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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


Where Do I Start? Gardening Advice from Fran Sorin

The best advice, for taking the first steps in gardening, is to be found in the book “Digging Deep” by Fran Sorin. With very minor adaptations of my own, here are her suggestions:

1] When the garden plan is final and you are ready to proceed, start with the big items such as patios, pathways and large structures, such as pergolas and trees.

2] Whenever you are unsure about the size or numbers of plants, always go larger and bolder than you originally think.

3] For small gardens, use no less than three of one perennial specimen. For very larger gardens, no less than five.

4] Work in odd numbers when planting perennials. Odd numbered configurations hit the eye better.

5] If the garden is large enough, plant bushes in groups of three or more unless you are using them as an architectural statement.

6] Always know what the spread and mature height of a tree will be before you plant it.

7] Plant in flowing, wavelike lines [not in straight rows, unless it’s a vegetable garden].There are no straight lines in nature.

8] Consider leaf texture, shape, size, and color when deciding which plants to put where.

9] Place largest plants at the back of the borders and garden beds; smaller plants in front.

10] Think ahead - try to incorporate different plants that will give your garden four seasons of growth

11] Always water your plants before putting them into the ground.

Visit Fran Sorin’s website; Buy her book “Digging Deep” at


And Now for Something Different: a Perennial to Knock Your Socks Off!

Cephalaria gigantea or Scabiosa gigantea. As the name suggests, this is a giant perennial with a Scabiosa flower head, only taller. It will grow 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide; so give it lots of room to bloom. Flowers are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and range in color, depending on growing conditions, from creamy white to bright yellow. Its long stems make it a good cut flower.This is a dramatic background perennial for deep gardens with vast perspectives. However, its coarse appearance requires that it be partially camouflaged by other plants. European gardeners have been successfully using this perennial in the back row of their flower beds for quite some time. It is now available in North America, but not yet well-known.This plant requires moist fertile soil that is well drained. It also needs full sun; otherwise it will flop over. Be prepared to stake it with unobtrusive fencing using transparent fishing twine and tall stakes.To prolong blooming, deadhead flowers regularly. After stems are spent, cut them down to the ground and trim foliage for a tidier appearance. Plant is hardy from zones 3a to 9b and is attractive to birds and butterflies.


The Complete Compost Gardening Guide: Book Review for

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide  Barbara Pleasant & Deborah L.Martin, Storey Publishing

The hedgehog that lives in my back yard has let me know, in his own way, that purchasing a compost bin with a ground level opening is not a good idea. He already eats everything tasty in my garden, so access to compostable kitchen scraps will only create a feast for him and a mess for me. The solution would be to invest in a rotary compost bin that prevents animals from climbing inside. Not a good idea! While I would like to do my part to save the planet, spending a lot of money on equipment contradicts the idea of going green.

That is why the arrival of this book on my doorstep was so welcome. It only took the reading of a few pages to realize that there are many ways to compost without spending a lot of money. At first glance, I thought that this publication was targeting the commercial farmer, but on closer inspection, I discovered that this book has so much to offer the recreational gardener as well.

What I like best about this book is the scholarly method with which the subject of composting is introduced and expanded upon, in incremental sub topics, until the totality of the subject has been examined. The essential message in this publication is that anyone’s back yard or farm can easily become a “compost- generating system” by simply following a few steps to create the right environment for organic matter to break down.

The first three chapters discuss the fundamentals by reviewing the science of composting, the tools needed and the materials that are helpful. The book gets really interesting when the various techniques of composting are discussed. In this section we are introduced to four methods of composting. Here is where we personalize the book by selecting the procedure or procedures that best suit our landscape, our skills and our needs. Farmers with large quantities of waste vegetation may opt for one process while the weekend gardener might choose another.

The first method is called “banner batches”. This is composting that takes place in heaps or enclosures. The second method is referred to as “comforter compost and grow heaps” This is a labor saving procedure that requires one to simply pile garden waste in layers, moisten and allow nature to do the rest.The next method discussed is called underground composting. In this procedure, holes in the ground are filled with organic material, covered with earth and allowed to decompose. The last method is called ‘vermicompost” which uses worms to convert waste into compost.

The final section of the book discussed how plants can interact with compost by growing in or near a compost heap. Some plants are enriched by growing close by and some plants enrich the heap itself by growing in it. In all, fifteen plants are recommended, each one being suitable for one of the four composting methods discussed in the book.

While composting is a science, at no point in the book does the writing become technical. The publication is written for the layperson in a friendly and easy-to-read style. It almost makes the reader feel that we are visiting the authors on a farm and learning from them as they go about their work.



Easy Care Perennials

Astilbe x arendsii Cattleya is one of the tallest varieties, at 40 inches in height. It blooms in midsummer.Astilbe.  This perennial deserves its own “How To“ manual if only to cover the large variety of colors, heights and blooming periods. With strategic planning, an assortment of different varieties of Astilbe will perform all summer long. All they need is light shade or filtered sun and moist soil.

The key to success is to focus first on blooming time. Astilbes such as Deutschland [white] 24 inches tall, Peach Blossom [salmon] 20 inches tall and Reinland [pink] 24 inches tall, all bloom in early summer.

Astilbes that bloom in midsummer include Arendsi Amethyst, growing to 40 inches in height, Fanal [carmine red] to 24 inches and Jump and Jive [magenta] to 20 inches.

Late blooming Astilbes include chinensis Superba [purple] at 36 inches tall, Diament [white] at 32 inches  and Visions [pink] at 16 inches. Included in this late group is my favorite, Astilbe thunbergia, Ostrich Plume [claret red] at 36 inches tall. The floppiness of its flower spikes adds visual interest to the flower bed.

Blooming even later is chinensis Pumila [mauve pink] that grows to 12 inches.

All of the Astilbes mentioned here represent only a fraction of choices available to the diligent gardener. Unlike any of the other easy care perennials that are mentioned on this blog, Astilbes require a bit more attention. Organic matter should be added to the soil every season to ensure nutrition and moisture preservation. And, every three years, they need to be dug up and divided to maintain their vigor.

Landscape architects plant Astilbes in sinewy drifts in shade gardens. Spectacular results can also be achieved by combing them with other shade perennials as their color palettes makes them versatile companions. Astilbe flowers are soft plumes and the deep green foliage is fernlike and glossy. This perennial adds attractive texture to the shade garden even when not in bloom. Spent plumes may be lefy uncut during winter for visual appeal. This plant is suitable for zones 4 to 8.


Easy Care Perennials: Some Plants Thrive in Spite of Neglect.

Agastache “Blue Fortune”. This fragrant perennial loves the sun and heat, is drought tolerant after the second year of growth, deer-resistant and hardy from Zones 5a to 9b. It will grow from 2 to 3 feet tall and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant likes a well-drained soil that is not too rich. It blooms with many powder-blue spikes from mid summer until October. Birds love its seeds but gardeners do not. Agastache is an aggressive reseeder and is considered invasive. However, the new seedlings are easy to thin out and most gardeners report that digging up new growth is worth the effort, considering the pleasure the plant brings and the neglect it will tolerate.