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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Wednesday
Mar182015

Lespedeza Gibraltar Is A Waterfall Flowering Perennial

Extreme close up of a Lespedeza floret in my garden. With normal viewing, it isn't as attractive as it appears above.Whenever I receive a catalogue from an online nursery, my first action is to search for perennials I’ve never seen before. I pay attention to those that are considered hardy in USDA Zone 4 [Canada Zone 5]. I delve into details to select only flowering plants with a long bloom period. Finally, for those that appear to have potential, I evaluate for attractiveness and for colors that work well in the English-style flowerbed.

Photos used in the above-mentioned publications are often deceptive. An image may reflect a close-up of a petal or floret that in real life has no visual appeal. An image may have been captured with a lens filter that alters the plant’s true color to make it appear more attractive in print. Occasionally, the plant is staged with hidden props to hide an unattractive growing habit. Computer technology may be used to transform a plants image into a vision the human eye can never see. Rarely are we informed that a perennial is messy, aggressive, invasive or short-lived.

A true portrait of mature Lespedeza by White Flower Farms, Click on image for more details.One requires courage to experiment with newly introduced plants and, like inside the now-proverbial Forest Gump box of chocolates, one never knows what one is going to find. Even though no amount of technical prowess could hide the fact that Lespedeza was not an attractive perennial, I ignored cautionary guidelines when I first noticed it and bought blindly.

My onlione provider did not mention that it was bushy. The close up of Lespedeza thunbergii Gibraltar showed no sign of weeping or cascading. The small image of a floret close-up looked enticing as did the hype in the catalog informing me that this perennial would

  •  Bloom at the end of the season and for several months when little else is in bloom. It did.
  •  Flower in a rich, vivid color making it attractive from afar. It was, if one likes harsh tones.
  •  Spread at least five feet in diameter. It did.
  •  Cascade over sunny slopes. It does.
  •  Sport foliage that would remain attractive and disease free all summer, even in hot, humid climates. It did.

Limp and wilting in my autumn gardenUnfortunately, before the first season was over, I realised that Lespedeza is not a perennial for my neat city English-style garden. It belongs either in a rural setting where it might be valued for its practicality rather than for beauty or in a meadow-like garden where unpretentiousness is a virtue.

Flowers didn't turn brown immediately. They just lay there exhausted.Lespedeza Gibraltar is too robust for the pastel, polite and strategically planned urban theme. Its multidirectional growth and intense purple-pink coloration generate energy that prevents gardeners from combining it into pleasant plant compositions. In bloom, the pea-like florets appear scraggly even from afar and sorely wilted for a long while when flowering is over.   

There has to be a reason why this perennial doesn’t show up on most nursery offerings. Perhaps one explanation is that in fact it is a low growing, messy, flowering shrub that needs to be cut down to the ground every autumn. It’s a perennial want-to-be.

My garden was not the appropriate location for such a plant.Yet, in the context of a meadow garden, or in a matrix of a Piet Oudolf inspired composition, this plant has merit. When planted on a slope to cascade visually unobstructed, its texture and color interact well with other low growing plants. The harsh tone of its flowers blends well among the mellow hues of ornamental grasses and appear to glow happily next to bold native flowers. Lespedeza Gibraltar is a perennial that holds its own in the company of other robust garden personalities and proves once again that, in the plant world, one gardener’s nemesis is another gardener's friend.

Monday
Feb232015

Fran Sorin's Inspirational Garden Guide Has Been Reissued.

Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening,  Fran Sorin,   Braided Worlds Publishing.             

There is one book in my library that I can never part with: Fran Sorin’s Digging Deep. When it was published ten years ago, it validated the personal creativity I discovered when I first began to garden. On its pages, I also found a lifetime mentor in the author’s warm, inspiring voice and I return to her words whenever I need to refresh my creativity.

Recently, the book was republished in a revised tenth anniversary edition with a forward by the esteemed author and Mind/Body/Spirit/ thinker and practitioner, Larry Dossey, M.D. It is well worth reading again.

Gardening is more than simply growing plants. It is a creative, rewarding and spiritual experience. However, not all potential gardeners feel they have the skill to identify their needs, to express themselves or to find fulfillment. They do! Just ask Fran.

Ms. Sorin demonstrates that by digging deep into our souls all of us can find the garden of our dreams - an idyllic setting that generates personal happiness; a place to reconnect with nature to help make our lives feel complete.   

With a background in landscape design, psychology, communications and healing, the author built a successful career assisting clients to imagine and realize their buried wishes. On occasion, the process would prove challenging because some clients thought they were uncreative and expressed helplessness in articulating a personal vision.

To overcome that mindset, the author introduced them to self-awareness, an introspection of sorts that helps one find innate creativity stored within. Digging deep within oneself allows one to discover hidden dreams that translate into a meaningful garden. It also represents the first of seven steps that guide the reader to acheive that goal namely: imagining, envisioning, planning, planting, tending, enjoying, and completing.

The new edition includes revisions that reflect the evolution in lifestyle and conventional wisdom over the past ten years with a corresponding deletion of information from the original that is now superfluous or outdated. Its re-publication is also prescient.

Our society has become so technologically obsessed and increasingly nature deprived that many of us are spiritually and physically detached from the world we were intended to inhabit. The reissuing of this book is an inspiration to re build our bonds with nature to help us create richer, more joyful lives.

Readers will be so charmed by the author's intimate style of writing they will want her for a friend. Seasoned gardeners will recognize themselves on her pages and will delight in the affirmation she brings them. Novice gardeners will be inspired.

                                               

Sunday
Feb012015

The Flower Garden Style of Piet Oudolf

Image copyrighted by Scott Weber. Used with permission

Scott Weber, of Portland, Oregon, has been designing and planting flowerbeds around his property for several years. Above and below are two of the many stunning photos he shares with readers on his blog Rhone Street Gardens. The images of his mini meadow-like plantings always take my breath away no matter how frequently he posts. Scott once mentioned that Piet Oudolf inspires the spirit and design of his garden.

Image copyrighted by Scott Weber. Used with permission.

For over one hundred years, the English flower garden remained the championed design for colorful gardens in the Western world and I confess that it remains my personal favorite to this day.

Nevertheless, by the time the twentieth century began to overlap with the twenty- first, along came Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf to nudge that traditional style out of its spotlight. Today, when I combine some of his design elements into my English-style projects, the results are quite moving.

Many books and articles have been written about this extraordinarily talented garden designer and I expect that ongoing and well deserved worldwide tributes will continue for some time to come.

Garden design by Piet Oudolf. http://www.pensthorpe.com/norfolk-gardens/ Click on image to visit site.

Piet Oudolf has succeeded in replaced the traditional perennial garden with landscapes inspired by the chaos of wildflowers, the assorted textures of foliage and the ethereal movement of grassy meadows. Yet, there is nothing chaotic or wild about his gardens, even if he does include native perennials in his layouts. In fact, his unique gardens are the results of meticulous, intricately designed planting schemes which, when repeated over vast swaths of land, create mesmerizing rivers of lush plant compositions.

His strategically arranged garden blueprints are realized primarily with robust, broad and small leaved perennials, bulbs, and ornamental grasses - all placed into recurring matrices to create a blissful flow of colors, textures, flower shapes and plant forms. Tall species, as well, are incorporated into some of his flowerbeds so that visitors can feel enveloped as they walk under and through his compositions.

These design elements also include the structural skeletons and seed heads of plants that provide visual interest when gardens are usually dormant and bare in winter. In Mr. Oudolf's gardens, eye-catching details attract and engage visitors all year round.

The High Line, New York City, gardens by Piet Oudolf.

Some of Piet Oudolf’s works are located in private gardens and privately owned parks open to the public. However, his best-known and powerful creations are situated in the public spaces of large cities. These urban projects create stirs of excitement when they first open and leave an enormous positive impression on the public. The result is that he has become an iconic figure in the garden design community.

Salvia beds designed by Piet Oudolf at Lurie Gardens, Chicago

One finds these urban oases in some of the largest and most densely populated areas. Here, juxtaposed among concrete, steel and asphalt, are wild meadow-inspired flower gardens whose soft natural and seemingly random appearances contrast dramatically with the disciplined, sleek and hard surfaces of the city structures that surround. They serve as a therapeutic refuge from the stress of daily life.

Lurie Gardens, Chicago.

As a highly respected designer and mentor, he continues to influence the work of prominent landscape designers on both sides of the Atlantic and his philosophy inspires home gardeners, some of whom live in climatically challenged areas where native plants and grasses work better than other perennials, to create dramatic yet beautiful traffic-stopping gardens.

Oudolf’s designs are synergistic; the compositions are more sublime than the appearance of any one of his chosen plants when grown alone. In his gardens, we experience the exquisite beauty of nature that can transport us from demanding urban existence to a destination overflowing with spirituality and hope.

Admire twenty six completed garden projects by Piet Oudolf at his website http://oudolf.com/

Watch a video of his work for New York Botanical Gardens  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75C6xFCSu-A

Sunday
Jan042015

A Purple Autumn Perennial That Pops: Vernonia Lettermannii

Photo credit:The University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture

A client gave me a mandate to enhance her flowerbed whenever I find a reliable perennial that blooms in purple.

To please her, I scour my suppliers’ catalogues every spring looking for purple blooming plants. Then I test grow them for a few seasons to determine how they perform. Most are disappointing.  A few become messy or invasive. Some are short-lived plants lasting one or two seasons while others are unable to survive climate conditions in my growing zone.

Happily, this year I discovered that the recently introduced Vernonia lettermannii  - also referred to as Narrow-leaf Ironweed - meets my rigorous requirements for neatness and low maintenance. I intend to surprise my client by planting it in her garden this coming spring.  

Photo credit: Plantdelights.com

Although it is dramatically shorter than the species Vernonia arborescens or the variety Vernonia mammoth, lettermannii provides a far more intense color display than either of its taller cousins. It blooms in August and September in a bright true purple that projects from afar and happily holds its color in the August sun.

Unlike its taller relatives that fade as they age and shrink from view, the florets of lettermannii hold their form and maintain a vivid color [albeit slightly more reddish] long after dormancy sets in. By October, the flower heads may have long expired but their rich color, now on slightly scrunchy petals, sustains itself for another few weeks.

Here are several photos from this past season of Vernonia lettermannii  in one of my October flowerbeds:

Vernonia lettermannii satisfies gardeners’ needs on several fronts. It is a butterfly and hummingbird magnet. It feed a passion for purple flowers both when in bloom and into creeping dormancy and it enriches the color story of the autumn garden by extending the bloom season well into October.

photo credit: Plantdelights.com

An additional attribute is its magnificent feathery foliage. In late spring, the perennial shoots up to create a large, soft mound of glossy-green foliage that is enchanting to behold and heaven to touch. Throughout the growing season, this visual delight continues to add to the garden a] sumptuous architectural detail - think round but softer boxwood plants - and b] feathery sensuality like Amsonia hubrechtii.

Cold hardy in USDA Zones 4  [CND Zone 5] Vernonia lettermannii is a heat tolerant plant that grows two or three feet tall and wide in full sun, even in poor rocky soil, under average to dry conditions. Good drainage is required. Periods of inundation are tolerated, but not heavy or saturated soils.

Few if any retail nurseries stock Vernonia in any of its varieties. Consequently, all the varieties growing in my garden were purchased from mail order suppliers.

Here is how online seller Plant Delights.com  describes this flowering perennial :-

Vernonia lettermannii is a fascinating ironweed that hails from Arkansas and Oklahoma where it can be found in rocky soils and on rock outcrops. Imagine taking an Amsonia hubrichtii, shrinking it to 2' tall x 2' wide, shearing it into a round ball, then topping it with hundreds of purple flowers in August and early September, and you have Vernonia lettermannii...a hummingbird delight. We grow this in our hot, dry, scree garden where it has caused visitors to lust in their hearts.

The seller’s words above are not hyperbole. Although the variety lettermannii  is much shorter than the species, it  produces a far more dramatic color display than any of  its taller cousins and it holds that color long than they do - even after it goes dormant.

At that time of year, while the gardener is mournfully anticipating the falling leaves of autumn and when there is little or no color left in the fall flowerbed, Vernonia lettermannii can cheer the heart and  take one’s breath away.

Saturday
Sep212013

I Didn't Charge for My Gardening Advice.

My financial adviser Billy called me the other day and asked if I would offer garden design advice to one of his neighbors. The wife is undergoing chemotherapy and has determined that a revamp of her tired-looking garden would be an ideal project to put back some balance into her life. Their garden truly needs a major overhaul and I was pleased to offer suggestions; I even recommended the name of a handy man that can do it economically. The husband is on board with the project and eager to make it happen.

When I first heard the family name of these neighbors, I smiled. Their two children had been classmates of my two daughters in elementary school over thirty-five years ago; both children and parents are among the nicest people my wife and I had ever met. That our two families did not develop a long-term relationship was a loss. We lived at opposite ends of town and our paths did not cross outside the schoolyard.

Given the unusual three-way relationship between us all, professional fees seemed  inapropriate and my wife inquired how I intended to handle this matter. I replied in a nano-second and without deliberation. There would be no charge for this meeting.

My decision was not influenced by the fact that the wife is ill or by the warm disposition of these extraordinarily nice people. I took my cue from Billy. He is my role model for generosity of heart. If he asks for help on behalf of another person, I will offer it for the same fee that he has been charging me for the past twenty years, whenever I rely upon him to help me navigate through choppy and unfamiliar waters, i.e. there is no charge.

Before becoming a financial adviser, Billy was an architect with a background in commerce, housing developer, and renovator. In those roles, he took upon himself the responsibility of guiding some of his clients through financial crises that might have otherwise caused them to lose their homes. That serendipitous kindness, combined with a facility with numbers, led him naturally into his present career as a financial adviser.

During the past twenty years, he has worn several hats in our relationship with him. While renovating our home, inadvertently he became our personal therapist due to the trauma and upheaval that the project created. When I retired from industry, he guided me through the maze of bureaucracy so that I might ease into my golden years with dignity. Now, whenever there is maintenance to be done around my home, I ask for his opinion. That counsel is offered with enthusiasm and sincerity; usually, I receive instructions for a solution and the name of a handy man or contractor whom he has already vetted for competence, reliability, and affordability. Later, he will inquire if the recommended tradesperson satisfied my needs.

In all the years that we have known him, whenever my wife and I have leaned upon Billy, and it has been frequently, he has never asked for compensation. My calls to him are not screened and my email inquiries are sometimes answered late at night, on weekends and on holidays. At the worst, while communicating by phone, he will sometimes put me on hold in order to comfort another client in distress.

To ease my guilt for taking advantage of his kind nature, I once offered payment when time invested in my issues became excessive and to this day, I will insert a plant into his garden, at no cost to him, when I discover there is a difficult-to-find item or a flower color on his wife’s wish list. The irony is that Billy is a competent weekend gardener and there is very little that I am able to do for him. Recognizing that I have a need to be helpful, he will occasionally contact me for garden advice just to make me feel good.

Realistically, my gestures of appreciation to him will never sufficiently compensate for his accumulated generosity of self. Therefore, when he phoned and asked me to assist his neighbor, I was delighted to do as he does. I passed it forward by sharing my time and knowledge with them without motive, expectation, or compensation. That too, made me feel good.