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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


Garden with Fountain in an Underprivileged Neighborhood

Image used with permission of the photographer.In a low-income residential pocket of Montreal, an owner of low rent housing is making life slightly more bearable for his tenants and their neighbors. The property owner loves gardens and has found a way to share that passion with those less fortunate.

The landlords of most residential buildings located in working class neighborhoods have no interest in lawns or their beautification. The business model used by these entrepreneurs demands that they keep operating expenses low, because rent revenue for each apartment is modest. Therefore, it is normal to see their front lawns neglected or cared for with a minimum of effort. However, the situation changes when superintendents of these apartments take pride in the appearance of the buildings or when property owners themselves have a love for nature.

In the case of this landlord, not only does he appreciate beautiful flowers and plants but the superintendant of the building loves to garden. Consequently, I have a standing order that whenever, I find myself with a surplus of easy-care plants, i.e. when I propagate, or when I dig up plants that my clients do not need or want, I am to deliver them to the businessman's home, a convenient arrangement because he's my neighbor.

The benefits of plants growing in a low-income neighborhood cannot be overstated. It makes the tenants feel good when they step outdoors. Even neighbors, who walk by the front lawn of the building featured in the above photo, slow down to admire the garden. At first, they are unaware the fountain exists because it blends in with the building's brickwork. Then, as they continue walking, they hear the sound of gurgling water -  not something they expect to hear in their neighborhood. Their eyes follow their ears to locate the sound, and when they see the fountain, it makes them smile.

The boxwood shrubs in the foreground and privet hedge in the upper left come from a client's garden; hemerocallis around the fountain grew in mine, while the Hostas were propagated from the proprietor’s private collection. The superintendent constructed the formation in his spare time, with scattered rocks that he found in empty fields and with large stones that I sent him, found in the flower beds I refreshed this season. He also installed the fountain component which the landlord purchased at a big box store.

I asked the property owner if there were any human-interest anecdotes inspired by the gardens on the front lawns of his properties. He replied that the sight of blooming flowers is always a traffic stopper in a part of town where few people grow plants and even less have the disposable income to buy cut flowers.

Furthermore, he reported that during the recent very hot summer, tenants and passersby, most of whom live without air conditioning, removed their shoes and dipped their feet into the fountain to cool off. That wasn’t the intended function for this water feature and the proprietor considers it to be an unsanitary activity. Nevertheless, he understands that no matter how it is used, the fountain is fulfilling an important need for the residents of the neighborhood.


The Gardening Shelves of the Public Library in Schroon Lake, New York. summer, my family reunites in the Town of Schroon Lake, in northern New York State. We’ve been vacationing there for over thirty years.  Although this venue is magical even in the rain, one season, after too many overcast days, I decided to spend some time at the local public library.

A few years ago, before donating to that library a copy of a children’s book about mountain climbing that my daughter had written, [“Maxwell’s Mountain” by Shari Becker] I wanted to find out if they already had it on their shelves. There are a few kid-friendly mountains to climb in the area surrounding Schroon Lake.

By going online, I discovered that three public libraries in three different towns were sharing one copy of her book. That information led me to believe that state funding for libraries was an issue.

Nevertheless, when I went there to pass the time, I found a modest but thorough selection of garden books on their shelves -  enough to inspire me to push the creative boundaries of my garden back home.

Years later, I shared with a friend the pleasure that I received from the gardens I created and he, the editor of the internationally read book review site, asked if I would review gardening books for his readers.

After posting my first review, he contacted me to tell me how much he enjoyed my writing and inquired if I had given any thought to creating a blog about gardening.

From my first ever book review; he concluded that I had a writer’s voice. That came as a surprise to me because I had never written before. Nevertheless, his words were complimentary and inspiring. Over time, his encouragement for me to explore my newfound writing skills was unrelenting. Eventually, I created this blog. In addition to posting to Bookpleasures, I made my reviews an integral part of my site.

However, from continuously reading books to review and then keeping them for myself, I ran out of space on my bookshelves and there was no room for additional publications. I thought that I might solve the problem by donating books as fundraisers to garden clubs I addressed. However, I accumulated books faster than I was hired to speak.

The only permanent solution was to clean house. To help me decide what to keep and what to give away, I divided my gardening book collection into two sections. In one pile, I placed those that continue to make me a better gardener and that I wanted to keep, and in the other, I placed those that, once reviewed, I was happy to hand out to others. Unfortunately, not one of my friends, relatives, or neighbors enjoys reading such publications. Sadly, none is into gardening to the extent that I am.

Occasionally, when online blogging colleagues commented that they enjoyed a review that I posted and that they were adding a specific book to their wish list, I was tempted to send them my copy. However, I was forced to curb that enthusiasm because many of my colleagues live in the USA. Sending them parcels from Canada is costly.

Then, I remembered my pleasant summer reading experiences and decided that it was time to pay back, or pay it forward, as the colloquial sayings go.

This summer, I delivered over twenty garden books to the Schroon Lake Public Library. I plan to make this donation an annual activity. If only one person discovers my collection and is inspired to plant a perennial flowerbed, vegetable plot, or terraced container garden, then all the heavy lifting to remove the collection from my home, pack it into the car, and carry it up one flight of stairs to the librarian’s desk, will have been worth the effort. Gardening isn’t only about growing; it’s also about sharing.


Fifteen Low-Growing White Flowering Plants


After reading last week’s post about a white and green garden, a fellow blogger asked for recommendations for low-growing white plants.

Using a cut-off point of approximately 12 inches, I have compiled a list suggesting those plants wherein most, but not all, will grow reliably in my zone of USDA 4 [equivalent to Zone 5 for Canadians].

Readers who would like to supplement the list that appears below with additional suggestions for white-flowering plants, that grow up to 12 inches tall, but suitable for warmer climates, are invited to submit recommendations in the comment section at the foot of this post. I'm certain that my fellow blogger will be most appreciative.

Plants that are considered to be aggressive or self-seeders have been omitted from the list of fifteen; however, rock-garden plants that spread or sprawl almost-to-eternity are included because, when they bloom, they are breathtakingly beautiful.

Like most plant lists, this one provides names of those that might be unsuitable for some eco- climates. Therefore, technical details for each should be sourced online to determine if one’s growing conditions are compatible. A plant name with an asterisk* indicates that it has not yet been tested in my garden.

Most of the suggested plants flower in spring or early summer. However, the three plants, Achillea ptarmica Ballerina, Armeria maretima, and Rosa chinensis all have a remarkably long bloom period.

Achillea ptarmica Ballerina 12-18 inches

Anemone canadensis* 15 inches

Arabis caucasica 8 inches

Arenaria Montana 2-4 inches

Armeria maretima alba 4-6 inches

Aruncus aethusifolus 8-12 inches

Bergenia Bressingham White 12-16 inches

Campanula carpatica White Clips 6-12 inches

Dianthus deltoids Alba 8 inches

Dicentra Ivory Hearts 10-12 inches

Geranium sanguinem album 10-18 inches

Phlox subulata white 6 inches

Pulmonaria Sissinghurst White 12 inches

Saxifraga arendsii 4-6 inches

Rosa chinensis white [miniature rose] 12-18 inches


A White and Green Garden That Flows

Philadelphus Minnesota Snowflake, appreciation for gardens planted in a white and green color scheme did not come easily. It has been a learning process that required several years of research and personal education. The photo essays of the iconic White Gardens at Sissinghurst in the UK were merely that, photo essays; they did not inspire me. Instead, I was actually puzzled by the owner’s intentions.

However, I was set straight by reading about the goals of contemporary designers, who can and do successfully execute white and green garden themes. Much of that came from studying the opinions and  images from garden blogging colleagues around the world, over a period of four years.

This season, therefore, when a new client, asked for a garden makeover and insisted that green and white be the only two colors I could use, I was prepared and empowered.

Phlox paniculata David,,cora-louiseI was commissioned to plant a garden of my own design with the understanding that, in the even that it did not please the client, I would redo it. The homeowner and I were on a journey to discover a garden that she could feel but could not articulate or sketch. In order to avoid any frustration and disappointment on my part, later on, I psyched myself up for the very strong possibility that a great number of plants would be rejected after planting and replaced. They were.

The client, a successful businessperson in her own right, is hands-on and in control of most projects that she undertakes. However, she knew nothing about gardening. All she had was a personal vision, without the technical vocabulary to describe it. My mission, therefore, was to help her find a way to establish creative ownership of her garden.

I began by working with a selection of plants far greater than that which her flowerbeds could hold. Then my staff and I planted, rearranged, discarded, and replaced where necessary.

By giving the client more choices than she needed, with enough plants to either welcome or banish, I was able to engage her imagination and intentionally provoke her to critique our work, all the while encouraging her to develop a personal vocabulary to express her garden needs. With time, this ritual would empower her to oversee the garden’s design and in the end she discovered her garden voice.

Sprawling Rosa Alba meidiland, surprised me was the realization that the homeowner, without any formal education in the elements of design, let alone gardening, understood the importance of movement. She wanted her garden to flow. In one instance, the most beautiful, most expensive plants were rejected because they impeded this movement.

Flow meant that the eye was to move through the garden, seamlessly, and that there would be no symmetry in the flowerbeds to create a static, visual experience. If the scanning eye stopped abruptly, the plant or plants that it fixed upon were either moved or removed.

My intention had been not only to -  literally -  give my client the flowerbeds of her dreams, but also to stimulate her creative potential, as it relates to gardening. I learned about this process when I first read Fran Sorin's book, Digging Deep. The idea that every person has a creative side to their personality, no matter how hard they protest to the contrary, seemed revolutionary at the time that I read Fran’s words. Now, after coaxing creativity out of countless clients, I appreciate even more her powerful insight into human nature.

Rhododendron Catawabiense album, white and green garden I agreed to deliver could not be a cookie cutter or formula project. There was no preconceived plan in my repertoire to depend on. Nor was there a good old reliable template to whip out and recycle. I had to start from square one.

I began with a few background shrubs to give the white flowers a rich green environment in which to glow. My only restriction here was to avoid evergreen conifers. However, broad-leaved evergreens, such as Buxus, Ilex, and white-blooming Rhododendron were permitted. I also included a Philadelphus Minnesota Snowflake as an eventual anchor plant, when it grows to maturity, because its white flowers are delightful both to admire and to inhale. And the contrast of the white petals on the dark green foliage is enchanting. Then we added a layer of dwarf, deciduous, white blooming shrubs.

White Itoh peony Cora Louise,,cora-louiseIncluded in this assortment are Weigela White Knight, Itea Little Henry, and white Potentilla. In between and in front of them, we planted white shrub roses, one growing vertical and one horizontal, white Itoh peonies, an hydrangea, pale cream hemerocallis, white astillbe, and white phlox paniculata in both short and tall varieties.

In order to allow all plants to grow exponentially, some empty negative spaces remained. Into them, we inserted a combination of the annual flower white Cleome and perennials white Persicaria Polymorpha and pink Eupatorium atropurpurea. The client agreed to Eupatorium for the first season even though it flowers in light pink only because I needed a temporary stopgap. 

I expect that in the end, the Persicaria will have to go because its eventual verticality will impede flow. However, if the client appreciates the soft pastel shade of Eupatorium, that plant might remain because it’ produces rounded, frothy flower heads that echo the shapes of the nearby Buxus.Together the fluffiness and repetition combine to enhance the sense of flow.

As I write this report, the garden has already been tweaked several times; I removed some plants because they did not seem appropriate, and the client pointed out others that did not work for her. Now, as we wait for the blooming of one of the two white roses that still hasn’t bloomed this season, the client has already indicated that she is pleased with the overall appearance of the garden. Flow has been achieved.  


Astilbe Amethyst: Another Awesome Perennial

The Astilbe family is one of  the politest collection of flowering perennials. Not only do these plants grow almost maintenance-free, but they bloom in colors that cooperate, behave, and blend in well with practically every garden color scheme.

With bloom periods ranging from June until September, one can enjoy this plant all season long. In addition, the heights of different Astilbes vary so greatly, that an assorted collection, randomly planted in a flowerbed, might resemble scattered notes on sheet music. No wonder landscape architects use them, albeit sparingly, when they are obliged to add neat flowers to their serene, green plant compositions.

Astilbes grow in, tight, upright clumps that increase in size slowly. There are no spreading roots systems that require controlling, no messy sprawl, no staking of its flowering, feathery spikes, almost no pest, bug, or fungus problems, no additional nutrients required, no winter protection, and in colder climates, no exponential growth from one season to the next.

In fact, when the blooms have dies, the elegant, brown spiky seed heads add texture and vertical architectural detail to the garden. Furthermore, the Astilbe colors, even though they span every shade of pink, mauve, violet, red, peach, and cream - to - white, never appear garish, bold, or offensive.

However, one Astilbe does not conform to this modesty. The variety Amethyst is a scintillating pink extravaganza. It sizzles in the sun, where it ought not to be, like a display of fireworks, and glows intensely in shade and part - shade in vivid tones of lavender - pink. As a specimen plant, it is breathtaking; and when combined with other perennials in the garden, it is transformational.

At maturity, A. Amethyst reaches 40 inches in height and two feet in width. It performs best in a moist garden situated in part to full shade. However, mine is planted in damp sun, where the daylight makes the flower heads sparkle, and it is doing just fine.

I purchased  this variety last year for my test garden because I had never seen it in bloom and because the trade description suggested that it might be an ideal addition to my repertoire of elegant, tall perennials. I was not disappointed. The combination of good height, architectural presence, and intense color makes this versatile perennial a traffic stopper.