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

Monday
Mar182013

Fine Foliage for Flowerbeds and Container Gardening, a book review

Fine Foliage, Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz,       St. Lynn’s Press

Sometimes, a gardener will return from the nursery with a car full of annuals and perennials, place them in flowerbeds or containers according to the guidelines of good garden design, and yet, the resulting plant arrangements still look wanting.

Perhaps the gardener forgot about foliage. Foliage is to garden design what fashion accessories are to clothing. Without the addition of the interesting leaves of perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, annuals, and trees, a garden never seems to be complete.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comFoliage works as a facilitator. It allows otherwise unintegratable plants to combine successfully with others. It also serves as a proscenium, helping to make a perennial or a combination of perennials and shrubs appear more beautiful. Foliage may also supplies direction, volume, color, texture, visual excitement, movement, and mystery.

However, foliage has another role to play; and that is the theme of this book. When plants that are defined by their leaves rather than by their flowers or berries, are combined with other foliage plants, they provide unusual and spiritual visual drama.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comThe premise of Ms. Chapman and Ms. Salwitz’s beautiful and delightful little book is that it is possible to create successful, eye-catching plant combinations using foliage alone for flowerbed and container gardening. The publication showcases more than sixty inspired foliage-plant partnerships that illustrate this successful style of garden design, while, at the same time, revealing the authors’ immense talent in that field.

Each combination is given a two-page spread with full-color, exquisite, high quality photographs of the individual plants within. So that readers might achieve similar results in their own garden beds and containers, descriptive directions accompany each grouping. Attention is also paid to important details such as sun or shade requirements, seasons, growing zones, soil preference, plant characteristics and care.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comHowever, what sets apart this book from other garden design manuals is the focus on helping the gardener… get to “beautiful”. The authors take the time to explain why each of their sixty foliage combinations is successful. This information allows readers to gain a designer’s perspective. That outlook, in turn, will enable them to make better choices; it also encourages gardeners to take risks - all in the hope of creating unique personal landscapes and container gardens.

This richly illustrated guide is full of easy-to-use advice. Gardeners of all skill levels will be able to adapt  instructions to create elegant, stylish, flowerbeds for their gardens and breathtaking, designer-looking, containers for their patios.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comBoth authors are hands-on gardeners. Karen Chapman is a garden coach, horticulturist, garden writer and owner of a container design company. Christina Salwitz  is a garden coach and garden writer who specializes in garden and container design. The authors live with their respective families in the Seattle area of the State of Washington, in the USA.

                            

Monday
Mar112013

Twelve Children’s Books on Gardening 

It's a sign that that spring is almost here when children’s bookstores display garden books in their storefront windows. On a trip to Boston this past weekend, I noticed that The Childrens Book Shop on Harvard Street, in Brookline, Massachusetts, has dedicated its entire streetfront display to the topic of gardening. Here are twelve books they selected along with publishers or sellers descriptive notes. Click on each image for more information, prices, and shopping. A Day At The Market, Sara Anderson. Celebrate one glorious day of fresh flowers, fish, and produce at Seattle's Pike Place Market--a 100-year-old working farmer's market that steals the hearts of locals and visitors alike. With her signature cut-paper style and playful rhymes in a sturdy, oversized board book with peek-a-boo die-cuts, Sara Anderson captures the essence of the Market she treasures--not only its friendly cacophony, but also the richness of its colorful community, the secrets of its many nooks and crannies, and its irresistible summer bounty. All ages.

Earth Care, Margaret Read Macdonald. A collection of traditional tales and proverbs from over twenty countries or ethnic groups, touching upon both human and ecological themes such as environmental protection, the care of other creatures, and the connection of all things in nature. The book contains 41 stories and 41 proverbs. 53 cultures are represented. Ages 5 and up.

Growing Garden, Lois Ehlerts. Color explodes from the author's bold, beautiful cut-paper collages like seeds from an over-ripe pod. Three gift-sized editions of her beloved hardcover picture books--Eating the Alphabet (with a glossary of fruits and vegetables), Planting a Rainbow (a concept book about colors and different flowers), and Growing Vegetable Soup (includes a recipe!)--are packaged in a lovely slipcase with a 16" x 22" flower-garden poster. Age 4 and up.

How Does My Garden Grow? DK. Help your child discover the science behind the wonderful world of plants. They'll learn all about the lifecycle of plants, how they work and where they live through hands on fun projects that show science in action. From pollination to hydroponics, this book will teach your child new science facts in a fun and simple way. Age 7 and up.

In The Garden, Elizabeth Spurr. In this gently rhyming board book, a young boy creates a garden, one small action at a time. First, he digs in the dirt and plants seeds, then he adds soil, water, and some patience. With time, the seeds grow and the boy excitedly discovers what he has helped to make. Along the way, readers learn the words for simple objects related to the garden and nature.

Maisy’s Garden, Lucy Cousins.  A Maisy book with stickers!  There are lots of wonderful things growing in Maisy’s garden - fruits, flowers, vegetables, grass, and more! Young readers join the fun as they complete the scenes with more than 25 full-color, reusable stickers. Age 3 and up.

My Garden, Kevin Henkes. A girl helps in her mother’s garden, but in the garden of her imagination, there are chocolate rabbits, tomatoes as big as beach balls, flowers that change color, and seashells. Age 2 and up.

Plant A Little Seed, Bonnie Christensen. With a little help from a watering can, bright sunlight, and a lot of patience, two friends plant seeds in their community garden and watch how they grow. Slowly, the seeds turn into sprouts, which grow into stems, followed by leaves and buds! The garden will soon be teeming with life and ready for a harvest season celebration. But until then, the children water and wait and dream. Age 3 and up.

Secrets Of The Garden, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. Alice's family plants a vegetable garden each spring, and this budding naturalist reports how the plants grow, what insects come to eat the plants, and what birds and animals come to eat the insects.  It's the food chain, in her backyard! Age 5 and up.

Seed, Soil, Sun, Cris Peterson. With these three simple ingredients, nature creates food. Using the corn plant as an example, the author celebrates the agricultural cycle of growth, harvest, and renewal. This American Farm Bureau Foundation Agriculture Book of the Year also discusses the make-up of soil and the creatures who live there--from microscopic one-celled bacteria to moles, amoebas, and earthworms. Ages 4 to 7.

The Future Of The Earth, Yann Arthus-Bertrand. In easy terms for the older child, a book about sustainable development. A primer on mankind's direct and indirect impact on the natural world, it explains how global trends, economic disparity, and invasive species have changed our world. Spectacular photos of fragile environments. Age 10 and up.

Who Am I? Farm Animals, DK. A peephole format to keep babies and toddlers engaged, and age-appropriate text introducing simple facts about favorite objects and animals. Lift-the-flap format establishes parent and child interaction; Peephole guessing game improves cognitive skills and memory; Simple facts encourage early learning and oral skills; Ages 0 to 5.

Monday
Mar042013

Garden Mentors and Facilitators; A Love Story.

Image copyrighted by Sheila RobertsonScratch beneath the surface of many gardeners’ bio - graphies and one finds inspiring people who influenced and  helped them realize their dreams. Sometimes these pivotal characters are responsible for imbuing a love of gardening; sometimes they are mentors to those who have already discovered a passion for horticulture. Often they are simply generous souls who, by contributing time and energy, help gardeners achieve their goals. A magic occurs when they also become one’s friends for life.

Sheila Robertson, aka Orchard Annie, had left a lenghty commentary on one of my blogs. It was so comprenhensive that I reprinted it in a blog post of its own. Then, I decided that I needed to know more about her. How did she come to amass such a body of practical gardening information?

Inspired by my curiosity, she submitted an informal autobiography in which she pays tribute to the men in her life that facilitated her journey. Serendipitously, inside her narrative, I discovered a romantic thread.

Although she has always been sufficiently strong and independent to “go it alone” and has been proud to do so, several men contributed to helping her realize her garden dreams. By doing so, they also enhanced her horticultural experiences while she travelled abroad or gardened at home. In her own words, excerpted from a mostly unedited first draft, here is Sheila's story.

Image copywrited by Sheila RobertsonAs a stay at home mom of fourteen years living in an owner built home economizing a family of five on a joiner man’s wages, budget and sweat equity are dear friends of mine. I was spoiled by a husband who built cabinetry for the likes of the King of Spain at a world-class yacht works. I only had to envision it and he would create it for me. I learnt to expect quality in my goals: attention to detail is everything, the medium can be budget. My favorite free pastime was checking out books from the library and feasting my eyes on landscape and home design.

When I found myself single and moving 60 miles for work, I had to relearn everything I knew about gardening, such as rabbits in the country are kept in check by hawks, in the burbs they are a nightmare!

I had researched what would add value to the home as I planned to stay only the few years until my youngest was out of school, so I set to work on low maintenance, best value curb appeal: evergreens, flowering shrubs, long lived perennials and, because this neighborhood is chock-a-block with dense shade trees of gigantic potential, small ornamental trees to create privacy and dappled shade.

High volume at work meant 20 hours of overtime weekly; exhausting but it afforded me the indulgence of several trips to Europe.

A view of the RHS Gardens at Wisely; image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson.One of the most vivid and haunting memories of all my travels was touring the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Wisely in Surrey, acclaimed the best of all the RHS. No form of garden is unrepresented and each is done to perfection. At every turn there is a breathtaking surprise.... turn round to see where you’ve been, the changed perspective offers a whole different delight. Their extensive arboretum is also aesthetically laid out, not a hodgepodge of species as so many are.

So there I was, gob stopped with awe looking about me and wishing I had someone to share this with, someone who appreciated the beauty… someone who appreciated me.

A bus had arrived and the passengers milled past I noticed many were smiling white haired couples hand in hand, enthralled by the magic only a garden paradise can bring, so touchingly in love with the world and each other.  I said to myself, “That’s what I want. Of every wish in life, I would be exactly like them.”

On returning home, I signed up on Match UK with the headline, “Would you care to show a lady from the States around Surrey?”…, wonderful friends to be made online! The extraordinary glimpses into British life these friends afforded me can’t be found in any guided tour I’d been on through the Visit Britain website. 

Orla, a manageress at my circa 1600 hotel and now dear friend, introduced me to her friend Clive via a phone call. An hour later, this enthusiastic hiker and history buff was leading me through woods to a lonely disused Norman church upon a steep ridge overlooking a valley. In the UK, building is restricted to certain areas, the effect is awe-inspiring: islands of dwellings in a sea of green farmland with waves of crazy quilt hedgerows.

Clive showed me his favorite estates, a centuries old mill turned into a restaurant with water wheel on display in operation, obscure village museums and most importantly, before I owned GPS he would drive me through the route I’d be on the days I was alone. I never tired of fitting in several stops every day, each home unique, each garden a revelation of how the same plants in bloom can paint a whole different picture.

I had several outings with an exceedingly well-mannered Protection Officer from New Scotland Yard who had worked with the Royal Family. He was my personal tour guide at Windsor Castle, so amazing the attention to detail, plus the tale of a ghost he had witnessed! The moat surrounding the Round Tower is a steep bank of landscaped splendor with black swans in the water far below…

On a trip the following year, I truly thought I was destined to live in England when I met Franklyn…….so like-minded and in love with touring estates, hiking sheep-dotted pastures and oceans of bluebell-coated woodland… and letting a pocket guide to the best pubs in England direct us over hill and dale down idyllic country lanes to cross-road hamlets and fantastic meals.  Then the recession hit so hard that neither of us could travel and I haven't returned to Europe since.

Back in the USA, in 2009, Sheila met Steve through Match.com: Steve is a cheerful, caring and athletic farm boy with degrees in engineering and project management. He admitted to me he usually hated helping in the garden; however, the example I set of loving the process just as much as the finished product (and the subsequent enjoyment of these private havens from the rest of the world!) caused my yard to become his hobby also. It’s just him and me creating these plans…

Image copyrighted by Sheila RobertsonSteve’s engineering skills and school of hard knocks land-use knowledge from the farm are invaluable. He also has a much better eye for fine tuning curves and proportions. The plant materials and placement are my forte; Steve offers suggestions but, as in all things, never insists. I very much appreciate he does not care how I spend my time as long as it’s his choice when he joins in.

Thus far he has designed and built concrete piers to clip the large shade sail over the deck to, a grape arbor with benches, a fountain, a potting bench, several fences and paths, and two 300 gallon water butts (an inch of rain fills both) are replete with pumps for hoses in addition to large taps to quickly fill watering cans.

Image copyrighted by Sheila RobertsonIn a soggy spot of the lawn we dug out an 18-foot diameter circle one foot deep, tiled it, and used up those yards and yards of that ugly stone mulch I detested as drainage gravel sandwiched between landscape fabric to keep the layers from migrating into the clay below and fine black gravel on top. It makes an impressive fire pit area.

What I had once fervently wished for at RHS Wisely is mine! Both Steve and my hair have faded to white, and smiling hand in hand, he takes me to all of the public gardens and museums my little heart desires. I love him dearly. We have many more phases before our own English gardens rival those I fell in love with in Britain; I have no doubt they will be achieved. In all my dreams, I never knew life could be this much rewarding and fun!

Sheila gardens in Wisconsin in USDA Zone 5a. Due to the severity and unpredictability of the Great Lakes weather patterns, she plants only USDA Zone 4 perennials. When I first met her online, I encouraged her to create a blog of her own. Here is a link to her cleverly titled “Scents and Centsability”.

Monday
Feb252013

Baseball, Aging Gardeners, and Yoga

Baseball player Evan Longoria practicing Yoga. Ownership of this image is unclear because various websites have posted it without acreditation. Gardening books don’t address it, and colleagues keep the information to themselves. There is a sad truth that an aging body is a gardener’s worst enemy. Weakening muscles and arthritis sometimes place painful and exhausting obstacles in the way of the most dedicated and talented among us.

Winter is the next worst adversary. Mature, housebound gardeners who are unable to maintain a reasonable level of physical fitness between end autumn and early spring, are in for an unpleasant surprise when they try to bend, crouch, heave, or dig after six months of idleness. Inactivity compromises overall health and one's ability to garden efficiently, productively, and without pain.

My endurance in the garden diminishes as I get older; and I love gardening too much to resign myself to the unavoidable aging process. Last year, I decided to do something about it. I joined a community center that offered generous use of its Olympic-sized swimming pool, as long as I chose to swim in the early mornings up to 10:30 AM.

My weekly regime in the pool made a difference. I was able to stand on my feet for longer periods supervising my staff without feeling exhausted or racked with pain.[Also helpful was taking a warm bath after the garden work day was over]. However, I felt that I was not doing enough.

In todays world, my age group is supposed to feel younger than the same age group of previous generations. While I do feel younger in heart and mind than my parents did at the same age, my body refuses to remain as young as my mind.

This winter, after a successful experience with alternative medicine, I decided to take my physical regimen to another level. During the autumn, when I was struggling with an issue that western medicine was unable to resolve, I decided it was time to think outside the box and turned my focus Eastward, searching for alternative solutions.

I already knew that members of Asian cultures had been practicing their versions of healing and medicine for thousands of years longer than Western civilization has. If they were successfully caring for their sick while our ancestors were still living in caves, perhaps Eastern medicine might offer better solutions for whatever ailed me. It did!

Thinking outside the box had meant investigating acupuncture. I’m glad I chose that route because it offered greater healing than I could have ever imagine - and it was all drug-free. That success led me to Chinese health exercises known as Qi Kong, and a recommendation from my acupuncturist to expand my horizons by investigating Osteopathy- not an Eastern healing process but - another alternative to conventional Western medicine.

Upon meeting the Osteopath, another side of the thinking box was opened. “Now that you’re retired” she asked, “what else are you doing to keep your mind and body healthy. Do you practice Qi Kong or Yoga?”

Yoga? Ya gotta be kiddin! Isn’t that stuff for women? “No”, she said. “In India, where Yoga was developed, it’s a male activity. The reason Western women embrace it more enthusiastically that Western men do is because it has a spirituality about it that does not resonate well with many men. That’s a pity because it is a very beneficial activity for everyone”.

My osteopath had planted an idea in my brain that required further research. If I were to take up the practice of Yoga, I would prefer to do so amongst other men. In my neighborhood, 98% of all Yoga practitioners are women. Why would I want to engage in an athletic activity with friends of my wife and daughters?

A sports activity with mostly women just didn’t resonate well with me. Ever since I retired from industry, I noticed that I missed the camaraderie of my male coworkers and that unless I decide to take up a team sport – is there a hockey team for those over 65? -   male bonding experiences at community activities are going to be few.

I decided to hit the internet to find out if there was a way to combine yoga and male bonding. By typing in search words such as men and yoga, I was surprised to discover accidentally that professional athletes, most with macho public profiles, practice Yoga and are proud to do so.

A common narrative runs through their bios. Most had suffered repeated stress to a limb, muscle, bone, or ligament. Some required surgery. None of their bodies healed as expected. All experienced lingering pain or discomfort for which modern Western medicine was unable to offer further intervention.

As a last resort, the athletes were advised to investigate Yoga, to experiment with it, to see if they could find a healthy [i.e. non-pharmaceutical] relief for their pain and discomfort. In all case, the athletes discovered not only relief but an inner peace, as well. They also realized that practicing Yoga had turned them into better athletes. Both their minds and their bodies were now stronger.

When I came across a photo of third baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria, in a Yoga pose, in a room full of women, I realized that my need to be surrounded by male buddies in order to exercise, was an unrealistic and perhaps silly expectation. If professional athletes are comfortable in a Yoga studio, surrounded by women, other men should be equally comfortable there, as well.

In the end, I found a studio near my home where parking is easy and the instructors are passionate and approachable. Most important, they demonstrate sincere appreciation for an aging Yoga newbie like me.

It is now a month since I began practicing Yoga. My posture has improved, core muscles are tighter, gait flows smoother, my endurance improves weekly, appetite is more moderate, and the mind is on its way to a surprising serenity I had not anticipated or asked for.

Will Yoga allow me more flexibility and less discomfort in the garden this upcoming spring? Will I have more stamina? Will my arthritis finally stop sabotaging my body? I don’t know just yet. It will take a full a season of gardening to find out. When I have the answer to these very important questions, I will share them with you because other aging gardeners ought to know!

P.S. According to Kevin Zirm, Assistant Content Director for STACK Media, there are at least nine other known professional athletes who practice yoga:- Shaquille O’Neal, a former NBA player, LeBron James, forward for the Miami Heat, Ray Lewis linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants, Mike Krzyzewski, men’s basketball coach, the New Zealand All Blacks, rugby team, Kevin Garnett, forward for the Boston Celtics, and Kevin Love, forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Read his entire article of September 17, 2012, at this link:- http://www.stack.com/2012/09/17/yoga-athletes/

Sunday
Feb172013

Plant Gardens in the Sky; a book review about penthouse gardening

Roof Terrace Gardening, Michele Osborne, Aquamarine.

Gardening in the sky is not a novel idea. As far back as 600 or 500 BC, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ordered the construction of urban hanging gardens to please his wife, saddened when she was separated from the plants of her homeland.

Today, many urban dwellers choose to incorporate adjacent rooftops into their living spaces. Here, on these very desirable roofs, terraces, and balconies, they create lush outdoor gardens that enhance the quality of their lives by adding a natural balance to city living.

High above the bustle of densely populated areas, urbanites living in these privileged spaces are able to experience air that seems purer, a sense of freedom and privacy, brighter daylight, infinitely more sunlight, and closeness to nature that is often associated with mountaintop experiences. At these heights, people are more likely to be aware of the ever-changing shapes of clouds, the colorful drama of sunrises and sunsets, and the majesty of thunderstorms.

With strategic planning, apartment dwellers that are fortunate enough to include a rooftop into their living quarters, a concept sometimes known as a penthouse, can enjoy many of the benefits of a garden. However, the approach to achieving a quality outdoor life, high above a densely populated urban area, requires an approach different from that used to create a bucolic retreat in a back yard or on an estate.

A rooftop garden design must take into consideration building and zoning regulations, structural integrity of the apartment building, irrigation and waterproofing, physical access for both enjoyment and maintenance, and weather elements that are harsher at great heights than they are at street level.

In this very practical mass-market publication, the author offers a variety of inspiring design ideas that meet the needs of most aspiring rooftop gardeners. Readers will learn how to plan a design for a multipurpose outdoor space that takes into consideration one’s needs for entertaining, relaxation, play, and contemplation.

The author has also includes suggestions for furniture, containers, ornamentation, lighting, water features, and the selection of plants. Readers will be guided into choosing vegetation, not only for beauty, but also for privacy, shade, accents, visual background filler, and for growing food. The plant recommendations are influenced by the ability of certain vegetation to withstand the exposed, harsh conditions associated with windy, sun drenched rooftop gardens.

Michele Osborne graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris as a linguist before moving to England. There, her passion for art and architecture inspired her to become a landscape designer. Working privately and with developers and architects, she has completed projects both in England and abroad. 

Designing many roof terraces in London's East End and Docklands allowed her to discover views of the city, which she found so exhilarating that she decided to abandon her Victorian terraced house in favour of a converted telephone exchange, where she could build her own roof garden. She is a winner of the prestigious Guardian's Britannia Home - builder's Award for "Best Landscaping" and her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Garden History in London.

                              

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