Can I Help You?

The Garden Guru designs and plants continously blooming flowerbeds that rebloom year after year. These are easycare, colorful, vivid gardens for Montreal, Canada, [USDA Zone 4 or CDN Zone 5]. A consultation and coaching service for do-it-yourselfers is also available. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

 

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.

Monday
Jul012013

Beauty of Moscow Is a Bittersweet Lilac Delight

image:- portersnurseries.comIt should be no surprise to other passionate plant collectors that when syringa “Beauty of Moscow” a.k.a. Krasavitsa Moskvy, was introduced, I was compelled to buy one for myself.

In truth, I didn’t need another lilac shrub. There were already too many growing in my garden. However, the hype accompanying this new plant was strong and, like many other gardeners who can hardly wait for the next wowing plant to become available, I succumbed to the charms of the publicity, without waiting for other gardeners’ feedback.

As is often the case in my area, new varieties are not immediately included in wholesalers’ inventory. Growers and distributors in USDA Zone 4 need to test grow a plant for hardiness before they are comfortable offering it to the public. Since I was impatient, it was necessary to order Beauty of Moscow from a mass-market catalogue house.

image:- plants unlimited.comUsually, I try not to buy from such sources. Some of you already know that these suppliers outrageously ship seedling-sized plants at prices that are equivalent to those of one or two-year-old potted plants sold at nurseries. Consequently, the size of the Beauty of Moscow lilac that I received in the mail was pitifully small for the price I paid.

After watching it develop at a very slow pace and eventually reading what other gardeners reported, I am now pessimistic about the future of this plant in my garden. Some have been dismayed by its early sparseness. That is, it did not produce lush leaves, while branches sprout at a distance from one another, leaving large negative spaces in between. Others find that it is invasive because it suckers too much.

Clearly, this plant is sold only for its superlatives. The flower heads of Beauty of Moscow are larger than the blooms on any other lilac shrub growing in my garden. It sports huge, deep pink flower buds that open into enormous white petals. The combination and contrast of the pink buds with white petals is stunning.  It is also extremely fragrant, exuding a powerful, hypnotic and sweet perfume.  

This flowering shrub cannot satisfy everyone’s gardening needs. Homeowners looking for a multipurpose, tall, lush shrub with minimal maintenance are advised to choose among the endless varieties of more conventional lilac shrubs that are available everywhere.

However, gardeners who always hunt for the next intense sensory experience, and who are comfortable buying plants they don’t really need – and there are many of us who belong to this group :) - will be delighted with syringa Beauty of Moscow, even though they might end up fighting to stop it from suckering. We gardeners are a very unusual group!

Click here for a magnificent copyrighted image of this lilac's flowerhead, taken by Linda Stanzel.

Tuesday
Jun112013

Spring Flowering Itoh Peonies, Better Than Ever.

Itoh Peony, Kopper KettleIf The Disney Studios could have created a flower worthy of fairy-tale magic, it might have been an Itoh peony. Its surreal vivid color, perfectly contoured plant shape, and synthetic looking, sensuous and smooth petal-texture all belong on the storyboard of the most imaginative artist.

Its powerful visual impact defies descriptive language while the camera only taunts the viewer as did stripper Miss Gypsy Rose Lee who revealed little while stimulating the imagination.

Like many items that are too good to be true, the visceral experience that defines the Itoh peony comes with a hefty price tag. This reliable perennial belongs to a group of expensive plants. I was mandated to include it in a project earmarked with a generous budget, for a homeowner who wanted traffic-stopping drama in her flowerbeds.

Itoh Peony, BartzellaWhen the Itoh bloomed and I witnessed my client’s over-the-top emotional reaction to the yellow Itoh variety named Bartzella, I understood its potential and proceeded to test-grow several other varieties in my garden.

The plant that I selected for my client was ripe with many buds restless to unfold had a retail price tag of $75. A smaller sized version was available at $35 but it sported few buds.

Both of these high price points made this perennial an unsuitable candidate for test growing and I postponed doing so until I located a wholesaler who offered one-year-old varieties at an affordable cost.

Itoh Peony, Morning LilacBaby Itoh peonies are excruciatingly painful teases. In the first year of growth, they may or may not deliver flower buds. If they do, one or two impressive blooms are all that one can expect. Year two is less painful and in year three they are rich with bloom.

There is an irony to test growing Itoh peonies before including them in work projects.  By the time one is satisfied with their color and performance, the wholesalers in my area no longer carry the specific impressive variety that I want to rebuy.

In my location, Itoh’s high cost restricts its sale to a small group of gardeners who are unlikely to return to buy more of the same. So bowled over are they by the spectacular nature of its flowers, that by the following season these plant lovers are prepared to experiment with, and be surprised by, any new variety. They are, in fact, gardeners who collect exotic plants.

Itoh Peony, Kopper Kettle, If I want to include a tested and proven Itoh in a future project, I will have to learn how to propagate them on my own. That educational experience has just begun. A few weeks ago, I dug up one side of an Itoh root ball, sawed off a portion of its dense, woody core and transplanted it into my test garden. Like other peonies, I anticipate that the foliage will traumatize, turn brown, wilt away, and return next season as a fresh offspring. If I am successful, it will have been worth the effort.

Update 2014 : I was not successful in propagating this plant.

Friday
May312013

Planning to Grow Eggplant?

Image:- http://www.edenbrothers.com/store/eggplant_seeds_black_beauty.htmlAfter moving into my current home and garden over twenty years ago, I began to experiment growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I had little success because the fauna that visited my back yard feasted on the emerging foliage of most edible plant seedlings and always made sure to take a bite out of all produce that thrived.

Eventual, I gave up trying to grow food and confined my gardening to perennials. However, if I could, I would have cultivated the fleshy, plump, oval-shaped, purple-black eggplant - Solanum melongena – an ingredient in my favorite condiment: Eggplant Relish. Here is my time-tested recipe:-

Allan Becker’s Eggplant Relish

1 large eggplant, washed

1 large tomato, rinsed

1 large Vidalia onion

1 large green pepper, rinsed [or substitute 1 small green pepper and 1 small red pepper; do not eliminate green pepper entirely].

1 tsp. brown sugar

Salt, pepper

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup mild white vinegar

½-cup ketchup or a combination of ketchup and BBQ sauce, proportions according to taste

¼-cup water

9 x 12 baking dish

Medium-sized mixing bowl

Aluminum foil

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Remove green stem from eggplant.

Slice eggplant - with peel on - lengthwise into ¼-inch slices and then cut each slice into ¼-inch cubes.

Dice tomato. [a serrated knife is helpful].

Peel and dice onion.

Core, seed, devein and dice pepper.

Spray bottom and sides of baking dish with oil or coat by hand.

Spread eggplant on the bottom of the dish.

Layer with onions.

Continue with a layer of tomatoes.

Finish with a layer of peppers.

Sprinkle surface with brown sugar.

Season with salt and pepper.

In a mixing bowl combine:-

¼-cup oil

½-cup vinegar

½-cup ketchup

¼-cup water

Stir well and pour over vegetables.

Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Remove foil and bake for an additional 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Stir contents to combine all ingredients.

Spoon mixture into Mason jars and store in refrigerator until needed. This condiment has a long shelf life.

May be served cold with crackers as an hors d'oeuvre or as a side dish to a meal.

Friday
May172013

Ten Vivid Pink Garden Plants 

Pink is the most popular color in the flowerbed. In all its gradations and tones, it runs the gamut from baby pastel and amethyst to a very deep pink that almost borders on cold red. This family of colors seems to touch the hearts and minds of gardeners and their visitors. Except in climates where sun bleaches out its more pastel tones, pink is found in most gardens around the globe.

Here are ten vivid pink flowering plants that caught my eye. Some have grown in my garden for many years, others are new for me; I found them in recent trade catalogues.

Hydrangea macrophylla Abracadabra

If you garden in a warmer growing zone than I do, chances are you’ve had better success growing macrophylla [broad-leaf] hydrangeas than gardeners who live in colder climates. The grower describes this relatively new variety as having flower heads resembling big, funky flying saucer lace-cap flowers that merge pink and white and mature to hot pink atop black satin stems. These distinctive stems provide interest in the garden before the summer flowers open. The color of the flowers can be shifted to blue by adding aluminum sulfate to the soil. Abracadabra grows from 3 to 4 feet tall and wide and is hardy to USDA Zone 5.

Hydrangea macrophylla Paraplu

Vivid pink Paraplu is a another new introduction for warmer climates. I am told that its downward arching mop heads of rich, vibrant, double florets, appear like dainty umbrellas in shades ranging from candy pink to intense hot pink. In soil where the pH is low, some purple will appear. The grower reports that Paraplu holds up well in the heat, and withstands the rigors of Midwestern winters. This dwarf variety is expected to remain under three feet tall and wide and is hardy to USDA Zone 5.


Phlox subulata, Pink

A long lived, cold-climate perennial, it is perfectly suitable for rock gardens, rugged ground cover, and sunny drought conditions. Cascading over slopes like puddly waterfalls, it grows 2 to 6 inches tall, spreads 12 to 18 inches in width and is hardy from USDA Zone 2 to Zone 9. The early spring pink flowers that illuminate the flowerbed are so intense that the color appears to have been mixed by a Disney cartoon illustrator. After the short-lived blooms fade, the rugged, evergreen, pinnate-textured foliage serves as an elegant-looking yet rugged groundcover that contributes lush tactile texture throughout the year. Photo: Stoneridge Gardens and Nursery.

Rose Carefree WonderThis staple in my garden has impressed visitors for the past fifteen years; I used to plant it in most of my garden projects until it became difficult to locate in my area. Growing four feet tall and three feet wide, it blooms in a radiant, deep pink, with flower heads measuring four inches across. So intense is its color that few will notice the reverse white petals. This easy-to-care-for rose is hardy to USDA Zone 4 and blooms continuously from June until the first snowfall.

Rose Double Pink Knock Out

Knock Out Roses are among the most disease resistant rose bushes on the market. This variety is a compact tidy shrub, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, that blooms in bright pink. It is drought tolerant, self-cleaning, and winter hardy to USDA Zone 5, and blooms until frost.

Rose Pink Home Run

Vivid rich pink flowers cover this modest sized shrub rose practically every day during the growing season. At 3 ½ to 4 feet tall and wide it blooms continuously throughout the summer with an extraordinary resistance to disease, pests, powdery mildew, and with a high level of tolerance for downy mildew. It is winter hardy to USDA Zone 4 and blooms until frost.

Rhododendron Azalea Rosy Lights

This vivid plant scintillates as if each flower petal had been fitted with nano-sized neon tubes. As a result, during the day the shrub glows like a Chinese lantern. Hardy in my location [USDA Zone 4], Rosy Lights will grow 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, depending upon climate. This variety is part of the Northern Lights Series of hybrid azaleas developed and released by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Any azalea released and included in this series will have flower bud hardiness of -30 degrees to -45 degrees F to withstand Minnesota winters. Photo: Kunkle Nursery.

Silene Rolly’s Favorite

Hardy to USDA Zone 5, this very floriferous perennial starts blooming in early spring and continues until early summer, if cut back after the initial flush. It grows 11 to 15 inches high and 10 to 12 inches wide. Although it has a neat mounding habit, it propagates itself easily at the extremities of its circumference. Gardeners are eager to share this plant with everyone they know because its intense pink color is hard to believe and impossible to describe. In bright sun, the pink petals are significantly warmer than the tones that appear in the photo above. Photo: Lorraine Roberts, Plant Paradise Country Gardens, Caledon, Ontario.

Thalictrum Black Stocking

One gardener’s pink is another gardener’s lavender. Although nurseries describe this perennial as flowering in bright lavender-magenta, in the blazing sun of summer, I see vivid, deep pink. That shade is further enhanced by a background of the nearly black stems of this tall, almost six-foot perennial. Surprisingly, for a plant of this height, it spreads to less than 2 feet wide, doesn’t require staking, and maintains a neat and disciplined appearance. This family of perennials has been one of the easiest to grow in my flower beds over the past twenty years. When shopping, it is important to keep in mind that not all Thalictrum bloom in the identical shade of pink. T. aquilegifolium and T.rochebrunianum, for example, flower in much paler shades of pink or lavender. As a result, even though they are substantial and impressive perennials, they are not as visually satisfying as Black Stocking. Photo: Chocolate Flower Farm.

Viburnum Brandywine.

The advance hype on this deer-resistant, berry-producing shrub reads like a Broadway production. I sure hope that I can reproduce its climactic season’s ending after I plant this shrub in my test garden, this season. Here is what the growers say: Hardy to USDA Zone 5, the extravaganza begins with undistinguished, white flower and ends with a fruit display that some consider unrivaled in the plant world. In late summer the color of the immature green, pea-sized berries changes to shades of bright pink and then to hues of bright blue and wild grape. [The pink color is intensified when the blue and grape appear beside it]. As a bonus, the glossy green leaves age to a very dark maroon red. This species will not thrive in chalky or alkaline soils and in the North Eastern U.S. it is susceptible to the Viburnum bark beetle. However, it is claimed that these pests can be controlled without chemicals.