About Seven Willows

A History

Purchased in 1973 as a working farm comprising 168 acres located in rural Eastern Ontario in the County of South Dundas, Seven Willows has been home to A.T. “Trevor” Tolley and his wife Glenda since 1974. It consists of equal parts cultivated and bush land. Over 80 acres are actively cultivated with traditional crops.  The private display garden occupies about 7-1/2 acres, and its creation was designed to enhance the appearance of the house.

A. T. “Trevor” Tolley

(1927-2018) - Founder

At the time it was purchased there was no garden; nothing presently viewed existed except for the one Manitoba maple that shades the sundeck over the garage; it was a small weed tree at the time the property was acquired. From a gardener’s perspective the property did have one distinguishing and admirable feature – five majestic elm trees adorned the south-eastern front of the property. All died within three to four years.  Trevor engaged professional help to save them, but to no avail.  The seven majestic willows, now seen and for which the Gardens are named, were an intentional replacement for the five elms covering the same ground. Except for the elms, there were three peonies (two pink and one red) and a flowering rose bush embedded in rough grass to the east front of the house. The peonies have survived and are incorporated into the cottage style garden that wraps around the front verandah of the house, the area giving rise to the very first attempt at establishing a garden.

As seen today, the garden borders Nash Creek (formerly Hosaic Creek) that flows into the St. Lawrence River.  Situated in a designated Number One wetland, the landscaping initiative had to take cognizance of the wetland designation and strive to ensure that the layout was in harmony with the surrounding wetland, however formalized the garden may seem.  The landscaping is deliberately simple, retaining the flat surface and clear long views from any point that encompasses the broader wetland and the open cultivated fields.

On the eastern or creek side, the formal raised beds transition seamlessly with the natural habitat.   The drooping willow branches skimming the surface of the water add to the considerable enchantment of the eastern fringe of the property. Seven Willows is now the property of Carleton University through a donation made in 2007.

Over the years, the owners have also focused on ornamental trees and shrubs, but few have survived. The initial garden effort was on planting flowering trees.  Almost without exception, the plants survived the first winter, showing signs of life in very early spring with pregnant buds that turned black and dried up after spring frosts. Still, some survivors adorn the lawn, including such lovely specimens as a Tulip Tree, Fringe Tree, Golden Sunburst Locust (Sunburst Locust Gledix), Ruby Lace Locust,  Ginko, Chestnut, Catalpa and a variety of maples.

Whether the visitor is looking for expansive ideas, to downsize, reinvent their own garden or just savour the experience, Seven Willows offers something for each visitor. The gracious layout of the 7-1/2 irregular-shaped grounds of sweeping lawns contains eight separate and distinct gardens consisting of 50 flower beds; each garden encompasses at a minimum six flower beds, and each garden  displays its own individual character and unique design in both the shape of the beds and plantings.  These gardens are identified for reference and to facilitate effective strolling through Seven Willows.