Tuscan Farm Gardens

Herb business and pleasure in British Columbia

| June/July 1998

Early in the morning, as I walked about the quiet grounds of Tuscan Farm Gardens, I could imagine myself in northern Italy— breathing in the scent of lavender or strolling beneath a pergola heavily laden with scrambling grapes, flowering vines, and climbing roses or following pathways to one billowing herb garden after another.

These scenes actually demanded quite a bit of imagination because I was visiting in February, when little was blooming, and this was British Columbia, not Italy. But even in the off-season, Tuscan Farm Gardens, on eighty acres in Langley, about an hour southeast of Vancouver, captures the look and feel of another time, another continent. It’s a business but also a place of beauty, and its owners, Arleigh and Heather Fair, offer their customers the same respite they themselves find in the peaceful surroundings.

As we walk the grounds, the Fairs trace for me the path that has brought them here. They tell me often, sometimes with a note of wonder: “We didn’t know what we were doing.” The story that unfolds started a few years ago, when Arleigh and Heather looked at their lives and imagined something else. They set out to create a fantasy place where the two of them could live and work together. They had a vision but no blueprint, a plan with no details. Now, five years later, they have a working farm of herb crops that they sell wholesale, a bed and breakfast inn with Old World charm, a gift shop of products made from the harvests of the fields, and beautiful gardens open for tours. Heather blames it largely on menopause.

Getting There

Arleigh, now fifty-four, had retired early from a fast-paced, high-stress job as a natural gas distributor, and the Fairs had bought a luxury apartment in a highrise overlooking False Creek in downtown Vancouver; they lived there for 4 1/2 years. They hiked and biked and enjoyed both the pace of the city and the leisure of their new life. One day, Heather watched from her bicycle as farm trucks brought their fresh vegetables to the market on Granville Island. “That’s when I started thinking about dirt,” she says. She and Arleigh turned their gaze from the city to the country.

Arleigh began driving around the Fraser Valley countryside, where he had been raised, “looking for a view.” One day, he came home and announced: “I found it.” He bought the property—eighty acres of rugged, heavily wooded land with ravines, creeks, and ponds, framed by views of Mount Baker and a set of mountains called the Golden Ears. He moved into a trailer on the land, and Heather stayed in the city. He plowed a road, put in a fence, and planted tulips in the shape of Heather’s initials so that when she came to see the place in the spring, she’d want to come live there. It didn’t take that long to bring her around.

“I was pulled two ways,” Heather explains. As much as she loved her life in the city, she was also intrigued by the medicinal herbs that she had begun taking to help her cope with side effects of menopause, and she wanted to grow them. A stay-at-home mom whose children had grown and who was ready to get out of the house, she admits: “Actually I just wanted a cottage with white curtains at the window and a little herb garden out front. I got carried away.”

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