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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


Web Photos I Like

Here is a striking perennial combination with lemon-yellow Hemerocallis from Kilmalu Gardens on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Magenta Teucrium hyrcanicum grows in the foreground with Sedum and lavender- pink Liatris in the background. The yellow day lily is "Lemon Madelaine" and grows to 44 inches in height. Kilmalu is an official display garden of the American Hemerocallis Society.


The English Garden: Book Review for

The English Garden, Phaidon Press 

One should not call a garden “English” without specifying the century or the designer’s name attached to it. Each age brought its own interpretation to the landscape surrounding the proverbial English manor.This publication, which is encyclopedic in its coverage of English gardens, teaches us that every landowner asked something different from his landscape designer. Furthermore, what comes to mind as a traditional English garden may be English in origin but is certainly not what some of us might call a “garden”.

What the English call gardens is what North Americans call estates or parks.These are not back yard venues.They were, for the most part, until the latter half of the twentieth century, vast landscaped acreage. Sometimes the contours of these terrains were sculpted into the vision of the landscaper and sometimes they respected the natural formations of the land. In either case, landowners had the necessary wealth to modify nature, if they so wished.That is a revealing factor that is often overlooked.

In olden times, a garden might be a large cow-grazing pasture whose borders began at the foundations of an elaborate country manor. This garden would extend for several acres. It also might have been a messy cottage garden, filled with edible crops and herbs, growing outside the kitchen door of an otherwise elaborate estate.These gardens wered filled with flowering plants whose purpose was never intended to be esthetic; they were intended to control pests. In another instance, a garden might consist of intricate geometric shapes sprinkled, maze like, on the expansive grounds of a stately home, purely decorative in essence, but otherwise very impressive not only for the expense required to create it but also for the high cost of its maintenance.

While there is a disconnect between today’s modest weekend gardener who can only admire the gardens in this book and the land owner who can afford to replicate them, there are some lessons that all of us can learn from this historical overview. The most accessible are those gardens that have been created from the late nineteenth century onwards. From Munstead Wood, designed by Gertrude Jekyll, we learn about impressionist floral landscapes “painted” in romantic color schemes. More recent designers such a Piet Oudolf, Beth Chatto and Tom Stuart-Smith have taken a modern approach and have used plants to create powerful abstract paintings that move across meadow and lawn.These landscapers, working in the latter half of the twentieth century, reflect contemporary values about color combinations that would have been considered visually dissonant fifty years earlier.

While most of the landscapers in this book are worthy of mention, two deserve special attention. One is the late Dame Miriam Rothschild, who converted her neat estate into a wildflower meadow and invented, along the way, a popular wild flower seed mix called Farmer’s Nightmare! The other landscaper of note is Tim Smit who discovered an overgrown garden at Heligan, which had been neglected for over a hundred years. Rather than restore it, he cut through some of the growth to barely expose a beautiful, but haunting, ‘lost’ garden which he successfully converted into a tourist destination.

It is inspiring for the suburban gardener to learn that world class garden designers working in Britain today are also designing  gardens for small spaces.The utilitarian value of a back yard garden, as an oasis within the inner city and as a venue to entertain guests, has inspire some designers to include furniture and to introduce rock and metal into these mini landscapes. Often, dramatic lighting is incorporated, as well, to reflect the fashion of entertaining outdoors after dark.

While this is ostensibly a picture book, it is also by inference a socioeconomic survey of English society. The text that accompanies each illustration, offers a cameo of the age in which each garden was created. This is an added bonus, easily overlooked by the reader who might chose only to admire the photographs. I was delighted to read the text as I gained some insight into the mind set of the land owners that commissioned the gardens and the landscapers that created them.These historical footnotes to the pictures enrich the book and make for a fascinating read.

When I began reviewing gardening books, I assumed that there was no need to cover the works of the romantic gardeners of the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries who, up until recently, have been so influential in shaping our tastes in garden design. So much has been written about them, that there didn’t seem to be anything left to say. However, by placing them into an historical perspective, as the editors of this book have done, we gain a greater appreciation for their role. And, by juxtaposing them with contemporary modernists, who speak to us in a more current voice, we come to appreciate the radical evolution in garden design that is taking place in our lifetime.

Read my other reviews at



Eating My Words

Some time ago I posted a blog about deer-proofing the garden. I offered suggestions about plants deer would not eat and linked the reader to another website that elaborated on thisThis photo appears in the February 2009 issue of Garden Gate eNotes. Click on the image to read what I argue against. subject. I take it all back! Actually, I’ve deleted that entry.

For those of us that love perennial gardens, having to plant items that deer will avoid is counterproductive. A beautiful garden requires that the gardener decides what to plant, not the deer. Furthermore, no one should be compelled to add deer repellent substances or electronic shock equipment to their property.

Perennial gardening has never been about acquiescing to nature. Historically, it has always been about taking charge. Most of the flowers that we plant are not native to our environment.They were discovered elsewhere and brought first to Europe and then to North America. Beautiful perennial gardens, therefore, are the result of manipulating nature and we should continue to do so until we have created the gardens we desire.To achieve our goals, we need to build a physical barrier to stop the deer from grazing on our land.

There is a high price tag attached to landscaping a property.To that cost, I suggest we add the price of installing a deer-proof fence that will enclose the garden.This extra step will ensure that desired flowers will grow where we want them. One should not have to worry about deer eating up our considerable investment.

For most regions, a fence that is seven feet high is essential to stop deer from leaping into the garden. Ideally, a fence that blocks the deer’s view of the garden is best. Second best would be a wooden fence with repetitive openings large enough to allow the garden admirer to see through but small enough to keep the deer out.

Not every gardener will be happy to install a visible fence. And not every gardener will have the budget for it. Alternatively, one can install a wire fence that is almost invisible. Gardeners that want to maintain a sense of the "wide open spaces" might find this option more attractive. Another advantages of the invisible fence system is that it has been designed so that gardeners can install it themselves. It is lightweight, easy to install, and above all, economical.

In the April 2009 edition of Canadian Gardening Magazine, on page 67, there is a photograph of a perennial garden smack in the middle of moose country.The owner of this property had tried using repellents without success and found a fence to be the only way to keep deer out of her garden. A tall sturdy lattice-type window pane fence surrounds this beautiful perennial garden and allows the visitor to see through the fence to appreciate the rustic meadows beyond. The fence not only protects the garden from deer and moose but also delineates the flower beds by giving them a visual anchor. Wooden structures in gardens are frequently used by landscapers to enhance a garden scene. That is exactly what the fence does for this garden. It blends in with the overall spirit of the garden.

If a visible fence is not to ones liking, or is too costly, in this same issue of the magazine, there is an ad on page 97 for virtually invisible deer fencing, manufactured by Benner's Gardens, that is available both in Canada and the U.S.A.

The virtually invisible fence is being used successfully in the following public places in Canada:The Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington,Ontario,The Horticultural Centre of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, and Niagara Parks in Niagara Falls,Ontario.


Web Photos I Like

From the photo gallery called "Terrific Perennial Combination" at the site of Perennial, comes this beautiful combination consisting of deep blue Iris sibirica “Caesar’s Brother”  growing behind Tanacetum “ Robinson Rose” in the foreground.


Hydrangeas are Flowering Shrubs That Work

Hydrangea Pinky Winky is a trademarked product of the "Proven Winners" brand.Try to imagine a flowering shrub on steroids. There is no other way to describe Hydrangea Pinky Winky.The flowers on this plant are the largest ever seen on a hydrangea bush and its coloration will add a few beats to your heart rate.This shrub blooms from midsummer until frost and its flowers cover the plant completely. Strong upright red stems support two-toned white and pink, conical shaped flowers that don’t droop.These massive flower heads measure between 12 to 16 inches in length and continue to grow all season long. As the older flowers at the bottom of the cone turn dark pink [almost wine], the new flowers at the tip emerge white.

The plant is described as a bi-color hydrangea, but from afar, it seems like a tri-color plant because the flowers appear to  change from white to light pink and then to dark pink.This shrub will grow to 7 or 8 feet tall in full sun or part shade and is adaptable to all types of soil. It will even tolerate drought. In some markets, this shrub is offered as a tree standard that makes an awesome garden specimen. Planting three or five of these flowering standards in a row will give any garden a “wow” factor that one must see to believe.

I first noticed this plant as a tree standard. It was used to landscape the entrance to a luxurious condominium. Five standards were planted in a row on each side of the walkway leading to the front door. The visual effect in August was stunning. Since then, I have incorporated both the tree and the shrub varieties in my design projects with great success.

This amazing plant is offered to the market by the innovative and adventurous growers at ”Proven Winners” who make it so easy for us to beautify our gardens.