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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


Shady Woodland Retreat as Secret Fairy Garden; a guest post by Ronald Gauch

In keeping with this blog’s theme about gardening as a source of pleasure, and to reflect the strong interest in shade gardens, I am pleased and honored to share this guest post with my readers.

The very shady area between the driveway and the back entrance to the red frame summer cottage had always been a problem. The cottage was built during the civil war and there were three very tall pine trees whose umbrella of branches and leaves hovered over the area, making it almost impossible for anything to grow there.

For years my mother-in-law, would vigorously scrape up the area with a rake, throw some seed down and wait for the grass to sprout. The first year there would be a nice lawn, the second year the lawn would be so-so, by the third year we were back to where we started: an area where nothing would grow.

When I inherited the garden, I wondered if there was a better way to use this space. I got a break shortly after when one of the tallest pine trees died, letting in the some much needed sun.  I decided to create a woodland shade garden.

Along the house, a few very large hostas seemed very happy so I split them and added a few more to the basic frame for the garden.  A cobblestone walkway leading from the driveway to the doorway bisected the garden and I decided to enclose the entire southern section (it received the most sun) and screen it so it had a concealed feeling.

I chose Arborvitae to block off the driveway and to create a barrier along the southern line and planted climbing hydrangeas, tying strings up to some nearby trees so the climbing foliage would be taller and denser.

A mix of rhododendron, ferns and azaleas were planted along the walkway and I introduced pebble paths that wandered through the foliage. One path leading from the walkway into the center of the southern garden became home to a green patio chair and table set. Various plants (annuals and perennials) surrounded this centerpiece, which also contained a small water fountain.

Slightly larger perennials, like coneflowers and Joseph’s Ladders, a woodsy Adirondack chair and a metal birdbath radiated out from the same center.  The net effect was like being in a secret garden, although my granddaughter preferred to call it a fairy garden

The garden on the north side was still handicapped by a lot of shade and I planted it in a more conventional manner. The pebble path winds through hostas and English ivy and around its centerpiece, a small ivy-edged pond that is shaped like Lake Huron, apropos since the front of the cottage looks out on that magnificent lake.

There is an assortment of astilbe, ferns and other shade loving plants that occupy this area as well. Some few annuals – begonias, dahlias on a sunny edge - provide color and texture. Partially hidden statues of a child reading and an angel musing at the pond’s edge seem to be secrets a visitor – or grandchild – can discover.

Each year the garden grows, as I experiment with new plants and flowers, but this once barren ground is now alive and flourishing and giving a family and friends  - as well as the gardener - pleasure.

Scientist, educator, and author Ronald Gauch, Phd. is retired Associate Dean and Associate Professor at Marist College, School of Management and Faculty member of the Center for Lifetime Study. He gardens both in Hyde Park, New York, across the way from the historic Vanderbilt Estate, as well as in Lexington, Michigan, on beautiful Lake Huron.

Links to Works by Ronald Gauch

Statistical Methods for Researchers Made Very Simple (2000)

The Changing Environment in Management Information Systems [Public Personnel Management, 2005]

It's Great: Oops, No It Isn't: Why Clinical Research Can't Guarantee the Right Medical Answers (2009) 


Secrets of Successful Maine Gardeners; a book review

The Maine Garden Journal – Insider secrets from Maine people who love to put their hands in the dirt, Lisa Colburn, Fern Leaf Publishing.

Passionate gardener, Lisa Colburn, achieved mastery of her plant collection while living in cold, northern Maine, a.k.a. USDA Zone 3. However, when she moved 200 miles south within the same State, she found herself in USDA Zone 5 with expanded gardening possibilities.

To help recreate her previous horticultural success, she reached out to the local Maine gardening community. Ingeniously, press releases were distributed and articles were placed in garden club newsletters. All this to inform others about Ms. Colburn's desire to gather information from passionate gardeners who understood the challenges of growing plants in Zone 5. To those who responded to her communiqués, she sent an informal but extensive twelve-page survey.

The author wanted to know what plants local residents grew successfully and where they purchased garden-related products. She asked for descriptions of personal gardens, recommendations for must-see public and private gardens in the area, inquired about garden pests, how local gardeners deal with them, and solicited the names of books, magazines, blogs, and websites that they use in order to find helpful information.

This research strategy paid an enormous dividend. The author discovered over one hundred reliable respondents who were pleased and eager to share their tips and techniques for garden success.

The trustworthy information that Ms. Colburn collected has now been transformed into a garden guide and it is a delightful book to read. Although it's specific focus is USDA Zone 5 in Maine, the manual is useful also for those who garden in other cold climates where growing conditions are similar.

What makes this publication invaluable for Maine gardeners is the fact that it is a go-to source for help, encouragement, moral support, and supplies; it is also a compilation of local horticultural wisdom.

In addition to recommendations about plants and pests, readers will find contacts for garden supplies, plants and tools, local landscape professionals, clubs and organizations. As well, the author lists events, conferences, work - shops, books and magazines that Maine gardeners will find useful.

Readers will also discover the names of helpful garden websites and blogs, television and radio programs, contacts in State government and education, and a list of Maine - based professional and botanical associations.

Another outstanding feature of this publication is a chapter devoted to tropical plants. Adventurous gardeners will learn about those that are versatile enough to thrive outdoors during summer as well as indoors during winter.

Every gardening community whether it is climate - challenged or not, needs a reliable source to simplify and codify local botanical wisdom. Gardeners in the State of Maine are fortunate to have Lisa Colburn.



This Oriental Poppy is a Turkish Delight.

This image is the property of America's Wonderlands, Virtual Bouquet-Flower Pictures, and Screensavers. Copying the photo for commercial purposes is prohibited. Click on the image to link to the owners site for usage permission.

Some gardeners have no favorite colors. Any will do as long as the flower is pretty. Others, like me, are fussier, and they seek out plants that fit into their preconceived color schemes.

I used to consider red -  the color of apples, hydrants, and fire trucks -  difficult tones to include in my garden. For many years, I shunned magnificent red tulips and romantic red roses because I did not feel comfortable using them in my English-inspired flowerbeds where pastels reigned supreme. That is no longer the case. I am much more adventurous now.

Two years ago, towards the end of the planting season, when one red Oriental poppy, Papaver Orientale Turkenlouis, or Turkish Delight, remained unsold, I placed it in an empty spot in one of my flowerbeds. That was a bold decision. Never before had I planted red or scarlet flowers in my garden, nor did I remember what color plant would bloom next to it, the following season.

By planting haphazardly, with total disregard for composition, I created the unusual but rather attractive color scheme shown above and below. My personal sense of color balance would never permit me to intentionally combine pastel yellow [Siberian Iris Butter and Sugar] with red, yet here it is and it is remarkably refreshing. Like the chaos and unpredictability of nature, sometimes the unexpected and the unplanned can be as beautiful as the deliberately arranged.

Oriental poppies like Papaver O. Turkenlouis bloom in full sun, during May to June in Zones 3 to 6 and prefer a poor, dry soil. While its coarse, rugged grey-green foliage tends to grow like a miniature fountain closer to the ground, its flower stems reach 24 to 30 inches in height and support 4 to 6 inch-wide lustrous and fringed scarlet-red petals.

This feathery effect on any flower is a delight to enjoy in the garden, no matter on which plant it may be found. It is an added visual pleasure, where the eye skims the edge of the flower to experience soft texture.

When poppy blooms are spent, gardeners have two choices: either to allow bulbous black seed heads to form at the top of the stems so that plants can self-seed, or to remove the browning stems and heads with a hand prunner. In either case, after a poppy has flowered, its leaves will turn yellow as the plant reverts to dormancy. This will occur long before most summer perennials have begun to bloom.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to plant summer flowering perennials close to the poppies so that the foliage of these later-blooming plants can hide the yellowing of the poppy leaves and fill in the empty space created by the eventual and total disintegration of the slowly shriveling foliage. For some gardeners, this disappearing act necessitates recording the location of the hidden plants; it’s easy to forget they are underground when digging the flowerbed in mid-summer. By autumn, new foliage will have popped out if the ground, thus creating fresh markers for the gardener.

Oriental poppies do not like being transplanted. These perennials grows deep and when lifted, their foliage crowns risk being separated from most of their fleshy roots. Propagation is more successful with the shallow planting of root cuttings that is best done during the summer.

A cautionary word: - If budget permits, plant more than one of this Oriental poppy. In the spring, when it is in bloom, gardeners are so bowled over by the synergistic combination of sensual fringes and intense scarlet-red that they regret having planted only one and not several.

A grove of this dramatic perennial may also be created, over the course of several years, by allowing Oriental poppies to self-seed. Novice gardeners should bear in mind that mulching near and around this plant will prevent this from happening.


Thalictrum Hewitt’s Double is a Singular Sensation

Thalictrum Hewitt's Double floating over the partially spent September flowerbed.The tall, frothy Thalictrum that grows in the flowerbed on my front lawn is in its third year of maturity. As one can gather from the photo, it is a conversation piece. Everyone thinks that it’s a tree. No visitor to my home, or neighbor on my street, has ever seen such a delight for the eyes. It touches the admirer in a profound way.

I first discovered Thalictrum, the species, about 18 years ago, when I purchased over 100 seedling perennials, all of which had plant tags that indicated  flowers in pink or flowers in blue. At that time, Thalictum aquilegifolium, was an unknown entity to me. However, since it promised to provide pink blooms, I added it to the assortment, without a second’s thought. I was eager to be surprised.

Over the years, this species perennial, a very different-looking plant from the Hewitt's Double variety, would grow successfully and fully easy-care in my back yard garden. Tall and upright during the months of June and July, its stately, elegant pale salmon-pink plumes appeared iridescent in the shade but faded in bright sunlight. These feathery heads added an ethereal mood to my garden. When allowed to grow and mature without propagation, they created a grove of pastel softness suitable for any fairy tale illustration.

The species delivered such an impact to my soul that I was motivated to seek out other varieties. Almost 15 years later, A. Hewitt’s Double, a Thalictrum with a longer bloom period  [June to late September] appeared in some nurseries and I decided, this time, to plant it on my front lawn, where growing conditions seem to pamper perennials more than my back yard does. I expected some similarities with the species, but those are few.

Closeup of Hewitt's Double flower head.One characteristic that sets this plant apart from others is its translucent lilac colored flower heads. They scintillate in sun – especially when they are backlit – and glow in part shade. These visuals create a nearly supernatural mood in the garden. What a bonus!

Another unusual characteristic about Hewitt’s Double is that it cannot grow upright, even with the help of heavy-duty stakes, which are unquestionably necessary. Its flower heads grow in such a precarious position, that heavy rain and strong wind will cause the heads to crack off from its otherwise formidable stalks.

Up until this year, I expected that staking the plant in a delphinium style, i.e., one very tall support behind the plant, would be sufficient to keep it from buckling over. It wasn’t!  By the end of summer, I had added an additional three stakes behind the first, each one taller and thicker than the last. None was able to prevent the plant from bowing over to catch the sun. And combined, they were no match for nature's pull.

Because several tall broomsticks together were no match for the pull of this plant, I resorted to using a one-inch wide steel I-bar, 6 feet tall. The perennial became upright as soon as I inserted this metal stake into the earth with the help of a mallet [it took at least 200 whacks to secure it in place] and tethered the plant to it. For that solution, I must thank my lawn service staff who came up with the idea and gifted me with this repurposed steel object.

Especially when held upright, an astute garden designer may have noticed in the posted image that the proportions of this perennial are not suitable for both the narrow width of the flowerbed and the height of the neighboring plants.

Hewitt’s Double towers awkwardly over the other perennials because none of them grow tall enough to anchor or integrate it into the color scheme. This impression, of one plant floating above the others, while it creates movement, also creates instability which makes me uncomfortable. That is reason enough to lift and place it elsewhere.

The rose patch that grows directly behind this flowerbed, and up against the elevated veranda, appears to be a better location. I intend to move the Thalictrum to the left of the pink Rose Bonica that appears in the far background.

I hope that both this rose, along with Rose Carefree Wonder to its right, will provide sufficient height, volume and shape to weave Hewlitt’s Double into the overall garden design. I expect that the iridescent lilac color of this unusual perennial will appear enhanced and even more amazing when it blooms next to the rich baby-pink of rose Bonica.


The Surprise of Pink Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit

Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit by Proven Winners. The flower heads in my garden are a shade lighter.Readers might recall that I once had a roller coaster emotional experience with the pink flowering Hydrangea, Invincibelle Spirit. That love-hate relationship continued for the first two years after planting. The saga ended when I made peace with the plant by treating it as an integral part of my flowerbed design, i.e. as a summer perennial. I staked it when necessary and dead headed the spent florets when they blackened.

Image supplied by Proven WinnersHowever, something magical happened this season. This summer, Invincibelle Spirit, arched over nicely so that staking became an option and not a necessity, and the spent flower heads did not turn black. Then, during the month following the initial blooming, the spent flowers transitioned from pink to ivory-beige. As it appears now in my flowerbed, it provides a fascinating texture to the overall composition.

The camera captured a prominent green cast to the color of the spent flowers that was not visible in the garden.The unexpected and pleasant surprise continued when, in the midst of drought and searing heat, the spent hydrangea shrub was audaciously transplanted, by this sometimes reckless gardener, without any apparent consequences.

If only I had remembered one important fact about this plant, learned while researching it online:- deadhead flowers when spent. That action would have stimulated reblooming and I might have enjoyed an additional crop of pink florets. I’ll remember that for next year.

The above image demonstrates the appearance of the spent flower heads at the beginning of September, over a month after they lost their pink color. In full disclosure, the plant was staked just before it was photographed. Otherwise staking was not required, even after transplanting.

It has taken three years for me to appreciate firsthand what the grower, Proven Winners, had promised so long ago. I hope the results that I’ve experienced this summer turn out to be a permanent evolution; and not an aberration brought on by the unrecognizable weather conditions we’ve experienced lately.

Proven Winners attaches elaborate hang tags to plants in their series of Endless Summer hydrangeas. These tags are full of information influencing and reinforcing consumer decisions to buy. I wish that a similar marketing strategy had also been used for Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit. That way, I might have been alerted to the possibility that this plant required maturation before I would reap benefits.

From another perspective, perhaps this variety should not be brought to market until it is at least four years old. It must be very challenging to be a commercial grower and find that, in spite of the sincere efforts of humans, the unpredictable and uncontrollable power of nature will always prevail.