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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.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal


This Visitor Deserves a Gardening Blog of Her Own

Front porch. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comA recent visitor to my blog has taken a very long journey through all of my posts. Sheila, who signs as Orchard Annie, leaves comments that reflect a reader with a passion for gardening who truly deserves a blog of her own.

The play yard. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comI was so impressed with the breadth of one of the comments she posted that I contacted her to ask permission to use them as a freestanding guest blog. Her advice, written in a unique, folksy style, was a reaction to Part 3 of a three-part post that first appeared here in 2009. In that series, I advise readers how to create beautiful landscapes using perennials and flowering shrubs. I titled it How to Paint a Masterpiece in the Garden.

A spring flowerbed. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and In Part three, I dealt with the monetary aspect of perennial gardening. Click to link to that article:  

Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comBelow are suggestions that Sheila added to my post about designing a perennial garden on a budget. Although I have done some minor editing for flow, most of the text is in its original form so that readers can get to know her, as I have, through the personality of her writing style. All of the images above that illustrate this post belong to her.

Expansion on your budget ideas.
1) Intersperse low, wide growing evergreens. The tiniest pots can be had for $5 at big box stores. They take being overrun or severe pruning so that in the case you have to move or get too busy or ill to take care of a flowerbed there is a gorgeous plan B waiting to be revealed.

You must look upon your garden as a hobby, not a property value return. I cringe to recall my sister-in-law sodding a beautiful yard because she wanted to spend time camping  with the kids on weekends and not to be stuck taking care of the yard. A high maintenance yard can actually lower the selling price of a home.

2) Multi colored collection of fall planted bulbs (crocus, Spanish blue bell, etc.) can be found at very reasonable bulk prices. Plant them wider than recommended and be patient, in 4 years you will be able to transplant them into those lovely solid colored drifts displayed on magazine covers.

3) If you see a garden you adore, make a habit of taking your walks on that route. Surely an avid gardener working in their yard loves a compliment and eventually will share their knowledge and their plants. I often supply grocery sacks for complete strangers. Take along some plastic sacks in your pocket (for the pooch right?) and a Sharpie to write on the sack the name and height of the plants you receive. If you forget the particulars, you can type in an image search on Bing for some good examples of what to combine them with, along with care instructions.

4) Alan Titchmarsh had a "Love Your Garden" episode (I love YouTube!) on a man's room after room of exceedingly formal clipped and topiaried gardens where monochromatics were stunning. You cannot convince me that formal gardens are budget though, how anyone keeps a whole yard of box or yew uniformly healthy is not possible to imagine.

5) Plant permanently. Some combos are low maintenance forever heaven. I bought bulk mixed, 4 months of bloom, daffodils from Brecks - (order a catalog, a coupon comes with it, and if you start an online order then decide the price is too steep and delete it before the payment is sent they'll sometimes email a coupon) -  and interspersed them with budget daylilies chosen for their bloom time, color and heights.

Gilbert H Wild and Son have hearty bare rootstock day lilies and though the new varieties are pricey, older ones can be had for $2.75. When daffodils fade, the day lilies completely cover the withering foliage (no clean up!) - both daffodils and day lilies are long lived perennials that tolerate total neglect. - (Don't put nitrogen on day lilies or you'll get all foliage and no flowers.) – Eventually, this combo will choke out any and every weed, even grass. As with all perennials after bloom, I chop the entire day lily plants down to the ground: they soon send up foliage as fresh as springtime. In this bed, I will be able to take the bagging lawn mower over the entire island.

6) Plant a hedge if you cannot afford a fence. An appraiser told me a board or like fence will retain it's value in resale, chain-link fences will recoup half of their cost, and a filled in hedge will add as much value as a board fence to your property's value.

Research what grows best in your area. I planted a big box emerald green arborvitae and then discovered a Wisconsin native, that I found later, that was much more vigorous and care free. I bought the smallest size shrubs and carefully plotted out placing them to compliment what my neighbors had in place so they would look less awkward while puny. The wind and sun scald they suffered [and which stunted them] stopped when I started applying Cloud Cover (a polymer that slows evaporation) before the temperatures dropped below 40F. The manufacturer of that product also recommends applications throughout the growing season to decrease watering.

7) Look beyond your own perimeter before planning. It may be tempting to nix an unattractive shrub but probably a previous homeowner put it there in order to hide an unpleasant view. Likewise, there could be an attractive view waiting to be borrowed from next door or the horizon if you carve out a frame for it.

8) Research the varieties of plants present in your yard. Many shrubs respond thankfully to renewal pruning, and many crowded expensive perennials look like a bed of weeds for want of transplanting.

9) Learn how to prune and don't be afraid of it! You will increase the beauty and lifetime of shrubs and trees twenty fold as well as keep the size in check, but it must be done before the point of no return.

Likewise, don't feel heartless about discarding the remnants of flowers you've divided. Overcrowded borders do not perform to their full potential: you will get frustrated and feel you must start from scratch with a whole new planting scheme.

If it makes you feel better put divided plant discards in a cardboard box at the end of your drive marked "free, variety, color and height."  If they don't disappear, which would surprise me, take them to the municipal yard waste site and set them slightly apart from the pile. If no one takes them, the pay loader there won't object to adding the cardboard box to the compost heap. A friend with a lawn care business collects all the plant divisions he can get, piles them into his work yard and waters them until he gets a request for a garden.

10) Pruning lessons: I got over my fear working at my father-in-law's apple orchard "Don't worry, you can't kill them," he said. Volunteer at a municipal garden, where you will be greatly appreciated and where you find out which tools suit you best before you buy any. YouTube has several wonderful tutorials from all parts of the country on every variety of plant.

11) Scour the classified ads in Spring. Garden clubs hold plant sales as fundraisers, and the prices are so right! Arrive early if you can: members pot up slips from their own gardens, sometimes it's the "I shouldn't have splurged" rarest, priciest plants that they share.

12) Consider long-lived edible plants. I have ruby stemmed rhubarb at the end of a ferny asparagus hedge. The rhubarb stays lovely as long as I reach in to bust off the flowers stalks as they appear, and if the leaves get tired or crowded looking, they make swift single layer mulch that dries to earth color in a few days. The asparagus backs an Asian gravel garden with stone "islands", a Buddha temple, and bamboo fountain, redbud, Siberian iris, and dwarf conifers. Both the asparagus and rhubarb blend nicely with that theme....and the best part is that both plants are the first flavors of Spring!

Thank you, Sheila/Orchard Annie, for your input. To introduce her to my readers, I requested that she email some photos of her garden and a short biography. I was not prepared for what I received. She sent me enough mouth-watering images of her horticultural work to create many interesting garden blogs and her biography revealed a romantic narrative about the role of men in her gardening life. I will share that lovely story in a future post.

Readers who recognize Sheila's talent from the photos she supplied, and from her original and intimate style of communicating, are invited to leave a comment below to encourage her to create her own blog.

Visitors who missed out on my three- part series can link to Part 1 and 2 here:

How to Paint a Masterpiece in Your Garden Part 1

How to Paint a Masterpiece in Your Garden Part 2


Plants That Perform All Season, a book review

Powerhouse Plants, 510 Top Performers for Multi-Season Beauty, Graham Rice, Timber Press,

Graham Rice is an international renowned and respected plantsman with gardening experience on both sides of the Atlantic. He is also an award-winning writer with more than twenty gardening books to his credit.

This latest work reaches out to readers who garden on small plots of land where plants must do double duty because there is room for so few of them. To create beautiful and interesting gardens under these confining conditions, Mr. Rice recommends that we consider using versatile powerhouse plants.

Such plants enhance the design of small gardens because they multi task throughout the growing season. Included in this category are perennials, shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses, vines and ground cover, all of which put on visual performances that last longer than their respective plant tags indicate. They do that by transforming themselves from a flowering summer perennial, for example, into a display of intensely colored fall foliage.

The inherent potential of these versatile players allows the gardener to create different and evolving plant combinations for various times of the year, all the while using a minimum number of plants.

Readers will be delighted that the author’s suggestions are confined to ones that are easy to grow, hardy, and glorious performers. Nothing makes a gardener happier than to discover that a beautiful plant is also a workhorse and that it requires little attention.

In that respect, nature has been very cooperative. Mr. Rice has managed to identify no less than five hundred and ten of these powerhouse plants – each with characteristics that evolve or linger in the garden, and whose beauty and visual interest is sustained long after they have lost one of their salient features.

Such a plant will display at least two of the following attributes: - spring shoots pushing through the soil, fresh unfurling foliage, spring flowers, summer flowers, summer foliage, attractive fruit and berries, evergreen foliage, vibrant colors in the fall, bark, interesting and colorful stems in winter, and winter or spring foliage rosettes.

Of course the above list doesn’t even begin to address other characteristics that a plant make contribute to the garden. These would include form, shape, texture, movement, fragrance, birds, and butterflies. All are qualities that enhance the value of most of the recommended plants in this book.

Gardeners who struggle to maximize the visual appeal of their small gardens will be relieved that there is now a handbook to help make that an easier task. Creative homeowners with larger gardens will also benefit because versatile, all-season, powerhouse plants enrich the appearance of all gardens, regardless of their size.



Whisky-Flavored Orange Marmalade

Image:- Mackays of Dundee, Scotland.One item from my childhood, sorely missed as I matured, has been orange marmalade. What sits on supermarket shelves today bears no resemblance in taste or texture to the Scottish condiment I ate in my youth. Then, it was made from real Seville oranges and sugar and now it is a by-product of anonymous orange rind and glucose -fructose.

When Canada was a British colony, we sourced many of our food treats from the UK. American food to the south had been massed-produced by agribusiness for so long that there was no contest in quality or flavor. We favored British products because they tasted better. Whenever my American relatives came to visit us, they would stock up on such food items as tea, cocoa and chocolate candy bars.

Over time, as the Canadian supermarket chains expanded, they too succumbed to sourcing from mass-market food producers just as their American counterparts did. Today, the quality and taste of many basic processed foods sold at retail is mediocre. That’s why the mass market brands of preserves is inferior to the old fashioned marmalade of my youth.

Recently, while visiting a carriage trade food retailer, I discovered the same quality orange marmalade that I ate as a child. It is still produced in Scotland by MacKays of Dundee, who use fresh, whole oranges imported from Seville, Spain, home of the world’s best bitter oranges – Citrus aurantium. Mackays marmalade tastes homemade.

Both bitter oranges (the traditional marmalade orange) and sweet oranges contribute to the recipe. In addition, cane sugar, considered more flavorful, is used instead of granulated sugar. Unhealthy fructose-glucose is avoided. My favorite product in their assortment is whisky-flavored orange marmalade.

Mackays is one of the very few companies in the world today that still uses the traditional “open pan” slow boiling method of jam making. It gives their preserves and marmalades their distinctive homemade taste and flavor. Their marmalade is based upon a local, traditional Dundee recipe. Instead of computers and robots, they prefer to employ artisan jam makers.

The story of Dundee Marmalade begins back in the 18th century when a Spanish ship took refuge from a storm, in the harbour at Dundee. On board was a consignment of Seville Oranges - which a local grocer decided to purchase. On taking them home to his wife, the couple discovered the oranges were too bitter to eat. The grocer’s wife saw the potential in the oranges and boiled them up with sugar, to create the delicious preserve now known as Dundee Orange Marmalade.

Dundee crafters, using copper - because it is the most efficient conductor of heat - make the boiling pans locally. Steam is used for cooking because it provides the most even temperature. The preserves are produced using the rolling boil method by which fruit and sugar is slowly boiled to allow the flavors to be released before gradually setting. To assure a quality taste, the preserves are made in small batches and they encourage homemakers to do the same:-

When making jam at home, don’t try to make too large a quantity in one go. It will take far too long to come to the boil, and then will not boil rapidly enough to produce a good set.

After so many adult years of marmalade disappointment, a party took place on my palate when I tasted Mackays. Now, I am happy that I rediscovered a comfort food from childhood. The only difference between then and now is that today I spoon marmalade onto toast made from gluten-free bread spread with almond butter. Neither of these two foods existed when I was young.


Three Pink Flowering Miniature Shrubs for the Perennial Border

Some flower borders are more interesting than others. Those that contain a mixture of small shrubs and perennials may be more appealing to the eye than compositions that contain only flowers. One reason is that ornamental shrubs enrich a flowerbed by providing additional structure, shape, texture, rhythm, and the sporadic color of seasonal flowers. All of these factors will influence where in the plant composition a shrub should be placed. Miniature ones usually show best at the perimeters of the flowerbeds.

Ornamental shrubs also act as a backdrop that enhances the beauty of nearby plants. In winter, when the perennial garden is barren, both evergreen and deciduous shrubs will continue to provide visual interest until the arrival of spring.

Recently, I discovered three miniature shrubs that I believe have merit for the front row of a perennial border. When their color and diminutive size popped out at me from the pages of a recent catalogue, I decided to order them for my test garden. Therefore, I draw readers attention with some reservation, as I will be unable to report on these plants until I have observed their performance.

Image;- polifolia Blue Ice is an evergreen shrub with silver-blue foliage that resembles rosemary. A profuse bloomer, it produces delicate bell-shaped pink flowers in April and grows 30 cm or 12 inches tall and 50 cm or about 20 inches wide.

It is comfortable in either full sun or part shade, and thrives in Canadian Zone 2 aka USDA Zone 3. Suitable for rock gardens, it prefers acidic soil. Heather plant,  Calluna vulgaris Country Wicklow grows 40 cm or about 16 inches  high and wide. It has a low compact habit and its mid-green foliage is a fine background for double shell-pink flowers that bloom from July to October. A sun loving plant, it is hardy to Canadian Zone 4, i.e. USDA Zone 5.

Image:-, Erica carnea Vivellii,, is a slow-growing, neat, low, broadly- spreading evergreen shrub with dark green foliage, tinged purple in winter. It prefers acidic soil conditions. This plant grows in sun to part shade to about 25 cm or 10 inches high and 50 cm or about 20 inches wide. Hardy to Canadian Zone 4 and USDA Zone 5, it will bloom from November to May, depending upon climate.


A Drought-Tolerant Perennial that is Really a Shrub

Image: canbyi is a drought tolerant, cold climate, evergreen plant hardy to USDA Zone 4, perhaps even 3. When I first discovered it, accidentally, in a grab bag collection of perennial seedlings at a behemoth retailer, it seemed appropriate as rock garden ground cover.

Fascinated by its rich, dark green and sensuous pinnate foliage, I placed it in a dry sunny spot, among the Phlox subulata and the Arabica caucasica. That’s how I created a visually effective composition of various low growing foliage plants, that cascaded over the rock garden.

Extreme close up image from wikpedia.orgThroughout the season, Paxistima would stand out from among all of them. To the eye, it appeared prickly, but to the touch, it was soft, smooth, and silky. It beckoned me closer every time I noticed it and I would reach out to stroke it with the same eagerness as petting a puppy. What an exciting and moving tactile experience!

Image: arrowheadalpines.comIt was a surprise to realize how slowly this plant would mature. However, its lack of height [mine grew one inch high but it can reach 12 inches] and its disciplined spread [it will slowly grow to 5 feet wide if left untrimmed, but it is not invasive] were compatible attributes with my gardening personality. I was pleased that it could thrive in dry clay, in a heat-and-drought-ravaged corner of the garden.

After ten years of making me happy, I lost the plant in a renovation project when, for structural reasons, the rock garden had to be demolished. Since Paxistima had insinuated itself between several large boulders and was rooted into hard clay, there was no way the demolition crew could save it.

A few years later, when I began to landscape other people’s gardens, I found a new need for my long lost but loving Paxistima. Providing it is manicured each season, this soft, sensual, and reliable evergreen plant can be used successfully as background filler in the front border of flowerbeds.

However, when I began to hunt for it anew, I discovered two facts that had eluded me. First, in some parts of the country, Paxistima is almost impossible to find at retail. Second, it is not a perennial but a miniature shrub.

Very small shrubs that exhibit attractive sensory attributes have an important role to play in the design and appearance of perennial flowerbeds. There will be more on this subject in my next post where I hope to report on three relatively new miniature shrubs suitable for cold-climate gardening.