have been back each season since. It surprises us still that in our short time as Paris residents, we have been around for half of Whistling Gardens’ life. Like much in our local area it is often startling to realize just how young this vision is. By all accounts the garden seems to be thriving and we hope that in thirty or forty years’ time we are able to say we were there in the beginning.
At the same time, each of our visits have served as reminders of all that has happened in our own lives. When we first visited Moo was hardly walking, there was no Bb, and we were still settling into our new house. Fellow parents in our industry have told us that building products or businesses while you have young children offers an undeniable yardstick to measure your work against. In some cases the business doesn’t mature nearly as quickly as a real baby does, and in other cases it grows much more quickly.
For us, growing Jane & Jury has been an exercise in balance, in keeping just the right pace, making sure we have the knowledge and capacity to meet the needs of our current stage. At times we have done this to a T, and during particularly busy months we have learned a lot about how to operate better under pressure. We currently feel like toddlers, teetering on two legs and overjoyed to realize that this one foot after the other thing is really working. (We have been quiet on the blog lately for this reason, but we have a slew of new work from the past six months to show for it, so stay tuned for that post sometime soon.)
Seeing projects like this in the real world are so incredibly inspiring to us. Never have we had a greater appreciation for building something from scratch with one’s own two hands, realizing ideas and creative vision, taking risks, being bold. And whether it is building a family, a design studio, or spectacular gardens like this one, this idea that you can have a dream and see it through is empowering and rewarding. We know we’ll be coming back time and again whenever we need that extra dose of inspiration.
For what it’s worth, there is much to see in the Gardens even though the peonies are past their prime. We actually prefer the conifers, and there are many plants that will bloom throughout summer and fall. We hope you take the time to wander over, it truly is beautiful.