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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

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

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Designing for Others and Ourselves

During the course of this gardening season, I dealt with clients whose needs were remarkably varied. Each one’s requirements compelled me to create original garden compositions that were custom tailored to a client's wish list. There was to be no reusable plan and no formula design because every client I interviewed had unique or specific requests. Most had well established color preferences, some had peculiar aversions. One client instructed me not to plant perennials with small flower heads or miniature petals. An objective such as this one might seem easy to fulfill. However, it turned out to be a challenge. During the busy and hectic season, I worked with plants that already had a successful track record for color, texture, height and floriferousness. That helped to streamline the work and made me more efficient. There was no time to pay attention to the size of the flower head or the scale of the petals. As expected, after the garden was completed, the client was displeased with some of the plants in my repertoire and asked that they be replaced. So much for trying to be efficient!

When the gardens started to bloom, it was fascinating to discover how many clients rejected the same plants. This past year, I have had to remove Nepeta Walkers Low and Salvia nemerosa Plumosa from all of the beds in which they were planted. Most clients decided that Nepeta grows to an overflowing size and makes the garden appear messy and when the Salvia flops down to grow horizontally, it appears far messier than it does in the trade photos. However, the most devastating criticism came recently when some clients saw the Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit in bloom for the first time. I had planted this new pink variety in four gardens because I wanted to give my clients something different; something original that would help make their gardens look unique. Sadly, three clients phoned to request that I remove and replace it. They complained that it appeared either  floppy, messy, skimpy, scrawny, or shabby. It is unfortunate that a plant with so much touted potential should bring so much disappointment. This is not the first time that a new plant has been more attractive in print that in the garden. I become so enthusiastic when I read about new varieties that I forget that one must be wary of the marketing hype disseminated by growers and distributors.

Given our deep involvement in the needs of all of the clients, sometime’s it becomes hard for us to figure out what kind of gardens we want for ourselves. In her blog Designers on Design, dated July 13, 2010, Susan Lundrigen posted an interesting perspective on this subject. Her post got me thinking how I managed to maneuver through this obstacle. A creative trick that helped me to design a personal garden was to treat it as if it weren't mine. I designed it so that it pleased my wife and children. That gave it a theme, a focus and direction. However, after it was completed and started to bloom, I began tweaking it because the act of making it pleasing to others sensitized me to my own garden needs. Now, whenever time permits, I make incremental changes to my flower beds in order to convert them into the garden that I didn't know I wanted.

This has been a busy planting season, one in which I have worked 12 hour days since the first week of May. Now is the time to take a well deserved rest before bulb-planting and harvesting of perennials begin. Therefore, I will be away from my computer and this blog, until the week of September 5.

 A bientot!

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Reader Comments (6)

Alllan, you sound a bit frustrated about the perils of planting new varieties and about gardening in general. I am feeling the same way about this time of year and looking at the chances I have taken with some of the varieties that are new on the market. I am not sure about Let's Dance Hydrangea as it wilts everyday. This has been an unusual year because of the heat and the rain - not sure you have had the same climate. Let's begin looking to fall and next year.


August 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

It worries me that so many of your clients seem to expect instant gratification in their gardens. Gardens and the plants that make them up are living things. It seems as though non-gardeners who are ordering gardens need to be educated somehow that perennials may well be very small or (worse) look like gangly adolescents in their first year; it takes a while for them to reach their full potential. This is even more true of shrubs! It would be crazy for me to tear out my peonies because each of them only got a few flowers this year, or my Sedum matrona because it flopped open into a bowl shape, or my Hemerocallis 'Autumn Minaret' because it didn't get any flowers this year. All of those plants will be beautiful impressive presences in the garden in another year or two.

August 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I notice a huge trend especially in home design magazines toward "neat" gardens. These people don't want perennial gardens at all. They want tidy greenery and lots of fancy hardscaping. It must be frustrating for someone who loves plants.

August 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Allen - I can relate! by this time of year I am a bit spent...just like an anuual on its downward spiral....enjoy the rest.

I mentioned you in my blog today - aug

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan Johnsen

What a helpful post - thanks for sharing your not-so-great performers. I have a bunch of Walker's Low catmint and have resigned myself to giving it lots of room and dividing the clumps every couple of years to keep it within bounds. I might get tired of that eventually - plus it does reseed itself in my garden. But the long bloom season and the cheerful buzzing of bees on it makes me like it.
I wonder if your clients didn't give the Invincebelles enough time to make a strong showing. It's so hard to be patient.

September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVW

I love your blog! Please come back soon.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

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