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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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Growing, Gathering and Designing with Organic, Locally Grown Cut Flowers

The 50 Mile Bouquet, Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers. Debra Prinzing, David E. Perry, St. Lynn’s Press

For the same reasons that we try to buy locally grown organic food, Debra Prinzing suggests that, when buying cut flowers, we look for those that are organically grown no more than 50 miles away.

Most of us pay little attention to the fact that, over the years, cut flowers bought from florists and supermarkets have become less fragrant, and that their colors appear increasingly artificial. There are technical reasons for this. Most commercial flowers are grown overseas, at a great distance from markets and the harvest must be vigorous enough to sustain both long distances and the time necessary for their distribution.

By breeding to produce this level of vigor, odorless flowers with a lifeless appearance is the usual result. To insure the viability of these crops, the large commercial growers around the globe resort to using pesticides and manufactured fertilizers. Furthermore, with the breeding of these preferred strains has come the ability to change the appearance of the flowers so that they are more attractive at retail. However, upon close inspection, they look unreal.

Those of us who prefer our plants to be pesticide and chemical free, who care how much energy is consumed in bring the blooms to market, and who expect a fragrant flower that touches our soul, are urged to patronize flower growers closer to home. Nothing can compare to a fragrant, old fashioned, freshly harvested bloom.

Throughout the USA, but mostly on the West Coast and sprinkled around the country, dedicated flower merchants are delivering  locally grown, fragrant, cut flowers, nourished with sustainable practices. The results have been touching.

The focus of this book is to identify the growers and distributors of newfound but old style cut flowers; to encourage readers to buy them when they are local and organically produced, to grow their own, and to suggest that the florist industry strive for organic practices.

Readers will discover farmers who are producing and harvesting organic flowers all season long. They will meet representatives of the new breed of florists who source and create with environmentally respected techniques while using uncommon, fresh, and sustainably grown plants. The inspired among us will learn how to use these preferred cut flowers to create foraged bouquets and elaborate centerpieces, by sourcing from farmers markets, back yard cutting gardens, and semi-wild locations.

The theme of the publication rounds out with a list of US flower growers, floral design tips, seasonal ingredients, a floral glossary, sustainability terms, as well as a directory of farmers, designers, and other experts introduced by the writer.

After reading this book, I find it difficult to revert to buying odorless, artificial-looking cut flowers. Happily, some retailers now post a sign when their floral inventory is locally grown. Thanks to the dedicated people we meet in Debra Prinzing and David E. Perry’s inspiring work, we are making progress.



A Master Class in Designing with Ornamental Grasses, an eBook review 

Do you feel that you don’t know enough about ornamental grasses? Were you planning to enroll in a university extension course to learn more about them or, perhaps, buy a book on the subject? Now, from the comfort of your home and the convenience of your favorite electronic appliance, you can download Michael King’s two eBooks, Grasses Book One and Grasses Book Two. Together, these two volumes provide the reader with a master class in designing with ornamental grasses.

Ornamental grasses are essential to modern garden design and to the times in which we live. On one hand, their architectural forms make them ideal plants to enhance modern structures and on the other, they reflect our newfound respect for natural looking landscapes. Of late, we have come to echo this modernism and naturalist philosophy in both our private and public gardens.

Many home gardeners include grasses in the design of their flowerbeds; and public parks have used them as dominant themes in their landscaping. So significant an idiom have they become in contemporary gardening that many public spaces that incorporate them, such as The Lurie Gardens in Chicago and The High Line of New York City, have become internationally respected botanical icons.

To incorporate grasses into both private and public landscaping, fundamental information about both their nature and their potential is required. To plant them helter-skelter, the way some of us treat perennial flowers, will not do. Using grasses correctly and effectively requires prior knowledge. That, of course, is the reason to download Michael King’s two eBooks.

BOOK 1 introduces the reader to ornamental grasses, details their characteristics, and explains how they can be used in garden design. The reader will learn how their lack of bold color and their free flowing shapes help to create an illusion of naturalism in any garden. One discovers how the verticality of these plants provides a visual relief, as the eye of the garden visitor is drawn upwards rather than horizontally. Included, as well, is a survey of the best ornamental grasses for garden designs, classified by height.

BOOK 2 begins with technical information associated with growing, caring for, and sustaining ornamental grasses. The author also provides a frank overview of the drawbacks of using them and suggests how to deal with resulting negative issues. The volume then move on to a valuable demonstration on combining grasses with other plants and provides guidance on their use in designing, on integrating them into lawns, and in the creation of meadows.

With a calibrated precision rarely found in the lectures of the best educators, Michael King effectively teaches us about designing with ornamental grasses, in small, easy increments. The result is that at the end of these sumptuously illustrated two eBooks, one is as well informed on this subject, as any garden designer needs to be.

The eBooks are available online at


Burt Talks to the Bees; a three-part video.

Photo credit: cygnus921/Creative CommonsA significant amount of the plant food we eat would not be available were it not for the pollinating activities of bees. Furthermore, because they are instrumental to biodiversity, bees are what scientists call indicator species; they function as a buzzing alarm system for the health of our planet’s ecosystem.

Sadly, that alarm has been sounding for several years. Since 2006, honeybee colonies have been declining at a rate of about 30% each year. Some of that decline has been attributed to a mysterious evacuation of the hive by its workers, which eventually spells collapse for the hive, hence the name Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.

Researchers around the world have been focused on trying to solve the mystery, but most agree there is no singular threat to explain that evacuation. Rather, bees and honeybees in particular are facing a number of challenges—pollution, exposure to chemicals, disease, parasites, poor nutrition, even changes in climate. Nevertheless, the identification of CCD has elevated public attention to the valuable role that the bee plays in supporting our agricultural system.

Most scientists agree that bees need nesting habitats and a variety of healthy flower food to thrive. Unfortunately, these are in short supply. Human activity has used up most of the land that once supported bee activity; we have planted field crops from edge to edge, lawns from yard to yard and sterile ornamental perennials and shrubs where fecund plants used to grow. In most agricultural settings today, bees find only one kind of food for days and weeks on end and that is insufficient to sustain our planet.

Photo credit: burtsbees.comBurt Shavitz, co-founder of Burt’s Bees products used to be a beekeeper. His bees made the wax in the first Beeswax Lip Balm his company produced. Because he and his firm value bee activity, they collaborate with experts (Pollinator Partnership a.k.a. P2 in U.S.) and artists to encourage us to restore our environment to a bee-friendly state. We can do this by planting wild, native flowers, by adding non-sterile varieties of perennials and shrubs to our gardens, and by simply restoring into our culture an appreciation of and a respect for bees.

As P2’s Executive Director, Laurie Davies Adams, explains, “Each of us lives in a habitat, and we have the opportunity, in fact, the responsibility, to nurture and promote healthy habitat. By sharing a bit of lawn, a schoolyard, a farm border, an office landscape or a roadside with blooming pollinator-friendly plants, we create a connection that supports healthy ecosystems and a sustainable future.  All of our actions join to build something invaluable to the very plants and pollinators that feed us.”

There are many ways to draw public attention to this issue. Unfortunately, the human brain is bombarded, on a daily basis, with a large amount of competing data, that capturing anyone's attention would require innovative action.

To meet that challenge, Burt's Bees produced three short films, all titled BURT TALKS TO THE BEES. This entertaining and educational three-part series was created by Isabella Rossellini, actor, director and Burt impersonator. In these short films, the public is introduced to the bees - the queen, the workers, and the drones - in order to become familiar and sympathetic to their plight. Rossellini’s uncanny ability to combine scientific accuracy with storytelling creates a lighthearted approach to environmentalism that piques viewers’ curiosity enough to care about bees. Click to watch the videos series at

It is hoped that, by viewing and sharing these films, enough people will come to realize the important role that bees play in our food growing cycle; and that each of us will invite bees into our outdoor spaces by growing bee-friendly plants. Together, we can create mulitple bee sanctuaries; our goal being to ensure a more sustainable future for our planet.


Best Performing Perennials for USDA Zone 2, a book review

The Northern Gardener, Perennials That Survive & Thrive, Barbara Rayment, Harbour Publishing.

In northern climates, where the growing season is short, gardeners need to celebrate their flowerbeds as quickly as possible. They have no time to invest in the lengthy process of discovering a perennial’s innate personality. In unforgiving climates, therefore, gardeners appreciate forewarning about a plant’s behavior so that, during a protracted spring and summer, they can enjoy their perennial beds instead of correcting them.

Ms. Rayment successfully grows over 80 different plants in Canadian Zone 3; aka USDA Zone 2. In this handy guide for the cold climate flower gardener, she authoritatively draws upon personal experience with each plant to present the reader with one of the most truthful and well-balanced descriptions of perennials that I have ever read.

A short summer demands honesty about plant information. Revealing an intimate relationship with perennials, the author delivers both the good and the not-so-good about each one. Some are so robust that early frost kill is of no consequence; the plant will rebound quickly. A beautiful perennial may be so invasive that it will self-seed or spread vigorously. Another attractive one will secrete harmful sap that requires the gardener to wear gloves when handling.

More than 80 cold-climate hardy perennials are identified. With a warts-and-all biography for each, the gardener is assured that there will be no surprises in the flowerbed. It is also encouraging that these plants are attractive, tried-and-true perennials that require very little effort for them to flourish. Most are no-brainers, the workhorses that make us and our flowerbeds look good.

Since most books and web sites appeal to gardeners in all growing zones, it can be frustrating for those in cold climates to extract important technical details specific to their locations. What makes this guide so useful is that it pares down encyclopedic information to what is suitable for northern gardeners.

Consequently, there are specific lists of hardy perennials for wet sun, moist sun, wet shade, dry shade, and gravel or sandy soil. There are also separate lists for sunny rain, rockery, or woodlands, as well as plants that live in the extremes of soil pH and for those that are beneficial insect attractors. Readers interested in groundcovers will find lists for very low, low, mid height and tall perennials.

In order not to overwhelm the reader with the wealth of information they need, Ms. Rayment has sprinkled cautionary paragraphs and solid advice throughout the alphabetical plant biographies. In these easy-to digest nuggets, one will learn about aggressive spreaders, aphids, slugs and pest control, rodents, pets, bears, moose, clay, mulch, drought, flood and salt- tolerant plants, deer and rabbit-resistant plants, the importance of drainage, the role that ancient glacier activity played in determining the quality of northern soils, perennial maintenance, snow loads, soil texture and amendments.

This publication is also replete with so many plant photographs that northern gardeners might imagine they are paging through a catalogue created exclusively for their needs. That is exactly what the author has created. However, unlike a catalogue that only praises plants, in this book, the writer forewarns where necessary.

This is a clearly written, no-nonsense guide; the information is crisp and precise. The book is an example of the art of communication at its best; it delivers exactly what the reader needs; not a word or sentence has been wasted.



Itoh Peonies, Beet Soup, and Bold Colored Gardens.

The supplier's catalogue labeled this color Lavender Pink. It looks darker and richer in my garden. My eyes tell me that it's Purple.In my quest for knowledge about Japanese peonies, I planted several introductory-sized varieties in my test garden to see how they would perform; I wanted to determine if they might be suitable for my clients. One variety that disappointed me was Itoh peony Morning Lilac; it flowered in the color of beet soup instead of the lavender-pink tones depicted in the supplier’s catalogue.

A trade photo similar to the one in my supplier's catalogue.The saturation of its color was too deep. No perennial growing nearby is that vivid or rich; a situation that made the new plant stand out for its boldness. Allowing it to remain in my garden would disturb the color theme that I labored for so many years to develop.

However, on the day set aside to dig it out for discard, the flower opened fully. That is when noticed how dramatically its rich, gold stamens contrasted with the petal coloration. At that moment, I cancelled my plans to administer capital punishment. This peony didn’t deserve the compost heap; all it needed was an appropriate home. I have a colleague who likes rich colors and I am certain that she will appreciate this plant more than I do.

Don’t be deceived by the color of the twin peonies in the photo immediately above this paragraph. The camera captured a shade of purple, just a little bit closer to the soft tones depicted in the catalogue, but unlike the deep bold tones I actually saw in my garden in blazing sunlight. Sometimes cameras produce images that are unreal. So do suppliers' catalogues! Next season, I intend to order Itoh peony First Arrival. Perhaps that one will produce a more accurate  lavender-pink flower.

Regal colors can work well in a flowerbed when they are combined with others of similar saturation. That will create a balance appreciated by all, even if the bold colors themselves are not.

Readers will find a relevant and passionate discussion about hot colored flowers written by Sarah Raven, in The Bold and Beautiful Garden. Find my review of this well-received publication here and look for the book in the far right column, at the top of this blog page, under the heading Book You Need: 12 favorites.