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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
Jun242015

White Persicaria and Red Roses

White Persicaria polymorpha, Rose Emily Carr and on the left foliage from Eupatorium purpureum that will bloom later in the seasonThe above drama occurred serendipitously.  Originally, a flowerbed was planted to be a theatre perormance. Contrasts in colors, textures, heights, and movements supplied by a composition of continuously blooming roses and perennials were created for the pleasure of apartment dwellers when they looked down from their terraces high above a garden in a private park.

The tall red roses planted five years ago – Emily Carr, from the Canadian Artists collection of hardy shrub roses - were the focal point of the flowerbed. Although they looked stunning in bloom, something was amiss because most of the strong visual energy that the roses supplied weakened by the time it reached the twelfth floor above. More staging was required.

The solution and inspiration came from a visit to a wholesale perennial grower in the countryside. A large round flowerbed was planted in the center of a circular driveway to serve as a landmark for clients approaching along a winding country road.

In the centre of the 10-foot diameter bed, three Persicaria polymorpha perennials were planted in triangle formation several feet apart from one another. At the time of my visit, the composition had matured over three years to create a tall swaying grove of white feathery texture.

The very rugged but elegant plant, also known as Knotweed, is a sun perennial that also grows with magnificence in part shade. The bloom period is quite extensive and the luxuriously sensual flower heads - alive or dead - remain shapely and texturally interesting throughout the season.

To draw focus to the flowerbed, I decided to use this perennial as a proscenium for the red roses. In addition to contributing height and drama, it also diverted tenants' eyes away from a view of the neighboring apartment building.  

However, never was any thought given to the powerful visual impact this perennial might make on the appearance of the roses themselves. Emily Carr roses were intended to be the main attraction, to enhance the appearance of other plants and to give pleasure to the apartment dwellers. Instead, Persicaria made the roses appear to bloom more beautiful than ever before. It enhanced the red color; it showcased the shape of the flower; it made the composition glow and gave it movement. A new dimension to the overall design of the garden was created simply by planting this white perennial behind the red roses. That is serendipity.

Monday
Jun152015

Oriental Poppy Princess Victoria Louise

Perennial gardeners' eternal challenge is finding a local nursery that offers a wide variety of Oriental poppies. Few in my area sell Papaver orientalis , even fewer offer a wide selection and almost none sell the plant in a size that blooms same season.

Adding this perennial to the flowerbed is an excruciatingly painful exercise in deferred gratification: - buy it now, watch it wither and hope optimistically to see flowers next year because reawakening is never guaranteed.

Online nurseries have been somewhat helpful in addressing the above issues especially when they offer hard-to-find new introductions. Unfortunately, plugs of Oriental poppies dislike being shipped by mail and their survival rate in my garden after planting is poor.

Another challenge for this gardener is how to integrate the most beautiful and tallest varieties of these poppies – the red ones - into a predominantly pastel-colored English style garden. It’s not an easy design task unless one replaces standards of beauty with bold and theatrical visual drama.

The more appealing design solution is to plant the variety Princess Victoria Louise because it blends well into most pastel-colored gardens.

One of its attributes is the ease with which light and weather variations transform the color of its petals. Cloudy days make them glow in a fluorescent shade of light coral. Cool sunny days bring out  rich peachy tones and brutally hot weather causes the petals to fade into soft delicate shades of pastel almon-pink.

Another quality is the ease with which it moderately propagates itself by self-seeding. Although many favorite perennials do so, it is thrilling to see this happening to Princess Victoria Louise.  Over several years, if left unattended, it will fill the flowerbed with a riot of large, billowing pastel salmon-pink petals that seem to float above the tops of all other perennials in the spring garden. The results can be breathtaking.

The large oval seedpods of Papaver orientalis offer dramatic architectural and textural interest to the garden after petals have dropped. However, those who desire greater control over the appearance of their flowerbeds are urged to deadhead the plant immediately after blooming to avoid self-seeding.

Finally, this perennial prefers sun and dry growing conditions. Transplanting is frustrating due to deep-reaching tap roots. If it must be moved, expect instant trauma and dormancy. The likelyhood that it will endure to bloom the following year is high.

Monday
Jun082015

A Romantic Pink Perennial: Dictamnus Rubra

Once upon a time, when the number of perennials were fewer than now and gardeners focused on aroma as much as they did on beauty, there bloomed an almost white-flowering plant called Dictamnus alba. It was touted more for its citrus aroma at dusk than for its modest appearance.

I tried to include it in my range of late spring perennials but never succeeded. When still in its infancy and not in bloom, it remained camouflaged among the weeds and would be dug up when the beds were cleaned. Never did I feel remorse for this plant butchery. The flower color was weak and invisible from my far window while the aroma would waft only at dusk when I was never outdoors.

Many years passed. Recently, I noticed a new variety that flowered in pink called Dictamnus rubra. It was time to give this plant another chance. To encourage a better survival rate than in the past, I planted it in a less weedy location right outside my bedroom window. From that vantage point, I would monitor its daily existence throughout the summer to remind myself that it was to be nurtured.

Like its predecessor, alba, it did not perform well for the first two seasons as it was and still remains slow to establish. In year two and three, it delivered only one flowering spike in a soft and gentle shade of pink. Now, in its fourth season, it has produced two bold spires. At this rate, the perennial cannot be included in a master plan without frustration. I intend to treat it as a stand-alone specimen.

Recently, I visited web sites of other gardeners to see what the future had in store for my slow developing perennial. In the flowerbeds of colleagues, Dictamnus rubra blooms in lush groves. At the slow rate it expands in my garden, many years will pass before mine is as sensual as theirs. Perhaps that is due to the late cold Montreal springs we experience in USDA Zone 4.

Colloquially, this perennial is called Gas Plant. The sticky substance -  that coats the leaves, provides the citrus aroma and irritates the skin -  is flammable under very hot growing conditions.

At two to three feet in height and width, Dictamnus rubra can be a delightful addition to the late spring flowerbed providing the gardener has the patience to watch it develop impressiveness. It's worth the wait.

Saturday
May302015

Itoh Peonies Are Not Easy to Find

Pictured above is Itoh peony Morning Lilac. It remained modest in growth and appearance during the previous four years and only this season has it merited the attribute “spectacular”. For this impatient gardener, four years was a very long time to wait.

Itohs are sturdy perennials that are impossible to dig up once planted; consequently, they defy multiplication by root splitting. Industrial growers here in Quebec employ tissue culture propagation to create new plants. Then the seedings are sold to growers who nurture them until they are ready for market. The gestation time from initial lab procreation to spectacular flowering takes years. Perhaps that accounts for the extremely high price tag for mature Itohs at both wholesale and retail sellers.

The Itoh family of peonies produces theatrically bold, oversized flower heads that do not require staking even in heavy rain. It feels like a gift from the gods that a plant which blooms in vivid tropical colors should survive so successfully in our cold climate.

Meanwhile, a magnificent garden design project is underway here in Montreal. A private park, where I once created flamboyant flowerbeds that blend English style perennials with bold colored winter- compatible roses, is being expanded.

The owner has allocated a generous budget that permits me to source any plants I deem appropriate. His love of flower gardens inspires me to plant Itoh peonies. Alas, they are not easy to find.

Two of the wholesalers upon whom I rely no longer carry them. A local upscale nursery retailer stocks a meager variety in small sizes that will not bloom for another two years. Growers situated in rural parts of the country sell them ready to bloom  but I must lose a day of designing and planting to source them.

Now that Itohs are just beginning to bloom, I have a strong desire to share the joy of this dramatic perennial with the client for he is as passionate about flowers as I am. Perhaps I will give up the rest that my body sorely needs this weekend to take a long drive out to the countryside where Itohs are available. Such a client deserves the extra service. The body will have to wait.

Monday
May252015

Penthouse Gardening with Mandevilla and Skyline

Every spring, I plant flowerpots for a client living on the border of Westmount, Quebec. There is great spiritual excitement working at this site. We garden on the top floor of a twelve-story assisted-living apartment building for seniors that sits at the highest point of Mont Royal, Montreal’s mountain in the middle of a city, modestly landscaped by Fredrick Law Olmstead twenty years after he created New York City’s Central Park.

To the south, we see the Saint Lawrence River and the Champlain Bridge that crosses it; to the west, a  horizon boasting the outline of a new hospital complex, beyond which the skyline fades into the river and the rural areas beyond. To the east, we admire the western slope of the mountain dotted with the lush green clouds of densely populating treetops that grace the elegant homes surrounding this residential municipality.

At this height, we feel a soothing silence broken first by the roar of wind blowing across the Saint Lawrence Valley as it bounces off the southern face of the mountain and second by the music of wind chimes that float from a neighboring penthouse on the same floor. Fortunately, the flowers that I plant are protected from the ethereal gusts of wind by clear Lucite panels that shelter both the client and her potted garden.

The spring sun bathes us in warmth as we work under bright skies that glow in a shade of blue rarely seen at street level; the birds in the treetops provide songs-to-plant-by and on dull days, the unobstructed view of dramatic cloud formations fill us with awe as they float before our eyes.

My staff and I feel a little closer to heaven gardening at this height with such a panoramic view. Although we spend hours designing and planting flowerpots, what we do here does not feel like work. This annual project is an opportunity to experience spirituality. Regardless of their age, personality, gender or field of study, none of the college students who help me plant remain unmoved by what they see.