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

Tuesday
Jun112013

Spring Flowering Itoh Peonies, Better Than Ever.

Itoh Peony, Kopper KettleIf The Disney Studios could have created a flower worthy of fairy-tale magic, it might have been an Itoh peony. Its surreal vivid color, perfectly contoured plant shape, and synthetic looking, sensuous and smooth petal-texture all belong on the storyboard of the most imaginative artist.

Its powerful visual impact defies descriptive language while the camera only taunts the viewer as did stripper Miss Gypsy Rose Lee who revealed little while stimulating the imagination.

Like many items that are too good to be true, the visceral experience that defines the Itoh peony comes with a hefty price tag. This reliable perennial belongs to a group of expensive plants. I was mandated to include it in a project earmarked with a generous budget, for a homeowner who wanted traffic-stopping drama in her flowerbeds.

Itoh Peony, BartzellaWhen the Itoh bloomed and I witnessed my client’s over-the-top emotional reaction to the yellow Itoh variety named Bartzella, I understood its potential and proceeded to test-grow several other varieties in my garden.

The plant that I selected for my client was ripe with many buds restless to unfold had a retail price tag of $75. A smaller sized version was available at $35 but it sported few buds.

Both of these high price points made this perennial an unsuitable candidate for test growing and I postponed doing so until I located a wholesaler who offered one-year-old varieties at an affordable cost.

Itoh Peony, Morning LilacBaby Itoh peonies are excruciatingly painful teases. In the first year of growth, they may or may not deliver flower buds. If they do, one or two impressive blooms are all that one can expect. Year two is less painful and in year three they are rich with bloom.

There is an irony to test growing Itoh peonies before including them in work projects.  By the time one is satisfied with their color and performance, the wholesalers in my area no longer carry the specific impressive variety that I want to rebuy.

In my location, Itoh’s high cost restricts its sale to a small group of gardeners who are unlikely to return to buy more of the same. So bowled over are they by the spectacular nature of its flowers, that by the following season these plant lovers are prepared to experiment with, and be surprised by, any new variety. They are, in fact, gardeners who collect exotic plants.

Itoh Peony, Kopper Kettle, If I want to include a tested and proven Itoh in a future project, I will have to learn how to propagate them on my own. That educational experience has just begun. A few weeks ago, I dug up one side of an Itoh root ball, sawed off a portion of its dense, woody core and transplanted it into my test garden. Like other peonies, I anticipate that the foliage will traumatize, turn brown, wilt away, and return next season as a fresh offspring. If I am successful, it will have been worth the effort.

Update 2014 : I was not successful in propagating this plant.

Friday
May312013

Planning to Grow Eggplant?

Image:- http://www.edenbrothers.com/store/eggplant_seeds_black_beauty.htmlAfter moving into my current home and garden over twenty years ago, I began to experiment growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I had little success because the fauna that visited my back yard feasted on the emerging foliage of most edible plant seedlings and always made sure to take a bite out of all produce that thrived.

Eventual, I gave up trying to grow food and confined my gardening to perennials. However, if I could, I would have cultivated the fleshy, plump, oval-shaped, purple-black eggplant - Solanum melongena – an ingredient in my favorite condiment: Eggplant Relish. Here is my time-tested recipe:-

Allan Becker’s Eggplant Relish

1 large eggplant, washed

1 large tomato, rinsed

1 large Vidalia onion

1 large green pepper, rinsed [or substitute 1 small green pepper and 1 small red pepper; do not eliminate green pepper entirely].

1 tsp. brown sugar

Salt, pepper

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup mild white vinegar

½-cup ketchup or a combination of ketchup and BBQ sauce, proportions according to taste

¼-cup water

9 x 12 baking dish

Medium-sized mixing bowl

Aluminum foil

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Remove green stem from eggplant.

Slice eggplant - with peel on - lengthwise into ¼-inch slices and then cut each slice into ¼-inch cubes.

Dice tomato. [a serrated knife is helpful].

Peel and dice onion.

Core, seed, devein and dice pepper.

Spray bottom and sides of baking dish with oil or coat by hand.

Spread eggplant on the bottom of the dish.

Layer with onions.

Continue with a layer of tomatoes.

Finish with a layer of peppers.

Sprinkle surface with brown sugar.

Season with salt and pepper.

In a mixing bowl combine:-

¼-cup oil

½-cup vinegar

½-cup ketchup

¼-cup water

Stir well and pour over vegetables.

Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Remove foil and bake for an additional 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Stir contents to combine all ingredients.

Spoon mixture into Mason jars and store in refrigerator until needed. This condiment has a long shelf life.

May be served cold with crackers as an hors d'oeuvre or as a side dish to a meal.

Friday
May172013

Ten Vivid Pink Garden Plants 

Pink is the most popular color in the flowerbed. In all its gradations and tones, it runs the gamut from baby pastel and amethyst to a very deep pink that almost borders on cold red. This family of colors seems to touch the hearts and minds of gardeners and their visitors. Except in climates where sun bleaches out its more pastel tones, pink is found in most gardens around the globe.

Here are ten vivid pink flowering plants that caught my eye. Some have grown in my garden for many years, others are new for me; I found them in recent trade catalogues.

Hydrangea macrophylla Abracadabra

If you garden in a warmer growing zone than I do, chances are you’ve had better success growing macrophylla [broad-leaf] hydrangeas than gardeners who live in colder climates. The grower describes this relatively new variety as having flower heads resembling big, funky flying saucer lace-cap flowers that merge pink and white and mature to hot pink atop black satin stems. These distinctive stems provide interest in the garden before the summer flowers open. The color of the flowers can be shifted to blue by adding aluminum sulfate to the soil. Abracadabra grows from 3 to 4 feet tall and wide and is hardy to USDA Zone 5.

Hydrangea macrophylla Paraplu

Vivid pink Paraplu is a another new introduction for warmer climates. I am told that its downward arching mop heads of rich, vibrant, double florets, appear like dainty umbrellas in shades ranging from candy pink to intense hot pink. In soil where the pH is low, some purple will appear. The grower reports that Paraplu holds up well in the heat, and withstands the rigors of Midwestern winters. This dwarf variety is expected to remain under three feet tall and wide and is hardy to USDA Zone 5.


Phlox subulata, Pink

A long lived, cold-climate perennial, it is perfectly suitable for rock gardens, rugged ground cover, and sunny drought conditions. Cascading over slopes like puddly waterfalls, it grows 2 to 6 inches tall, spreads 12 to 18 inches in width and is hardy from USDA Zone 2 to Zone 9. The early spring pink flowers that illuminate the flowerbed are so intense that the color appears to have been mixed by a Disney cartoon illustrator. After the short-lived blooms fade, the rugged, evergreen, pinnate-textured foliage serves as an elegant-looking yet rugged groundcover that contributes lush tactile texture throughout the year. Photo: Stoneridge Gardens and Nursery.

Rose Carefree WonderThis staple in my garden has impressed visitors for the past fifteen years; I used to plant it in most of my garden projects until it became difficult to locate in my area. Growing four feet tall and three feet wide, it blooms in a radiant, deep pink, with flower heads measuring four inches across. So intense is its color that few will notice the reverse white petals. This easy-to-care-for rose is hardy to USDA Zone 4 and blooms continuously from June until the first snowfall.

Rose Double Pink Knock Out

Knock Out Roses are among the most disease resistant rose bushes on the market. This variety is a compact tidy shrub, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, that blooms in bright pink. It is drought tolerant, self-cleaning, and winter hardy to USDA Zone 5, and blooms until frost.

Rose Pink Home Run

Vivid rich pink flowers cover this modest sized shrub rose practically every day during the growing season. At 3 ½ to 4 feet tall and wide it blooms continuously throughout the summer with an extraordinary resistance to disease, pests, powdery mildew, and with a high level of tolerance for downy mildew. It is winter hardy to USDA Zone 4 and blooms until frost.

Rhododendron Azalea Rosy Lights

This vivid plant scintillates as if each flower petal had been fitted with nano-sized neon tubes. As a result, during the day the shrub glows like a Chinese lantern. Hardy in my location [USDA Zone 4], Rosy Lights will grow 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, depending upon climate. This variety is part of the Northern Lights Series of hybrid azaleas developed and released by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Any azalea released and included in this series will have flower bud hardiness of -30 degrees to -45 degrees F to withstand Minnesota winters. Photo: Kunkle Nursery.

Silene Rolly’s Favorite

Hardy to USDA Zone 5, this very floriferous perennial starts blooming in early spring and continues until early summer, if cut back after the initial flush. It grows 11 to 15 inches high and 10 to 12 inches wide. Although it has a neat mounding habit, it propagates itself easily at the extremities of its circumference. Gardeners are eager to share this plant with everyone they know because its intense pink color is hard to believe and impossible to describe. In bright sun, the pink petals are significantly warmer than the tones that appear in the photo above. Photo: Lorraine Roberts, Plant Paradise Country Gardens, Caledon, Ontario.

Thalictrum Black Stocking

One gardener’s pink is another gardener’s lavender. Although nurseries describe this perennial as flowering in bright lavender-magenta, in the blazing sun of summer, I see vivid, deep pink. That shade is further enhanced by a background of the nearly black stems of this tall, almost six-foot perennial. Surprisingly, for a plant of this height, it spreads to less than 2 feet wide, doesn’t require staking, and maintains a neat and disciplined appearance. This family of perennials has been one of the easiest to grow in my flower beds over the past twenty years. When shopping, it is important to keep in mind that not all Thalictrum bloom in the identical shade of pink. T. aquilegifolium and T.rochebrunianum, for example, flower in much paler shades of pink or lavender. As a result, even though they are substantial and impressive perennials, they are not as visually satisfying as Black Stocking. Photo: Chocolate Flower Farm.

Viburnum Brandywine.

The advance hype on this deer-resistant, berry-producing shrub reads like a Broadway production. I sure hope that I can reproduce its climactic season’s ending after I plant this shrub in my test garden, this season. Here is what the growers say: Hardy to USDA Zone 5, the extravaganza begins with undistinguished, white flower and ends with a fruit display that some consider unrivaled in the plant world. In late summer the color of the immature green, pea-sized berries changes to shades of bright pink and then to hues of bright blue and wild grape. [The pink color is intensified when the blue and grape appear beside it]. As a bonus, the glossy green leaves age to a very dark maroon red. This species will not thrive in chalky or alkaline soils and in the North Eastern U.S. it is susceptible to the Viburnum bark beetle. However, it is claimed that these pests can be controlled without chemicals.

Saturday
May112013

Meet a New Garden Blogger & Awesome Photographer 

A view of Pat Webster's garden.Please welcome Pat Webster. Her garden blog is titled Glen Villa: Sight and Insight .

Pat is a creative garden designer, erudite landscape lecturer, garden tour guide, amateur historian, artist, talented photographer and innovative sculptor.

She inspires her audiences to look at their own landscapes with fresh eyes and demonstrates how local history, art, and personal stories may be incorporated into landscape design.

Glen Villa Gardens  is the name given to the grounds surrounding her home in North Hatley, Quebec. This bilingual region of Canada, located east of Montreal and west of Quebec City, is known as The Eastern Townships, in English and Les Cantons de L’est, in French.

Thanks to the US Interstate highway grid, this charming corner of North America is easily accessible from the northern American states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

Plans are underway to open Glen Villa Gardens to the public for one day in July of this year as a fundraiser for the local conservation organization, Massawippi Conservation Trust.

Pat uses the gardens as inspiration for her posts as well as a setting to display her outdoor sculptures. However, readers of her blog and visitors to her professional website will also be impressed by the quality of her photographs and the delightful and informative style of her writing.

A recent post dated April 10, 2013, titled Mud and Maple Syrup, is a visual essay on how this delicious syrup is produced. As a photo documentary, it is classroom-ready.

The lead picture in this photo shoot demonstrates how Pat combines the linear perspective of the trees with the monochromatic late winter landscape to create a haunting work of art. Its vertical composition is reminiscent of the paintings of the geometric abstractionist, Piet Mondrian.

Pat Webster's talented eye is also evident in the beautifully set-up shots of her travels; each one adds to the engaging story-telling of the experiences she shares with her readers.

It has been a delightful journey to visit both Pat's garden blog and her website. Make the same click- trip as I did; you won't be disappointed.

Sunday
May052013

Plants That Need Companions Can Be Lovely

The setting for this plant composition enhances the appearance of yellow forsythia. I forsook my forsythia many years ago.

In USDA Zone 4 where I garden, this shrub appears unpleasant when it flowers because it grows alone; no other tall shrub is in bloom at the same time and there is no other surrounding green vegetation to offset the seemingly harsh colors of its petals.

Consequently, this plant stands out in dramatic starkness; in my growing zone, forsythia is appreciated solely because it is the first tall shrub to bloom - not because anyone thinks it is pretty. Perhaps more homeowners here might consider it beautiful if complementary plants surrounded it, i.e., flowering shrubs of a comparable height and volume that temper the energy of forsythia’s intense coloration.

Years ago, when I first moved into my home, I found a single forsythia bush planted by a previous homeowner. It was garish-looking against the grey early-spring sky and the still-dormant, straw-colored grass. A specimen of an identical shrub, growing on my neighbor’s lawn, looked no better. In one case, backed by a sober grey stone façade, and in the other, up against a conservatively dark red brick wall, our matching shrubs looked like overly made up courtesans invading a house of worship. In time, both my neighbor and I dug up and discarded our unsightly guests.

In warmer growing zones, where other plants are in bloom at the same time as forsythia and where the colors of home exteriors allow this plant to blend in better chromatically, there is a positive appreciation for this shrub.

The photos posted here were taken on a recent spring trip to Boston, which is located in one growing zone warmer than mine, USDA Zone 5. There, I discovered forsythia blooming in concert with tall, early-flowering intense lavender-pink rhododendron-azaleas. [Yes, that is the new nomenclature] Backed by a light-coloured cream façade that subtly echoes forsythia`s yellow, the results are eye-catching.

The blending of three colors in a harmony of tone and volume creates a delightful visual experience. In addition, the shrub is set among glossy evergreen groundcover that enriches the composition. Dark green raises the number of colors in the composition to four. In such a compatible tonal environment, the yellow-flowering shrub looks beautiful.

This successful combination was achievable for several reasons. First, Boston has a longer growing season than Montreal does. As a result, the early-blooming rhodo-azaleas develop sufficiently tall and wide to balance the energy of forsythia. Secondly, many home exteriors in Boston are surfaced in pleasant light tones that enhance the shades of early-blooming plants. Thirdly, challenging conditions of heat, shade, and drought in some parts of this eastern seaboard city demand ubiquitous planting of evergreen ground cover. The color-rich lushness of these all-purpose problem-solving plants enhances the appearance of nearby shrubs and perennials.

In Montreal, USDA Zone 4, where winter often lingers too long, there are no colorfully blooming shrubs in early spring that reach the volume necessary to moderate the vivid color of forsythia. Sombre toned home exteriors also exaggerate the intensity of its yellow flowers. Furthermore, a more temperate climate allows us to cover our grounds with turf that is rarely green enough at this time of year. As a result, forsythia appears harsh when it blooms and few of my neighbors are inclined to include it in their landscape plans.

Ironically, the one flowering shrub that offends in my home city appears stunning when it blooms in a climate that is merely one growing zone warmer. This observation may be generalized as follows:-  a plant that looks pretty in a catalog, eye-catching in a nursery, or impressive in a friend's flowerbed, may not appear equally beautiful when added to one's own garden. Surroundings can enhance or diminish the beauty of any plant.