Need Help?

Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

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

Saturday
Jan242009

The Passionate Gardener Needs to Soar

Last autumn, the editor of the book review site bookpleasures.com and some of the readers of my reviews, had suggested that I write a blog about gardening. They believe that I have a voice. That was a very kind complement to pay to someone who never professed to be a writer.

I am a private person.  I trust that you will not be disappointed if I do not share with you the minutiae of my daily life. Instead, I hope that you will come to know me through my writing and I will always be happy to answer all of your inquiries.

Most gardeners love to share their experiences, their knowledge, and even their plants, with anyone who will take an interest. Gardening is a hobby that inspires creativity, passion and enthusiasm. These attributes are not easily bottled up. The passionate gardener needs to soar. So, feel free to ask me anything.

If you have already read my opening blog titled “Why I Garden”, you may have come to understand that gardening is a visual experience for me. I garden with my eyes as much as I do with my hands. It’s all about finding the beauty in nature and sharing that beauty with others. Gardening has no meaning for me if I am the only one to appreciate it.

For all of the above reasons, when I search the web, my quest is to find and share with you those images that appear to be out of the ordinary. Perhaps they will inspire you, as well, and take your breath away.

 

Thursday
Jan222009

Honeysuckle Saga

This is the bloom of a honeysuckle shrub. The photographer has enlarged the flower many times to show it's beauty. Don't be fooled by it's loveliness. The flower grows on a messy shrub whose gnarly roots are a haven for weeds that cannot be removed The picture above was taken by artist/photographer Ken Beyer of North Yorkshire U.K. Click on the image to visit his site.

Chapter One. Once upon a time a man named Max bought a home with a tiny back yard. Even though the lawn measured sixty feet wide, it only measured ten feet deep. Max was happy to have found the house of his dreams but the tiny back yard bothered him.

One day, after living in the house for several years, Max’s wife asked him to plant a hedge of honeysuckle shrubs to give her privacy. Max was concerned that this landscape treatment would shrink his already tiny lawn and he approached this task with mixed feelings.

Fortunately, for Max, his lawn backed on to that of his neighbor, Ahmet. While Max’s yard  measured only ten feet deep, Ahmet’s lawn was four times deeper.  Ahmet  had lots of room for shrubs on his side of the property line. Besides, he and his wife were rarely at home. They traveled a lot. When they returned from their extended trips, they would never step outside into their back yard. Max was certain that if he planted honeysuckle shrubs on Ahmet’s property, no one would notice or care, and he asked his gardener, Angelo, to do just that. Max had been right. No one knew the difference.

Several years later, Ahmet and his wife moved away. Guess who bought Ahmet’s house?  Me!  And guess what I planned to do along the sixty feet of shrubs that separate my property from my neighbor’s? I would create a perennial flower garden. The next spring after moving in, I went outdoors with shovel and pick-axe to prepare the ground. As I was working, I heard a voice from the other side of the hedge. It was Max; he wanted to introduce himself because he too was an avid gardener.

Chapter Two. Max and I hit it off rather well. Even though he was twenty years my senior, we shared a common hobby and over the years we would spend many hours chatting across the hedge. When Max first noticed the ambitiousness of my garden project, he informed me that it was he who had planted the shrubs and that they were his responsibility to maintain, and to be truthful, they were planted on my property and if I desired, he would happily dig them up and move them onto his side of the property line. If that is what I wanted. Well, a good neighbor is a treasure; for the sake of a peaceful relationship, I told him that the shrubs could stay. What a big mistake! Years later, that decision would come back to bite me in the you-know-what.

Max and I enjoyed each other's company until several years later, when his wife passed away. He was heartbroken, couldn't bear to remain in his house alone, and moved away. The new neighbor, Bertha, owned a dog. In my neighborhood, dog owners need to enclose their back yards. Bertha informed me that she would put up a fence, and did I know to whom the shrubs belonged, because they were in the way of the fence. I replied that the shrubs belonged to her because Max had planted them. I also told her that I didn't like the shrubs and did not object if she wanted to remove them. When Bertha instructed Angelo to uproot the hedges, he informed her that actually they were on my property and that she could install the fence on her side of the shrubs without removing them. Lucky Bertha! Woe to me!

Chapter Three. For all of the years that Max and I had been neighbors, he regretted that his illegally planted shrubs were always getting in the way of my flower garden. Their height blocked the sun that my plants sorely needed. To ease his guilt, every Friday afternoon he would climb through the hedge onto my lawn to manicure the shrubs. When that  task was completed, he would crawl underneath the branches to clean out any wild growth that had germinated inside the exposed roots of the shrubs. Max kept my side of the hedge neat and tidy. He felt that he owed me that much. However, when Bertha moved in, there was no longer a Max to maintain the shrubs. My gardener, Franco, wouldn’t trim them because he believed  they belonged to the neighbor and Angelo didn’t touch them because he knew for certain they were now mine.

Not only was the hedge neglected, but it was also growing taller. My wife realized that we were gaining more privacy every season and that pleased her. That's why we allowed the shrubs to grow. Soon they began to scrape the phone wires strung overhead and their branches became a conduit for wild grape vines that had insinuated themselves into the base of the hedge after Max moved away. Eventually, a grapevine would coil itself around the overhead wires and threaten to disrupt our phone service.

While nature was invading my property high above ground, I noticed that the trunks of the honeysuckle had become a safe haven for all things wild. Weeds, maple saplings, sprouts of crab apple trees, and lots of grape vines had made their home beneath the branches. Because the soil around the trunks of the shrubs was hard packed, it was impossible to dig out the unwelcome, messy vegetation. Consequently, I was unable to keep my property neat and tidy. Max had taken care of all that for me. I never realized how much he had contributed to the welfare of my garden.

Chapter Four. I reached a breaking point when I decided to start my garden design business. It was necessary to photograph my flowerbeds in order to establish my credentials. But how was I going to take pictures of my back yard when it had become so messy? There was only one solution. The entire sixty feet of shrubs had to go. I enlisted the help of my gardening assistants and within two days they had not only removed the shrubs, but also, diligently dug out every remnant root of honeysuckle, maple sapling, crab apple tree and grape vine.

Then, my helpers, who knew a lot  about nature, decided that my flowerbed needed aerating and proceeded to dig up all of my perennials, excavate two feet deep into the earth bed, sift through the earth to remove all unwelcome vegetation and debris, and then they replanted the perennials. In the end, they gave me the flower bed I set out to create the day I first met Max. This coming spring, my back yard will be “ready for its close up”. Max was a great neighbor and I miss his company, but uprooting the hedge he planted proved to be very costly; and it's hard to sit where I got bit.

 

Wednesday
Jan212009

Web Photos That I  Like

This is one of the finest perennial compositions to be found on the internet. It is the front lawn sign of Gardens Plus, a nursey in Peterborough, Ontario, specializing in daylilies and hostas. The owner can be contacted at info@gardensplus.ca

 

Tuesday
Jan202009

Beware of the English Garden

My wife asked me to plant a flower garden that incorporated her favorite color scheme of pink and lemon yellow.  For inspiration,  I drove to the local library to consult the huge coffee table gardening books that are stocked there in abundance.  What an inspiration they were! I returned home with a very long list of the plants I had seen in the picture books and with an unbridled enthusiasm. I had just seen practically every flower that nature provided.

 And then I went shopping.  A big box home center was new to my city and as an incentive to shop there,  it advertised over two hundred different perennial flowers, all for eighty eight cents each. The renovations to our new home had gone over budget so that an ad for cheap perennials was a real find. Or so I thought. I needed to quickly fill up a flower bed that measured sixty feet long by six feet wide, to be viewed at a distance of twenty feet from my back yard deck.

I purchased every plant that suited my wife’s color scheme and I was able to fill all sixty feet of flower bed in one weekend. Unfortunately, after all the flowers were planted, I had little to show for my efforts. At eighty eight cents each, I had bought perennial seedlings.  Any blooms they produced were so inconspicuous that they were invisible from our deck. So, out I went for more cheap perennials, this time buying compost and fertilizer as well. And still, my garden looked puny.

By year two, I was spending as much time weeding the big empty spaces between the plants as I did arranging and rearranging the flowers for maximum visual appeal and promising myself that the following year, I would only purchase mature plants.

By year three, all of the perennials reached their promised maturity but I was faced with several disappointments. I discovered that - color scheme or no color scheme -  some of the perennials that were prominently featured in the picture books of England are, in fact, invasive plants. Weeds masquerading as flowers may be acceptable overseas, but not in North America. They had to go. So began the long process of digging up, discarding, and buying anew. Then I discovered that many of the flower combinations featured in the picture books only bloom for a very short period. But that didn’t seem to matter over at the gardens in England because another composition of flowers, a half acre down the path of the same property, would start blooming shortly thereafter. Well, I didn’t have another half acre of garden bed to spare, I needed all my plants to flower over the entire growing season, otherwise my yard would look desolate. It appeared that my garden was never going to compare to what I had seen in books.

On reflection, I realized that the first mistake I had made was to plan a garden that was viewed horizontally from my deck. Most of the gardens in the big books were photographed along a path at right angle to one’s line of vision. When examining these gardens, one is able to see all of the flowers at a glance. That makes a grand visual impact. Looking at my garden, my eyes needed to scan from left to right and back again. I was never able to see the interplay of colors, textures and heights that the picture books provided.

The second error I had made was not to have studied the blooming periods of the plants I bought. With some planning, I might have selected flowers with various blooming times which would have ensured that my garden would be in bloom all season long.

I returned to the library to revisit the books again to see if there were any other facts that I had neglected. And this time, instead of studying the pictures, I decided to read the text that accompanied them. What a revelation! I  had not paid attention that each of these magnificent gardens is spread out on estate sized property and not in someone’s urban back yard. Furthermore, not only are the flower beds arranged in brilliant configurations that showcase the plants, but each estate can have up to  twelve full time gardeners tending to the  flowers. Once I understood that, I needed to scale back the expectations of my  city garden, because mine is a mere back yard, it offers no perspective because it is wider than it is deep and  I am the only gardener on staff.

Finally, what really burst my bubble was the English style garden my neighbor planted on his front lawn. It looked messy all summer long as English gardens do when they are not surrounded by  large expanses  of lawn or meadow to tame them. And, in the fall, when all of the perennials had been neatly cut down for the winter, and there was nothing to left to see, his front yard looked like a miniature city devastated by an aerial bombing. If I was to do anything inspired by an English garden, I would need to factor into my plan the bareness of winter. I  discovered  that  this can easily be done by planting miniature evergreen shrubs, tall sedum, polygonatum, and  ornamental grasses amongst the flowers to provide texture and visual appeal from late autumn through the end of winter.

In the end, I learned that recreating any garden that one sees in a book is an unrealistic expectation. These books are suitable for inspiration, for color and textural combinations and for opportunities to discover unusual perennials. I have made peace with my enthusiastic imagination. My compositions of perennial plants are now contained in a series of small arrangements that can be enjoyed from any perspective. Gardening has now become a pleasure, as it should always be.

Monday
Jan192009

Garden Design Details: Book Review For Bookpleasures.com

 

Garden Design Details  Arne Maynard & Anne De Verteuil, Harper Collins

Gardeners are happy to read books on their favorite topic because there is always something new to discover. So it was with much anticipation that I sat down to read Garden Design Details. What an eye opening experience! In the hands of this author and his collaborator, a garden can be transformed into a modern sculpture. Organic and full of texture that it may be, it is, in the end, a work of art.

      In this beautifully crafted book, the author treats terrain as an artist’s canvas, using vegetation as the artist’s medium with hedge clippers and lawn mowers as artist’s tools.

     As one turns the pages and studies the unusual photographs, one will come across a picture of Boxwood shrubs, sprinkled over a lawn and round- clipped to resemble a collection of giant green beach balls. Another photograph illustrates how a lawn mower has cut a path along a planting of taller grass to delineate a whimsical border. Elsewhere in the book, a gently sloped lawn is transformed into a miniature Roman amphitheatre by inserting stone terraces along the grade. If one thought that the role of a landscape architect was to integrate a structure into the land, or solely to create an idyllic environment, think again. This author works outside of the proverbial box.

      It came as a great surprise to this reviewer that most of these clean line gardens are located in European countries that are known usually for their traditional romantic gardens. And yet, these are the countries that are at the forefront of this new wave of garden design that treats the landscape as artwork.

      To instruct the reader in the composition of the garden as contemporary art, the author distills the essential elements universal to all garden design asverticals, horizontals and punctuation. The major portion of the book is then dedicated to illustrating how these elements work in nature. Vertical elements include hedges, walls and trees as well as upright boundary markers. Horizontal elements include lawns, paths, wild flowers, water, and low hills shaped into unusual geometric shapes called land sculptures. These sculptures are an innovative element as they bring a fresh treatment to the world of gardening. The punctuation is the strategic placement of garden- related objects such as fountains, lawn furniture and gazebos. They serve as focal and resting points in the garden and determine how an area will be used.

      As a traditional gardener, who creates flower beds for other peoples’ pleasure, I was, at first, disappointed at the deliberate exclusion of flowers and flowering shrubs from the books. However, by revisiting the book several times, I was won over. I came to understand that the author’s goal is not to reinforce traditionally held beliefs. Rather, his objective is to open our minds to new and innovative interpretations of the contemporary garden and to consider the landscape designer as an artist working in the medium of living plants.