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

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Entries in Interesting Annuals (9)


Penthouse Gardening with Mandevilla and Skyline

Every spring, I plant flowerpots for a client living on the border of Westmount, Quebec. There is great spiritual excitement working at this site. We garden on the top floor of a twelve-story assisted-living apartment building for seniors that sits at the highest point of Mont Royal, Montreal’s mountain in the middle of a city, modestly landscaped by Fredrick Law Olmstead twenty years after he created New York City’s Central Park.

To the south, we see the Saint Lawrence River and the Champlain Bridge that crosses it; to the west, a  horizon boasting the outline of a new hospital complex, beyond which the skyline fades into the river and the rural areas beyond. To the east, we admire the western slope of the mountain dotted with the lush green clouds of densely populating treetops that grace the elegant homes surrounding this residential municipality.

At this height, we feel a soothing silence broken first by the roar of wind blowing across the Saint Lawrence Valley as it bounces off the southern face of the mountain and second by the music of wind chimes that float from a neighboring penthouse on the same floor. Fortunately, the flowers that I plant are protected from the ethereal gusts of wind by clear Lucite panels that shelter both the client and her potted garden.

The spring sun bathes us in warmth as we work under bright skies that glow in a shade of blue rarely seen at street level; the birds in the treetops provide songs-to-plant-by and on dull days, the unobstructed view of dramatic cloud formations fill us with awe as they float before our eyes.

My staff and I feel a little closer to heaven gardening at this height with such a panoramic view. Although we spend hours designing and planting flowerpots, what we do here does not feel like work. This annual project is an opportunity to experience spirituality. Regardless of their age, personality, gender or field of study, none of the college students who help me plant remain unmoved by what they see.


Current Trends in Urban Garden Design

Readers who follow my garden book reviews may have noticed an emphasis this season on two landscaping topics:- a] gardening in confined urban spaces and b] landscaping without lawns.

From that perspective, it is reassuring that the publishing industry recognizes the large number of urban gardeners who have location-related challenges that need to be addressed. City dwellers must be relieved to know that having a lawn is not, and never has been, a prerequisite to enjoying a beautiful garden.

With the emerging targets markets for container gardening and no-mow lawns, it is prescient that Proven Winners reflects these two trends in their current publication The Gardener’s Idea Book. It differs from previous PW brochures as it focuses primarily on the urban gardener and apartment dweller, both of whom are more likely to garden on a patio, deck, or balcony rather than on a lawn.

Below are images of some of the urban settings that PW commissioned for their current brochure. They illustrate how easy it is to create a pleasurable floral oasis on a deck or patio using only containers, window boxes, and raised flowerbeds.

Once they are planted, such gardens require less attention and maintenance than traditional flowerbeds do. There is no space for weeds to grow in containers or raised beds covered with wall – to – wall plants. The abundant use of annuals reduces the amount of maintenance required to tend some perennials. In addition, there is little or no grass to cut, feed, and water on a deck or patio.

While the emphasis in this publication is on Proven Winner’s attractive, trademarked annuals, readers might want to consider adding perennials, ornamental shrubs, and roses to their raised flowerbeds. Where budgets permit, these plants are also quite effective when used for container gardening.

Image © Used with permission.

Plants included in above arrangements: ANGELFACE® Blue Angelonia hybrid, SUPERBELLS® Plum, SUPERBELLS® Red, and SUPERBELLS® Yellow Calibrachoa hybrids, Sweet Caroline Bewitched and Sweet Caroline Raven,  Ipomoea batatas, SUNSATIA® Raspberry Nemesia hybrid, SUPERTUNIA®, Red and SUPERTUNIA® Royal Velvet Petunia hybrids, COLORBLAZE® Dipt in Wine, Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus), and GRACEFUL GRASSES® KING TUT® Cyperus papyrus

Image © Used with permission.

In matching containers above center: - SUPERBELLS® Dreamsicle and SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrids, Efanthia Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid.

In raised beds:-  Efanthia Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid, Sweet Caroline Raven, Ipomoea batatas, LUSCIOUS® Citrus Blend Lantana hybrid, SUNSATIA® Lemon Nemesia hybrid, GRACEFUL GRASSES® Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum, SUPERTUNIA® Citrus Petunia hybrid, COLORBLAZE® Dark Star, COLORBLAZE® Kingswood Torch, COLORBLAZE® Royal Glissade and COLORBLAZE® ‘Sedona’ Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus). 

Window boxes on edge of raised beds: - SUPERBELLS® Dreamsicle, SUPERBELLS® Yellow, SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrids,and Goldilocks Lysimachia nummularia.

Image © Used with permission.

Above is an aerial view of the previous photo. Notice the abundance of plants and trees growing in the raised beds and containers. The verticality of the gazebo, trees, and tall plant on the left, deflect the visitor's gaze away from the confinement of the fence.

Image © Used with permission.

In raised beds above:- Efanthia Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid, Sweet Caroline Raven Ipomoea batatas, LUSCIOUS® Citrus Blend Lantana hybrid, SUNSATIA® Lemon Nemesia hybrid, GRACEFUL GRASSES® Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum, SUPERTUNIA® Citrus Petunia hybrid, COLORBLAZE® Dark Star, COLORBLAZE® Kingswood Torch, OLORBLAZE® Royal Glissade, and COLORBLAZE® ‘Sedona’ Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus).

Window boxes on edge of raised beds:- SUPERBELLS® Dreamsicle, SUPERBELLS® Yellow, SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrids, and Goldilocks Lysimachia nummularia.

Image © Used with permission.

Plants used in various containers:- SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrid, SUPERTUNIA® Bermuda Beach Petunia hybrid, SUPERBENA® Peachy Keen Verbena hybrid.

Window boxes: SUPERBELLS® Cherry Star and SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon, Calibrachoa hybrids and ‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Light Green’ Ipomoea batatas.

In all of the photos above, notice the visual interest created by the contrasting textures of fabrics, wood, concrete, stone, container materials, metal, foliage and flowers. A comforting verticality, that adds to a sense of spaciousness, is supplied by upward growing plants, shrubs, trees, and a gazebo. Mood and atmosphere is enhanced by light and fire, as well as the borrowed view of the city sky line.

The colors green and terra cotta repeat throughout these urban landscapes to create a rhythmic, unifying theme, while the color and grain of the fencing timber provide richness. Only one of the above views indicates that there is a grass lawn in the distant background. However, in such a beautiful outdoor setting, grass becomes irrelevant.


Upscale Gardening with a Mass-Market Manual, a book review

Plant Combinations for Your Landscape by Tony Lord, with photographs by Andrew Lawson, Published by Creative Homeowners.

A prominent garden designer and a garden photographer have put their names to a mass-market how-to garden book. This attractively priced, lavishly illustrated, and dwarf-sized publication measures only 5.5 x 6.5 inches. However, it is no less important than more elaborate and larger-sized volumes selling at three times the price.

The conciseness of the gardening advice is as compact as the book itself, yet it contains everything a new gardener needs to know about plants and how to combine them in the garden. The author has divided the manual into six clearly defined topics plus an invaluable introductory chapter. These preparatory pages instruct the reader how to use the guide effectively and how to interpret the short hand symbols; it also clearly explains concepts that are fundamental to garden design.

These concepts include the value of light, bedding and borders, the importance of color- repetition- balance, the role of containers and hanging baskets, meadow planting, the June gap in the flower garden, the late spring shearing of tall summer plants, late summer color, bulbs, and climbers. Distilled into twenty tiny pages, this treasury of basic information, fundamental to garden design, can be read in a flash.

The opening chapter instructs the reader about the essence of a garden’s basic structure, namely shrubs and small trees. The list included no less than sixty-five plants. The next chapter introduces forty-two climbing plants that add a vertical dimension to a garden, followed by a chapter discussing sixty of the most versatile of all plants, the rose.

The subsequent chapter discusses perennials, the herbaceous plants that play an essential role in designing and filling a garden. Here, the reader will discover seventy-eight of them. Twenty-six attractive bulbs are also included in this book because of their ability to grow through layers of other plants. Finally, the book ends with a chapter discussing sixty-four annuals. This topic includes biennials, frost-tender perennials, and vegetables with ornamental foliage.

Each of the chapters begins with an introduction and overview of its topic, followed by a short summary about each plant. The summary divides into two short paragraphs. One, titled How it Works, is a concise explanation of the growth habit and appearance of a specific plant. Another paragraph, titled Recommended Partners, lists additional plants that combine successfully with the featured one in order to enhance the garden.

Because it prevents the reader from feeling daunted by the subject of garden design and plant combinations, this book is important for first-time gardeners. If one uses the structure of the book itself, the undertaking will be easy to accomplish.  By reading about one component of design at a time, at one’s own pace, one can easily build a garden in stages. The trick is to follow the sequence of the chapters. It’s that simple – that’s what manuals are intended to do – and Mr. Lord and Mr. Lawson accomplish that task admirably.

This review is also posted to




Success with Flower Pots and Containers Requires Trial and Error

http://foreverflowercontainers.comWhen I began to design flower gardens, many clients asked me to fill their containers as well. That’s when I dived, head first, into a craft for which I was as yet unsuited and unprepared. Guided by the beautiful photographs in the trade publications, I copied the compositions in the pictures and sourced the same types of flowers that had been used. Unfortunately, the results were never spectacular.

It was only by reading several books on container gardening that I came to understand my own shortcoming and the limited power of the plants that I has selected. The first thing that I learned was that flower pots need potting mixture to grow successfully. I had been potting flowers with rich black garden soil. Containers, I now understand, need feeding every two weeks. I did not know that, but I do now. Containers also need frequent watering. I had been neglectful of that and now I know better.

My lack of experience was also responsible for me making the strategic error of believing that annual flowers in pots bloom all summer long. Who knew that plants could be spent by July and need replacing? I know that now. However, the biggest lesson learned from my trials and errors is not to trust the advertisements for annuals or to rely upon the professional flower arrangements that are photographed for magazines. Those pots look good when planted but not a few months later.

The greatest deception of all is the industry’s encouragement to use specific annuals because many of them are flowers that simply can’t deliver. Like most gardeners, I was so impressed with the hype and appearance of Calibrachoa and Bacopa that when they failed to perform, I was greatly disappointed. These plants are not nearly as attractive in a real container as they appeared in print. The colors are harsh, and do not project. Furthermore, they do not become more attractive after planting. They seem to be at their peak when purchased and then deteriorate until the end of the season.

Summers are short in USDA zone 4 and sometimes spring never comes. With such a protracted season for enjoying flowers, we require reliability. Here it is not OK for flower pots to appear spent by mid summer. By that time, the local merchants of annual flowers have dismantled their kiosks so that replacements are impossible to find. Another lesson learned, now that we are experiencing summers with unending rain, is that dahlias will rot if planted in pots if there is no opportunity for the soil to dry out.

When all of my attempts to creatively plant containers failed, it took a while for me to realize that so many of the most spectacular potted floral arrangements still depend upon pelargonium and begonias as main plants. In the end, what once appeared to me to be old fashioned and overused has turned out to be the most reliable.


Viola Etain

As I was loading the van with perennials, the owner of the greenhouse where I shop came over and asked if I had seen the new Viola Etain. I politely explained that I avoid Violas because they are aggressive self-seeders. The grower insisted that the news strain that she is introducing in our area this season is tame, as it does not set seed. With that statement, she rushed to a display table to bring me two pots of Viola Etain, as a gift.

“This is Etain”, she said “and everything about it special; the coloration of its petals, its aroma, and its long blooming period”. The moment I saw it a gasp emitted from my mouth and I was unable to speak. This was my first experience with actually having my breath taken away. It wasn’t a metaphor, it was a real physical experience.

What I saw first was the rare but awesome combination of two colors: pale lemon yellow and soft faded purple. When placed close to each other, yellow and purple usually create high energy. However, in this case the tones of the colors are delicate so that the energy is muted. Theatre students understand that nothing creates high drama better than understated energy. This plant is a demonstration of that principle. To this scene, add a soft but heady floral aroma combined with a diminutive but impressive looking plant and a spontaneous act of enchantment was born. Of course, I left the nursery with two trays of ready-to-plant pots of Etain.

Here is what we know about this plant:

  • low and compact, grows 6 inches high.
  • prolific bloomer with a long blooming season. Heaviest blooms are in spring to early summer with sporadic blooming throughout the summer. Flowers bloom best in cooler months of spring and fall. In areas where summers are cool, it will bloom all season.
  • petals are extra large, measuring 1.75 inches across.
  • delightful aroma.
  • unlike other Violas that are ground cover, Etain  grows as a clump of rooted shoots that are easily pulled apart for propagation.
  • short lived plant, must be propagated every September.
  • Sun to part shade
  • US Zone 3 to 11.

The fact that it is a one-season plant would have been sufficient to banish Etain from my repertoire. However, I have decided instead to treat it as an annual because it is too beautiful to exclude from the garden.