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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


A First-Frost Flower: Penstemon 'Red Rocks'.

This photo may be purchased from"".Perennials that last until the first frost are a gift for the gardener. Penstemon mexicali x "Red Rocks" is such a plant. This drought tolerant perennial, with dark evergreen leaves, grows only 15 inches tall. For what it lacks in height, it compensates in color saturation. It has been described as rose-red, magenta, and vivid-deep pink. Some have reported seeing coral-pink in the setting sun. No matter how we describe it, one cannot escape its intensity.This plant begins blooming in early summer, re- blooms in October and lasts until the first frost. For maximum enjoyment, grow it in full sun, in the front row of the flower bed. Hardy from Zones 5 to 9.


Gardeners' Lament: Sun in the Morning and Burn at Night

image courtesy of 'kids for saving"Our bodies need a certain amount of daily exposure to the sun in order to absorb essential Vitamin D. But, too much sun can lead to skin cancer. Protecting the body should be a fundamental goal of all gardeners.

Here’s how to be cautious in the sun:

1] Wear a wide brimmed hat that shades the face and neck.

2] Stand up the collar of the knit shirt you wear for gardening to protect part of the upper back and neck. Do not garden in a T shirt!

3] Try to garden before 10:30 A.M. and after 4 P.M.

4] Use both sun block and sunscreen

Sun block is a white opaque cream containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It does not disappear after application but remains visible on the skin. It should be used on burn prone and sensitive areas such as the nose, lips, ears, shoulders, back of neck, and, if you wear prescription glasses, on the cheekbones as well. [corrective lenses magnify the rays of the sun and burn the cheeks.] Sun blocks are messier than sunscreens and may stain clothing so wear dark clothes that will not be significantly damaged by stains. Alternatively, if you prefer to garden in light clothing, wear old clothes that can take staining without regret or clothes that are bleachable.

Sunscreen is a lotion that vanishes after application but still keeps on working. A high numbered sunscreen, 30, 45 or 50, should be applied to the rest of the exposed skin namely: balance of face and chin, front of neck, the area where the neck meets the chest, arms and legs. [Actually, legs ought to be covered with pants and socks to avoid ticks and poison ivy.]

5]  Keep a squeezable container of Aloe Vera gel in the medicine cabinet.  Apply it after gardening on clean skin to areas that might have received too much sun.This preventive measure sometimes helps to avoid the burning discomfort that occurs at nightfall.

6] On very hot days, store bottles of water in a small picnic cooler filled with ice. Keep the cooler in a wheelbarrow so that it is handy at all times or use a cooler on wheels. Drink often! Rinse a hand towel in cold water, wring it out and store it in the cooler. Use it to mop a dripping forehead because the combination of perspiration and sunscreen may sting the eyes. Apply the cold towel to the back of the neck to cool down.


Annuals for Perennials

I live in Zone 5a where Verbena Bonariensis grows as an annual from early summer to late fall. It reaches maturity by August with a height of 3 to 5 feet and a width of 1 to 2 feet. This is an airy filler plant with tall upright branching stems that weave up through other flowers and ornamental grasses. It is most effective growing in the middle of the flower border with a backdrop of taller plants behind it. Use it in front of Perovskia [Russian Sage] and see how the combination of silver blue Perovskia and lavender blue Verbena creates an almost ethereal effect. It was photographed below in early summer in combination with other  plants, when the Perovskia was still in its infancy. This photo is courtesy of Ms.Violette Sauriol, horticultural foreperson of the Parks Department of the City of Cote St Luc, in Quebec, Canada.


Be Prepared: Handy Gardening Tools.

Here is a list of what flower gardeners keep in their tool sheds.

1] Trowel: This is a small hand tool used for digging holes for bulbs, annuals and young perennials. If you don’t own a specific tool for digging out weeds, this will make a good temporary substitute. Always select a trowel with an ergonomically shaped handle that allows the strongest arm muscles to do the work while keeping the joints in a natural position. If you suffer from arthritis, select a trowel with handles that are wider than normal [about 1 3/8 inches in diameter].

2]  Short - Handled Spade: A square shaped spade, with a D-shaped handle  that can be used for edging, digging holes for plants, trees and bushes and for digging up perennials.

3] Long - Handled, Round - Pointed Shovel: For digging compacted soil, slicing through roots and for digging out deeply set plants.

4] "Toolstep" or "Trenchfoot."

This is a new product that slides over the spade handle to rest on the head of the blade to form a wider step. The additional width lessens the stress on the sole and arch of the foot when pushing down on the blade. This product is useful if you plan to do a lot of digging. Sold as "Trenchfoot" in the U.S.A., it is available online from the Garden Gate Magazine Store. In Canada, it is known as "Toolstep" and is available online from Lee Valley Tools.

5] Bypass Hand pruner: A pruner is used to deadhead flowers, trim stems, stalks and branches and to cut flowers for indoor use.This is a multipurpose tool and a most important one for keeping a perennial garden tidy. Look for ergonomically shaped handles that are coated in plastic to create a comfortable grip.

6] Weeder: A weeder may be a long or short-handled tool for digging up weeds. This tool is available in many models, some dating back to the Middle Ages. Choose whatever style appeals to you because there is no ultimate weeding tool. Hard packed soil makes weeding difficult so moisten or aerate the earth before starting that chore.

7] Wheelbarrow: Transporting shrubs, tools and earth is hard work. Lighten the load by using a wheelbarrow. Your back will thank you.

8] Garden Hose: The hose should be long enough to bring water to the farthest point of the garden.

9] Adjustable Hose Nozzle: Newly planted vegetation and freshly sown seeds need watering. Ideally, a watering can is best because it delivers water gently. However, a hose, adjusted for low water pressure and attached to a nozzle that is tuned to a fine mist, works just as well and requires less effort.

10] Gardening Gloves: Gloves keep hands and fingernails clean, prevent the formation of hand callouses and protect hands from thorns. Rugged gloves are best for digging with a trowel, shovel or spade but they do not allow for fine work such as planting seedlings. Soft leather gloves made from goat skin or pig skin mold to the hand and allow full use of fine motor skills. They are not easily found and are usually sold in women’s sizes only. Don’t give up the search! Once you’ve tried them, you won’t want to wear anything else on your hands.

11] Kneeling Pad: Something must come between the ground and your kneecaps. A flat spongy kneeling pad is more comfortable than wearing knee pads.

Quality of Tools: Buy the best quality that your budget allows. Better tools last longer and make work easier.


Annuals for Perennials

Blue Salvia "Victoria" may be a late bloomer in spring but it lasts for a long time. While many annuals are spent by the end of August, this one continues to pump out brilliant color until the first frost. Use it in a mass planting to create a powerful blue statement or distribute it among pale perennials where its intense violet - blue color helps showcase lemon - yellows and pinks. Flowers grow on sturdy spikes in sun or part shade to a height of 16 or 18 inches. I have been using  this excellent border plant as accent color in my perennial gardens for years. It has never disappointed.