Need Help?

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

Entries in (14)


Chakra Gardens are Soothing, Healing, Spiritual: Book Review for

Chakra Gardens by Carol Cumes, with photography by Greg Asbury, Mitra Publishing

One of the best kept secrets of gardening is the spiritual transformation that one experiences each time one enters a garden to tend, to admire or to escape. For that reason, a chakra garden is not an altogether new concept to the passionate gardener. It may also help others understand the spirituality that some gardeners have reported experiencing.

A chakra garden is a botanical environment that provides a place of rest and healing. The author believes that nature provides healing energies that can benefit us when we choose to sit in a garden. This view is reinforced by healing gardens that have recently been built at some hospitals throughout the United States as part of a program for convalescence or palliative care. Visitors to chakra or healing gardens are positively influenced by the perfumes of plants, colors, textures and petal shapes, birds and their songs as well as insects and their sounds. One is immediately affected by the beauty and peace experienced there. The author suggests that when one heals the soul, the healing of the body will follow.

This book is a journey to the seven chakra gardens that the author has built in the Andes over the last twelve years. Each garden addresses a different aspect of human nature and is inspired by the ancient yoga philosophy which connects the seven energy centers to one’s soul. In each garden one can find physical symbols, flowers, herbs, and stones that are meaningful and that relate to specific chakras. It is the author’s hope that we will be inspired to create chakra gardens for ourselves. Those of us that become more serene simply by entering our own gardens will understand how easily attainable that goal can be.

The editors of this book have wisely decided to take Greg Asbury’s superb photographs and blow them up to larger than life. In doing so, they have accomplished two objectives. Firstly, the enlarged pictures create the illusion that the reader has been almost reduced to the size of an insect. Ever wonder how a flower hypnotizes a flying insect to drink its nectar and pollinate it in the process? Just look at the magnified photos and you will wonder no more. Seeing a flower from the perspective of an insect is a visual experience not to be missed. Secondly, the enlarged beauty of the flower is both magnificent and overwhelming. Focus for a moment on any one of these brilliant pictures and you might be transported to a place you never thought imaginable. Reading this book is in itself a chakra garden experience.

This book won the Independent Publisher Book Award for Best New Age/Mind Body Spirit Book for 2009.



Flowers and Herbs of Early America: Book Review for

Flowers and Herbs of Early America  Lawrence D. Griffith, photographs by Barbara Temple Lombardi, Yale University Press with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

The journey began a long time ago and it’s not yet over. We avoid using toxic chemicals in our gardens, we conserve water and we re-cycle organic waste to feed our plants. We are not that far away from re-discovering the flowering plants of our ancestors who grew, ate and utilized whatever nature provided.

Lawrence D Griffith studies period plants and researches their cultivation and use. If we are on the threshold of a trend to garden as our ancestors did then his work is prescient. His collaborator, Barbara Temple Lombardi is staff photographer for the Williamsburg Foundation. Together they have unveiled the intrinsic beauty and usefulness of a collection of plants many of us choose to ignore.

This is a beautifully illustrated documentation of the flowering plants cultivated and admired by early settlers of North America in general and Virginia in particular. It includes annual flowers, biennials plants, perennials and herbs.

Readers will discover a few surprises. Aquilegia Canadensis, Rudbekia fulgida, and Echinacea purpurea are plants native to North America, discovered by the settlers, incorporated into their gardens and still growing in our gardens today. On the other hand, the family of plants not native to North America, but introduced here by early settlers from Europe include Lychnis chalcedonica and Scabiosa atropurpurea.

Mr. Griffith has experimented with most, if not all, of the plants he describes in this book and conveniently encapsulates everything we need to know about each one in a boxed summary accompanying the text. That allows readers, not interested in the anecdotal history of each plant, to use this book as a ”how to” guide for growing heritage plants. Conveniently, for the enthusiastic gardener who will follow the example set by the author, the book also contains a list of sources for purchasing heritage seed, with addresses in Canada, the US and the UK.

Gardeners who do not use a camera are always amazed by the beauty that nature photographers find in the mundane. When we walk along a rural road, we ignore the common milkweed growing by the wayside. It is ugly, boring and ubiquitous. Yet, in this book, the photographer has transformed Asclepia syriaca into a work of art. That’s what I love about beautifully illustrated books on gardening. They allow us to see something old, as if it were new, for the very first time.



Passionate Gardening: Book Review for

Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates, Lauren Springer and Rob Procter, Fulcrum Press

The concept of the Westerner in American culture, conjures up the image of a friendly and unpretentious person. That explains the feeling one gets when reading this book. Not only is the style of writing informal but also, the gardens illustrated are bereft of the formality we often see and read about in British garden books. More than just a book about gardening, this publication is a window into the unabashed joy of getting down and dirty in the garden and the sheer pleasure of the physical energy expended in doing related chores.

The authors’ respective gardens are located in a challenging locale. Gardening in Colorado forced them to adjust their expectations and needs to the extremes of the Western climate. They share with us their experiences and the advice that grew out of dealing with a harsh climate. To understand the authors’ take on gardening, one needs to understand the obstacles they tried to overcome. These challenges included heat, drought, hail, blizzards, clay, sand, weeds, slugs, grasshoppers and raccoons.

This book is a collection of no less than one hundred and sixteen short essays, or mini topics. It is not a “how to” book. Each essay covers a different aspect of gardening in a challenging climate and is dedicated to discussing the topic from the point of view of two friendly Western gardeners. It is the charm of the authors that makes this book such an enjoyable read; they have a lot of fun doing what they love.

I was pleasantly astonished to discover that the authors chose to address the eternal problem of the rude visitor. Gardeners who visit the homes of their peers are prone to making inappropriate comments related to the host’s garden. The authors’ treatment of this topic is serious stuff and forced me to reconsider every comment I have ever made to owners of gardens I have visited

Studying the many photographs of the authors’ terrains, it is clear that Ms. Springer gardens on a large tract of land. Because her home is situated on one hundred and fifteen acres, she has the luxury of allowing her gardens to grow exponentially with a total disregard for boundaries. Mr. Proctor’s home is located on one acre of land, and the floral compositions on his property are more disciplined. While Ms. Springer’s garden is devoid of any straight lines, Mr. Proctor’s gardens are defined by them. Photos of their respective lands indicate that despite the differences in their size, both gardens are in harmony with the rugged nature of Colorado.

By reading their essays, I discovered several bits of information that I  found to be helpful. Here area few, some in the authors' own words.:-

* Local variations in temperature and rainfall will sometimes allow us to grow plants not recommended for our growing zone.

* Garden one up man ship is a pervasive problem everywhere. There ought to be a book of etiquette on how to behave when visiting other people’s garden.

* Clay can be useful, if properly used. Several perennials thrive in clay. These include sedum, coreopsis, perovskia, veronica, and the list goes on.

* There is no such thing as an instant garden. A perennial garden takes time to develop and knit together.

* Geography matters. Most perennials come from climates different than our own; zone hardiness alone will not determine the success of growing a plant. The more we know about a plant’s native habitat, the better we can adapt it to our garden

* Flower borders can thrive in hot dry summers. All borders need to be stuffed with plants and all of the plants in one border need to share the same cultural requirements. Furthermore, borders need depth to create drama.

*Some herbs make excellent growing companions for roses because of their insect repellant properties

*In a vast meadow garden, plants chosen for their untamed appeal make the transition from flower bed to the surrounding countryside a more graceful one

And finally, my favorite essay is titled ‘The Summertime Blues” and discusses the invaluable contribution that blue foliage and flowers make to any garden. Once again, in the authors own words, because they say it better than I have ever seen it said before: -

“Blue is an amazing color, seemingly effective with every other hue. It’s elegant with white, pale pink and cream. It shimmers with silver and chartreuse leaves. It glows with fiery orange or scarlet and smolders with maroon and blood red.”

Other essays that fill this book deal with diverse garden related topics as hand care, essential garden tools, what to wear when getting dirty, gardening when pregnant, pets in the garden, and plants that make the land look awesome in winter.

Reading this publication has been more than an informational exercise. I am happy to have met two new friends who have invited me into their gardens and made me feel welcome with their proverbial warm Western hospitality.



The Private World of Tasha Tudor: Book Review for



The Private World of Tasha Tudor  Tasha Tudor & Richard Brown,  Little, Brown & Company 


The late Tasha Tudor was a writer and illustrator of children’s’ books. Her farm in southern Vermont is a physical manifestation of all that was dear to her. This book explores her home, gardens, hobbies, writings and illustrations, all of which reflect the romantic nature of this multifaceted individual.


Of interest to this reviewer are the gardens that she created. Inspired by romantic English gardens, Ms. Tudor has given them a decidedly American flavor. She maintained the flower selection and color palette but discarded the formality. Hers are casual perennial gardens, meandering over her property and tamed only by surrounding meadows. These are not flower compositions to be viewed from an ideal perspective. Instead, they are gardens that surround and surprise as we wander about. Her property is filled with flowers to be enjoyed up close.


And yet, when each flower bed is viewed from a distance, we notice, in the background, a building, a stone wall or a tree that anchors the garden to its surroundings. What appears to be a spontaneous growth of flowers is, in fact, a well-planned composition. This method is well known to students of British gardens. The English pay a great deal of attention to the landscape architecture of their properties. Gardens that seem to appear out of nowhere are indeed, meticulously planned installations. Nothing is left to chance.


Ms. Tudor’s gardens are enhanced by the breathtaking images of Richard Brown, a renowned nature photographer. If this book were a theatrical production, Mr. Brown would merit a standing ovation.




The English Garden: Book Review for

The English Garden, Phaidon Press 

One should not call a garden “English” without specifying the century or the designer’s name attached to it. Each age brought its own interpretation to the landscape surrounding the proverbial English manor.This publication, which is encyclopedic in its coverage of English gardens, teaches us that every landowner asked something different from his landscape designer. Furthermore, what comes to mind as a traditional English garden may be English in origin but is certainly not what some of us might call a “garden”.

What the English call gardens is what North Americans call estates or parks.These are not back yard venues.They were, for the most part, until the latter half of the twentieth century, vast landscaped acreage. Sometimes the contours of these terrains were sculpted into the vision of the landscaper and sometimes they respected the natural formations of the land. In either case, landowners had the necessary wealth to modify nature, if they so wished.That is a revealing factor that is often overlooked.

In olden times, a garden might be a large cow-grazing pasture whose borders began at the foundations of an elaborate country manor. This garden would extend for several acres. It also might have been a messy cottage garden, filled with edible crops and herbs, growing outside the kitchen door of an otherwise elaborate estate.These gardens wered filled with flowering plants whose purpose was never intended to be esthetic; they were intended to control pests. In another instance, a garden might consist of intricate geometric shapes sprinkled, maze like, on the expansive grounds of a stately home, purely decorative in essence, but otherwise very impressive not only for the expense required to create it but also for the high cost of its maintenance.

While there is a disconnect between today’s modest weekend gardener who can only admire the gardens in this book and the land owner who can afford to replicate them, there are some lessons that all of us can learn from this historical overview. The most accessible are those gardens that have been created from the late nineteenth century onwards. From Munstead Wood, designed by Gertrude Jekyll, we learn about impressionist floral landscapes “painted” in romantic color schemes. More recent designers such a Piet Oudolf, Beth Chatto and Tom Stuart-Smith have taken a modern approach and have used plants to create powerful abstract paintings that move across meadow and lawn.These landscapers, working in the latter half of the twentieth century, reflect contemporary values about color combinations that would have been considered visually dissonant fifty years earlier.

While most of the landscapers in this book are worthy of mention, two deserve special attention. One is the late Dame Miriam Rothschild, who converted her neat estate into a wildflower meadow and invented, along the way, a popular wild flower seed mix called Farmer’s Nightmare! The other landscaper of note is Tim Smit who discovered an overgrown garden at Heligan, which had been neglected for over a hundred years. Rather than restore it, he cut through some of the growth to barely expose a beautiful, but haunting, ‘lost’ garden which he successfully converted into a tourist destination.

It is inspiring for the suburban gardener to learn that world class garden designers working in Britain today are also designing  gardens for small spaces.The utilitarian value of a back yard garden, as an oasis within the inner city and as a venue to entertain guests, has inspire some designers to include furniture and to introduce rock and metal into these mini landscapes. Often, dramatic lighting is incorporated, as well, to reflect the fashion of entertaining outdoors after dark.

While this is ostensibly a picture book, it is also by inference a socioeconomic survey of English society. The text that accompanies each illustration, offers a cameo of the age in which each garden was created. This is an added bonus, easily overlooked by the reader who might chose only to admire the photographs. I was delighted to read the text as I gained some insight into the mind set of the land owners that commissioned the gardens and the landscapers that created them.These historical footnotes to the pictures enrich the book and make for a fascinating read.

When I began reviewing gardening books, I assumed that there was no need to cover the works of the romantic gardeners of the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries who, up until recently, have been so influential in shaping our tastes in garden design. So much has been written about them, that there didn’t seem to be anything left to say. However, by placing them into an historical perspective, as the editors of this book have done, we gain a greater appreciation for their role. And, by juxtaposing them with contemporary modernists, who speak to us in a more current voice, we come to appreciate the radical evolution in garden design that is taking place in our lifetime.

Read my other reviews at