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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.

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The Bold and Brilliant Gardener: Book Review for

The Bold and Brilliant Garden by Sarah Raven, Photographs by Jonathan Buckley, Frances Lincoln

A book arrived by post this morning, on the shortest day of the year, when the sky was dreary, the temperature had dipped below minus twelve degrees centigrade and fifteen centimeters of snow were predicted to fall. The unwrapping of the book was the equivalent of lighting a bonfire in my living room. It arrived at the best moment to warm and illuminate the day.

This publication is about color; not about any color and not about the colors we traditionally associate with polite flower gardens. This is a book about sizzling color that sets a flower garden ablaze. In the introduction, the author declares that the use of bold and brilliant color is the result of a need to redefine the palette of her own garden. Having tired of “delicate” color schemes, she was ready for “passionate”. However, when these strong colors were introduced into her garden, they turned out to be either too rich or too dark and needed brightening up in order to set them off. To achieve the desired color saturation, the author began to mix tomato-soup red flowers with purples, orange with magentas and crimsons with gold. As a background for these intense combinations, she used acid green and silver plants to achieve the most eye popping results.

The introduction of the book ends with a double page montage of the twenty four vivid flowers that the author relies upon to create brilliance. Sorted into an eye catching color sequence, they range from blue Meconopsis to red Allium, from purple Salvia to scarlet Poppy, from ruby Clematis to tangerine Arctotis and from gold Helianthus to acid green Euphorbia. Never heard of some of these plants? Never mind! By the time you’ve finished reading this book, these flowers will have seared themselves into memory and you will never again look at a garden in the same way.

Readers with an appreciation for music will enjoy the author’s metaphors. Traditional gardens with delicate coloring are compared to the string section of an orchestra, while richly colored gardens are referred to as the brass section. The deep red flowers that give a garden its overall structure are called base notes, while the adjective “jazzy” is used to describe any vivid colored flower.

The main body of the book is an exposition on how to use intensely colored plants in each of the growing seasons. And, within a season, the plants are sub divided into those suitable for damp grounds and into those that require sun, shade or partial shade. Sprinkled through out the book, are care instructions for high maintenance plants such as Roses and Dahlias, as well as advice on staking flowers and soil preparation. Each page is brimming with detailed information about recommended flowers, suitable companion plants to create vividness, anecdotal details about the personalities of the suggested flowers and intensely colored photos.

Another helpful feature of the book is the use of colored blueprints to help the reader plan gardens similar to those illustrated in the book. These suggested layouts include a list and quantity of the plants required, as well as a guide to where they should be planted in relation to other flowers. The essence of the author’s advice is that bright colors need strongly shaped flowers to showcase their vividness; and that dramatic foliage, texture and fragrance are also required to create a sensory balance.

A gardening publication needs beautiful pictures, as well; this book takes garden illustration to such a higher level that it is necessary to acknowledge the photographer, Jonathan Buckley. His brilliant colored photos are imbued with finely textured details that allow us to touch the flowers with our eyes.

Read more book reviews at



Web Photos That I Like

Artist/photographer Stuart Koslov finds abstract compositions in nature. This picture was taken in upstate New York, U.S.A. and is titled "Daisies at Sunset, Alder Meadow Marsh." Click on the image to see more of the artist's work or to purchase a copy of this photo for your collection.


The Gigantic Geranium, a Very Reliable Perennial

Of all the perennials that grow in my garden, Geranium Psilostemon, or Armenian Cranesbill, is my favorite. If ever I should move from my present home, this is the one plant I will dig up and take with me.

I first noticed this majestic perennial in the book “Antique Flowers: Perennials” by Rob Proctor. It caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, I was on a hunt for intensely colored pink plants. Secondly, its vibrant black eyes gave it an iridescence not normally seen in perennials. It just popped off the page.There are two great pictures of it in ”Best Borders” by Tony Lord while in Penelope Hobson’s book ”Flower Gardens”, it appears no less than three times:

None of the nurseries in my area sold the plant but I was fortunate to find it online. In the first season in my garden it did not reach the spectacular growth seen in the books. However, the color was true to the photographs. It's an intense magenta pink rarely seen in perennials and the black eyes popped out at me from my garden just as they did in the books. By year two, its growth was impressive and by the third year, it was awesome, reaching three feet high and two and a half feet wide.

If allowed to flop over, this large geranium makes an unusual and tall ground cover. It does not spread rampantly and nothing can penetrate its foliage. However, when staked to grow upright, it gives new meaning to the term “wow factor”. Unlike other geraniums that last for a few weeks, this one blooms for two months.

If there is empty space in my flower beds, the geranium will self-seed there; but not aggressively. Over the years I have found many welcome offspring that transplant easily. I use them as gifts to my clients. It gives their gardens an exclusive look while making a bold statement. Whenever I require more plants than were self seeded, I split the roots of the mother plant in September and replant on the spot. The mature leaves wither immediately from shock, but by the end of October, new shoots appear from the neck of the new plant to confirm that the propagation has been successful. Plants that are divided in the spring may not flower the first season.

This is a plant that keeps on giving. Notice the richly colored autumn foliage on the right side of the double photo above.This perennial can be purchased from Hortico or Fraser's Thimble Farms. A word of advice: No web photo can do this plant justice, not even the image above. You have to grow it to know it. Thanks to for the photo.

Click here to read an update on this perennial.


When I Made Compost, the Worms Ate My Lasagna!

click on the image to learn more about worms in the garden.Preparing a flower or vegetable bed in hard packed clay used to be back-breaking work. Today, professional gardeners frown upon digging into clay in order to improve it. Some recommend a no-work method that allows the gardener to conserve strength. That process is called Comforter Composting or Batch Composting. It has also been labeled “The Lasagna Method” because of the layering technique used to create arable land. Here's how it’s done:-

1] Start in early spring.

2] Using an aerosol paint spray or garden hose, delineate the desired shape of the growing bed directly on top of the clay, grass, or weed patch.

3] Sprinkle that designated area with garden lime [calcium carbonate] and/or Dolomite [calcium magnesium carbonate] and/or Gypsum [calcium sulphate] and/or blood meal. Use whatever is easily available; try to add at least two. However, be concerned about commercial blood meal. It is no longer as nutritious as it was twenty years ago.

4] Cover with ½ inch layer peat moss or reconstituted compacted coir

5] Cover peat moss/coir with any of the following: two sheets of newspaper, supermarket brown paper bags, paper towels or contents of a paper shredder.

6] Moisten paper layer.

7] Over the wet paper, spread a 3 inch layer of green garden waste including grass clipping followed by decomposed leaves [if available].

8] Sprinkle with nitrogen-based Compost Accelerator and moisten. The accelerator is optional; the moistening is necessary.

9] Add a 1 inch layer of any good compost [homemade is better but store bought will do; Marine Compost or Forest Compost is preferred] and moisten.

10] Cover with 1 inch of any type of garden soil but not clay.

Repeat the layering procedure beginning at step 4, until the new garden bed reaches a height of 15 or 25 inches, depending on which of the following two options is preferred.

Option A: When the 15 inch “lasagna” decomposes, the clay beneath it will be sufficiently malleable to blend clay and compost together with a 4-pronged digging fork. By autumn the mixture will make an excellent growing medium, ready for planting.

Option B: To avoid the hard work of blending clay and compost, make sure from the outset that the “lasagna” will be 25 inches high. By starting  with a higher “lasagna” in the spring, one may ignore the clay underneath and plant directly into the new raised flower bed in autumn.

Both the 15 and 25 inch “lasagna” will benefit from continuous build-up of layers throughout the following growing season as more organic matter becomes available. In late autumn both will also benefit from additional layers that will over-winter.

Three more tips:-

- Keep the “lasagna” moist all season.

- Used coffee grinds, crushed egg shells, stale snacks and munchies and any other non-aromatic organic matter make a tasty addition to the “lasagna” recipe as long as they are buried under soil.

- Stubborn and perennial weeds that reappear and cannot be removed should be sprayed with any brand of controversial glysophate-based systemic weed killer, if such a product is still available.

Now what does this have to do with worms?

First, true blood meal sprinkled directly onto the clay surface makes that soil even more attractive to worms. When they burrow into clay, worms aerate the soil, making it easier for plant roots to take hold there. Second, all living organisms in the earth, including bugs and worms, eat decomposing organic matter and eliminate their body waste into their surroundings. Worm waste is the best fertilizer!


Enjoy Early Spring Blossoms Indoors

The apple blossom in early spring Fran Sorin tells us how in her book, Digging Deep.

Branches of spring flowering trees and shrubs can be forced to bloom indoors. Depending on the zone you live in, the forcing should be done in late winter or early spring when the buds are still closed tightly. Here’s what to do:-

1] Harvest branches with sharp diagonal cuts.

2] Remove all leaves and buds from the bottom eight inches of the branches.

3] Fill a pail half way with tepid water; place branches in pail.

4] Store in a cool spot away from the sun.

5] Change the water every second day.

6] Once buds start blooming, transfer branches to a vase filled with water and enjoy.