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
Nov202012

"Heaven Knows Anything Goes": Coral Pink and Lemon Yellow in the English-Style Flowerbed.

Forground right:Itoh Peony Bartzella. Center and left: Rainbow Knock Out Rose - more coral than pink in the summertime. Far back right: Rose Carefree Wonder..

Coral pink is a very warm, almost hot, color. It never was part of the master plan in my head when I planted the front walkway English-inspired garden.

When it was first introduced, the hype about Rainbow Knock Out Rose was as intense as the coral pink color of its petals. Then, its subsequent performance in my test garden was so awe-inspiring – yes, gardeners do feel awe when a plant out-performs its expectations – I just had to transplant it into the front yard flowerbed.

It can be frustrating for some gardeners to know that an uber-beautiful plant is flourishing in an unseen back yard garden. I prefer to admire such plants as I exit and enter the front door of my home.

Then, only a year after the coral pink rose was moved to the front garden, I acquired Bartzella. The most convenient spot to plant this magnificent yellow Itoh peony was two feet away from Rainbow Knock Out.

In a short while, both plants grew exponentially as they literally reached out to touch each other. That’s how a new, unplanned color combination, one that I never thought appropriate for my English-inspired flowerbed, came to dominate the early summer palette of the front garden.

To my pleasant surprise, this coral pink and lemon yellow composition appeared very pleasing to the eyes, especially with the long view of the grey stone house façade in the background. It should not have been a surprise. After all, the peony is yellow, albeit a cold yellow, and coral pink contains pigments of yellow.

Although the added vibrancy of this color combination upset the cool balance of the flowerbed, it ushered in a new approach to coloring the garden.  In time, the warm color palette would become my inspiration to increase the intensity of tones of future flowerbeds. This change of heart coincided conveniently with increasing requests from clients for me to use bolder colors.

What an evolution this has turned out to be! At the outset of my gardening experience, I adhered to emulating the British palette of polite, cool pastel shades. Now, I am comfortable using brassy color combinations that some might consider clearly American in spirit.

As long as the tones of a home’s façade can accommodate hot colors, there is no longer any protocol preventing gardeners from using them. As time goes on, rules about the aesthetics of garden composition – especially in North America – evolve or change. In some communities, they have been  discarded altogether.

Now, courageous homeowners plant for their personal pleasure; often to the dismay of their more conservative neighbors. As the lyrics of a Cole Porter song recount, now heaven knows, anything goes.

Wednesday
Nov072012

Perpetuating the English Garden; a Chronical of the Impressive Career of Rosemary Verey 

Rosemary Verey, the Life and Lessons of a Legendary Gardener, Barbara Paul Robinson, David R. Godine, Publisher.

The English-style garden, complete with pastel palette and focal point, appeared stale and tired-looking, after the Second World War. It might have disappeared from our contemporary gardening lexicon were it not for the contribution of Rosemary Verey who strove to perpetuate its beauty and its charm.

Here is a passionate book that follows the career of a late-blooming garden designer; it also serves as an attestation that sometimes innate talent and perseverance can be a substitute for formal training.

An internationally renowned, self-taught, master gardener, Mrs. Verey wrote her first book at the age of 62; and published seventeen more in the following twenty years. However, it was her avid fans, which she cultivated throughout the USA, who treated her as a V.I.P. Not only did they accord her a celebrity status but also they were responsible for turning most of her books into best-sellers.

Although Mrs. Verey appeared outgoing and sociable, she was, at heart, a private person, even when she made entries into her diary. As a result, Ms. Robinson’s research, thorough and meticulous as it is [sixty-nine people were interviewed} has produced a fascinating chronicle of an influential gardener’s life and career, rather than a biographic narrative. Nevertheless, it is a very satisfying book.

The author also drew upon a personal relationship with her subject. Ms. Robinson, who is a successful New York City lawyer and a passionate gardener, had taken a sabbatical from her practice in order to study under Rosemary Verey’s supervision.

The author Barbara Paul Robinson, on the left, with Rosemary Verey, on the right. Photo credit Charles Robinson and drgodineblogspot.caWhat drew this reviewer into the private world of a housewife – turned – designer was a poignant discovery of antiquated social norms that restricted and shaped the life of a talented women. Mrs. Verey was so gifted that had she been born into contem- porary society she might have become a lawyer or a banker, or even a professor of Economics. Instead, she became a traditional 1950’s wife and mother.

After her children were grown, and while she was contemplating  a “second career”, Mrs. Verey decided to redesign the landscape surrounding her home, Barnsley House, an historic U.K. residence, belonging to her husband’s family. The success of that project would eventually catapult her into an international career as an authority on English-style gardens.

Barnsley House. photo credit Jerry Harpur and drgodineblogspot.caWith encouragement from her scholarly husband, she began her formidable project by researching  historic British gardens. That led to a realization that certain design elements were essential to the creation of beautiful landscapes. Up until that time, such elements had been excusive to large estates.

It did not take long for this gifted neophyte designer to learn how to adapt the feel and mood of these aristocratic grounds in order to recreate them on her modest-sized property. Later, when she became the doyen of the English garden to most Americans, one of her most admired talents was the ability to take imposing elements from larger, acclaimed gardens and interpret them for the small scale of the American backyard.

Dedication, perseverance, and hard work - combined with the eye of a mathematician – transformed Mrs. Verey from wife of an upper middle class gentleman into a world-renowned authority on English Gardens. Among her clients were the New York Botanical Garden, Sir Elton John, HRH Charles Prince of Wales, the late King Hussein of Jordan, and the Honorable Hilary Weston of Canada.

Adding to my enjoyment of this book is the way the author weaves several themes throughout the biography. One thread is the confirmation that beautiful English gardens require maintenance. Without it, they cannot perpetuate the vision of the designer. A second thread deals with the feeling of inadequacy experienced by some successful but self-taught designers when in the company of diploma-bearing professionals.

Another theme examines the role the client plays in developing a garden design. When planning the grandest of her projects, no matter how tenaciously she held to her opinions, Rosemary Verey wisely deferred to the whims of the homeowner.

Mrs. Verey’s influence upon me, as well as on many of my colleagues and clients, has been so pivotal that as soon as I found out about this book I added it to my must-read list.

In it I found comfort when I learned that the placement of a plant - as challenging as it might be for us today - was no less of a challenge for the world’s great authority on that subject. It is reassuring to discover that even the most talented among us sometimes struggle, as we do, in order to overcome obstacles.

Readers are in for a treat when they continue to the writer’s acknowledgments at the end of the book. Throughout Ms. Robinson’s manuscript, a secondary story accompanies the biography. It describes the special relationship between Rosemary Verey and her husband; how he continuously encouraged her to achieve her personal goals.

That narrative is echoed in the author’s revelation about the encouragement she received from her own husband so that she too might garden and eventually write this book. What a touching comparison this turns out to be when it creeps up on the reader as a delightful surprise ending.

                         

Friday
Oct262012

Six Steps to Creating Grassless Tree Lawns and Shade Gardens

A reader submitted the following inquiry:-

I am dying to transform my Williamsville NY tree lawn into something more than grass! I am thinking wildflowers but also need to keep in mind that I can’t have anything in the lawn that would obstruct vision when entering exiting the drive. I'd like to start this soon - any helpful ideas, suggestions!!!

Here is my reply:-

Step One. Decide upon a desired appearance of the completed tree lawn when grass has been removed and plants have been installed. If this proves to be a challenge, close your eyes and dig deep inside yourself to imagine the finished project. It’s easier than you might think. That idealized image will influence the choices you make as the project progresses.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a tree lawn and woodland. The tree lawn may be a studied, deliberate composition while the woodland has a more spontaneous, naturally surprising feel about it.

The most inspiring advice for planting a beautiful spreading, woodland is found at the garden blog Carolyn’s Shade Gardens. This site is a beautifully illustrated treasure of suitable information.

In addition to the overall visual impression or mood that one wants the garden to convey, consider a garden’s personality. The choices are "wild and messy", "neat and trim" and "casual”.

Wild and messy refers to a combination of wildflowers, self-seeding woodland perennials, and other plants whose forms tend to be untidy.

Neat and trim implies a composition of tame and mound-like plants that respect a predetermined linear planting design. Such disciplined plants increase in size at a conservative rate.

A casual garden uses the same mound-like tame plants that are found in neat and trim but in an unstructured, informal collage-type arrangement. This style of planting may be achieved with a deliberately abstract placement of plants or by distributing them randomly and haphazardly throughout the garden.

Step Two. Select a procedure for effectively removing grass. That process will be influenced by one’s acceptance or disapproval of herbicides, [a very controversial topic, with valid arguments pro and con] and by local environmental by-laws that govern the use of such products.

When evaluating a grass removal procedure, one must consider the amount of time available for the task, the amount of physical energy one can muster, and one’s comfort with mechanical, chemical, and organic methods. In her book Beautiful No Mow Lawns, Evelyn J. Hadden identifies 5 different ways to remove grass from an existing lawn. It’s a must read.

Step Three. Inspect the density of the soil. Have the trees reached a maturity that makes the soil so dense with roots that it is difficult to dig there?

If the soil is root-bound, there are two options: One may use a roto-tiller to chop up the tree roots that grow close to the surface. While this method is effective, it can risk compromising the health of the trees. Some mature trees might be unaffected by surface roto-tilling, while others may be damaged. [It is wise to consult an arborist for advice on this subject]. Or, one can build raised beds about two feet high, above the root-bound soil, to create a happy growing place with minimal damage to the trees.

Soil amendments that are needed - and those that are always beneficial, like compost - should be considered at this point.

Step Four. Research the garden’s USDA hardiness Zone; that detail is important when selecting plants.

Step Five. Determine if the tree lawn creates part shade or full shade and if its soil is dry, moist, or normal. Dry means that neither natural rainfall nor irrigation hits the lawn. Moist implies a garden that is damp more than it is dry.

The information gathered will help determine what is or isn’t plantable around the trees. When researching suitable plants, or when perusing an online garden catalogue, look for adjectives in the product descriptions that match the garden’s growing conditions.

[It is at this point that one also starts paying attention to the mature height of suitable plants. My reader specifically requested plants that do not block her line of vision when entering or exiting the driveway.]

Step Six. Evaluate the role of aggressively spreading plants and ground cover perennials that sometimes grow for "miles". Is the area encompassing the tree lawn ample enough to accommodate such plants?

A garden is not a naturally occuring place. It is created by humans from a figment of imagination and, as such, it remains forever a work in progress. These six steps are only the beginning. There will always be something new to consider, to add, or to remove.

Thursday
Oct182012

A Concert of Master Gardeners, Each With Their Own Moving Solo; a book review.

The Roots of my Obsession, Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden, edited by Thomas Cooper, Timber Press.

Under the stewardship of Thomas Cooper, innovative Timber Press collected first hand experiences of distinguished gardeners from around the globe and encapsulated them into a little book whose size belies the grandeur of its contents.

Do not be misled by the title. This is not a collection of cobbled – together, self-congratulatory paeans to horticulture. Instead, consider it a jewelry box filled with personal sketches that touch the heart of those that open its cover. Mr. Cooper himself has written a sublimely crafted introduction that represents garden writing at its best.

Imagine your favorite musicians. Then, think what a concert would sound like if they all assembled to perform at a command performance. Now, envisage this publication; for that’s what this is: - a concert of master gardeners, each with their own moving solo.

The publishers solicited thirty personal recollections from some of the world’s most prominent horticultural voices to find out what motivated them. It is not a coincidence that they are all, in their own right, superb garden writers. Only the splendor of their professional accomplishments surpasses the beautiful skills of communication they display here.

On a personal note, I found this book quite meaningful. As a male gardener, I enjoyed reading the candid, autobiographical pieces submitted by men who, like me, combine the attributes of manhood with the tender wonderment of discovery.

While those of us who work in the horticultural industry experience a satisfying social camaraderie, [we have opportunities to see ourselves reflected in other male colleagues], too many of our gender find gardening to be a lonely activity.

From that perspective, such a collection of personal confidences, wherein half the articles were written by men, makes this book significant for me; it validates the male gardener who sometimes finds himself in print, social media, and in the flowerbeds, vastly outnumbered by his respected and talented female colleagues. However, that personal observation in no way deprecates the rich contributions of the other fifty percent of the contributors - our female rock stars of gardening.

Some of the participants in this book submitted short essays, others have written a short narrative. A large number connect the dots of gardening back to pleasurable childhood experiences. Regardless of the kind of horticultural journey they travelled, all share a love for this passionate hobby.

With a variety of thirty different personal experiences to discover, readers who garden will find themselves reflected in the pages of this book. Those who are considering entering the field, for recreation or vocation, will be even more inspired to do so. As for the already committed, it will feel good to learn about others who are very much like us. Welcome to the personally - rewarding universe of gardening.

                         

Thursday
Oct112012

Gardens Are Not Only About Plants: A Chinese Lantern Exhibition at the Montreal Botanical Gardens

The magnificent horticultural phenomenon in Montreal, known as Botanical Garden [or Jardin Botanique in French] is an internationally acclaimed destination for tourists and gardeners. It is also a desirable place for those seeking an exhilarating outdoor experience. The garden sits on 185 acres [75 hectares] of arable land and contains 20,000 plant species displayed among 31 specialized gardens.

Two of the most popular attractions at this site are the Chinese and Japanese gardens. The Chinese is the largest of its size outside Asia, and the Japanese is complete with serene Tea Room and Bonsai collection.

Every autumn, the Chinese garden stages a lantern exhibit. This year, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the garden, an historical Chinese theme was selected. Titled The First Emperor’s Procession  it is made up of awesome-looking and life-sized thematic lanterns that pay tribute to China’s first Emperor, Quin Shi Huangdi and his cavalry.

Designed in Montréal, the lanterns are handcrafted by skilled artists in Shanghai, using traditional methods. Then they are transported by sea to Montréal where they are painstakingly arranged on and around the reflecting lake in the center of the garden to create a truly magical spectacle.

Visitors will gasp with delight when they see autumn’s evening sky lit up by nearly 900 traditional lanterns. To conserve energy, each is illuminated by bulbs using TFT LED Contactless System technology that consumes 10 times less energy than traditional lighting.

It will take more words than we have in the English language to describe what I saw and how I felt when - as dusk turned to night - I experienced this stunning visual presentation. The exhibit, an attestation that gardens need not be only about plants, continues nightly until October 31, 2012. It will return next fall, transformed by yet another theme.

Visitor’s Note: The exhibit is so popular, that on some nights the wait to enter is very long. When we arrived at the P1 gate with our grandchildren, it was suggested we return to our cars and drive east to the P2 Insectarium parking lot to access the exhibit from an alternative entrance. There, instead of waiting for over an hour to get in, we spent less than 5 minutes paying for admission. Later that night, we gave the children another treat when, on the way back to the car, they detoured into the amazing Insectarium and then into the Aquatic Garden where they stared in wonderment at the dramatic night lighting of the plants and water.