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

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The Complete Compost Gardening Guide: Book Review for

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide  Barbara Pleasant & Deborah L.Martin, Storey Publishing

The hedgehog that lives in my back yard has let me know, in his own way, that purchasing a compost bin with a ground level opening is not a good idea. He already eats everything tasty in my garden, so access to compostable kitchen scraps will only create a feast for him and a mess for me. The solution would be to invest in a rotary compost bin that prevents animals from climbing inside. Not a good idea! While I would like to do my part to save the planet, spending a lot of money on equipment contradicts the idea of going green.

That is why the arrival of this book on my doorstep was so welcome. It only took the reading of a few pages to realize that there are many ways to compost without spending a lot of money. At first glance, I thought that this publication was targeting the commercial farmer, but on closer inspection, I discovered that this book has so much to offer the recreational gardener as well.

What I like best about this book is the scholarly method with which the subject of composting is introduced and expanded upon, in incremental sub topics, until the totality of the subject has been examined. The essential message in this publication is that anyone’s back yard or farm can easily become a “compost- generating system” by simply following a few steps to create the right environment for organic matter to break down.

The first three chapters discuss the fundamentals by reviewing the science of composting, the tools needed and the materials that are helpful. The book gets really interesting when the various techniques of composting are discussed. In this section we are introduced to four methods of composting. Here is where we personalize the book by selecting the procedure or procedures that best suit our landscape, our skills and our needs. Farmers with large quantities of waste vegetation may opt for one process while the weekend gardener might choose another.

The first method is called “banner batches”. This is composting that takes place in heaps or enclosures. The second method is referred to as “comforter compost and grow heaps” This is a labor saving procedure that requires one to simply pile garden waste in layers, moisten and allow nature to do the rest.The next method discussed is called underground composting. In this procedure, holes in the ground are filled with organic material, covered with earth and allowed to decompose. The last method is called ‘vermicompost” which uses worms to convert waste into compost.

The final section of the book discussed how plants can interact with compost by growing in or near a compost heap. Some plants are enriched by growing close by and some plants enrich the heap itself by growing in it. In all, fifteen plants are recommended, each one being suitable for one of the four composting methods discussed in the book.

While composting is a science, at no point in the book does the writing become technical. The publication is written for the layperson in a friendly and easy-to-read style. It almost makes the reader feel that we are visiting the authors on a farm and learning from them as they go about their work.



The Bold and Brilliant Gardener: Book Review for

The Bold and Brilliant Garden by Sarah Raven, Photographs by Jonathan Buckley, Frances Lincoln

A book arrived by post this morning, on the shortest day of the year, when the sky was dreary, the temperature had dipped below minus twelve degrees centigrade and fifteen centimeters of snow were predicted to fall. The unwrapping of the book was the equivalent of lighting a bonfire in my living room. It arrived at the best moment to warm and illuminate the day.

This publication is about color; not about any color and not about the colors we traditionally associate with polite flower gardens. This is a book about sizzling color that sets a flower garden ablaze. In the introduction, the author declares that the use of bold and brilliant color is the result of a need to redefine the palette of her own garden. Having tired of “delicate” color schemes, she was ready for “passionate”. However, when these strong colors were introduced into her garden, they turned out to be either too rich or too dark and needed brightening up in order to set them off. To achieve the desired color saturation, the author began to mix tomato-soup red flowers with purples, orange with magentas and crimsons with gold. As a background for these intense combinations, she used acid green and silver plants to achieve the most eye popping results.

The introduction of the book ends with a double page montage of the twenty four vivid flowers that the author relies upon to create brilliance. Sorted into an eye catching color sequence, they range from blue Meconopsis to red Allium, from purple Salvia to scarlet Poppy, from ruby Clematis to tangerine Arctotis and from gold Helianthus to acid green Euphorbia. Never heard of some of these plants? Never mind! By the time you’ve finished reading this book, these flowers will have seared themselves into memory and you will never again look at a garden in the same way.

Readers with an appreciation for music will enjoy the author’s metaphors. Traditional gardens with delicate coloring are compared to the string section of an orchestra, while richly colored gardens are referred to as the brass section. The deep red flowers that give a garden its overall structure are called base notes, while the adjective “jazzy” is used to describe any vivid colored flower.

The main body of the book is an exposition on how to use intensely colored plants in each of the growing seasons. And, within a season, the plants are sub divided into those suitable for damp grounds and into those that require sun, shade or partial shade. Sprinkled through out the book, are care instructions for high maintenance plants such as Roses and Dahlias, as well as advice on staking flowers and soil preparation. Each page is brimming with detailed information about recommended flowers, suitable companion plants to create vividness, anecdotal details about the personalities of the suggested flowers and intensely colored photos.

Another helpful feature of the book is the use of colored blueprints to help the reader plan gardens similar to those illustrated in the book. These suggested layouts include a list and quantity of the plants required, as well as a guide to where they should be planted in relation to other flowers. The essence of the author’s advice is that bright colors need strongly shaped flowers to showcase their vividness; and that dramatic foliage, texture and fragrance are also required to create a sensory balance.

A gardening publication needs beautiful pictures, as well; this book takes garden illustration to such a higher level that it is necessary to acknowledge the photographer, Jonathan Buckley. His brilliant colored photos are imbued with finely textured details that allow us to touch the flowers with our eyes.

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Miracle Gro Complete Guide to Perennials: Book Review for


Miracle Gro Complete Guide to Perennials  Scott Aker & Laura Deeter, Meredith 

Amongst some gardeners, the Miracle-Gro company is reputed to have created some of the most eye catching TV commercials and print ads that have ever targeted plant lovers. They are very good at visualizing the successful results of proper feeding and care. However, the detail lavished in the preparation of this basic primer on growing perennials surpasses anything that they’ve done in their marketing department.

This is a popular priced book targeting a mass audience and yet the information between its covers and the quality of its color photographs are worthy of a book twice its cost. Not only is it comprehensive and illustrated in clear detail, but almost everything one needs to know about growing perennials may be absorbed by studying it’s pictures. In an age of instant messenger, a book that can instruct with such immediacy is a significant achievement.

With an economy of words, the editor and writers amply cover basic topics such as garden design, plant selection and planting instructions. Great attention is paid to every detail as the reader is guided, unambiguously and step by step, to becoming a perennial expert.

  The chapter on perennial care is a wonderful bonus because this is an area of expertise that determines the difference between a beautiful garden and a perfunctory collection of plants. Here too, the editor makes it so easy to follow. Another surprise is the inclusion of a ninety two page encyclopedia of perennial plants, enhanced with in depth information and color photos. This alone is worth the price of the book.

The greatest challenge facing any gardener of perennials is how to keep a garden in bloom from spring until autumn. Most perennials have a blooming period of no more than three weeks, and each plant has its particular time to bloom. For that reason, creating continuous blooms throughout the growing season requires strategic planning. Many of us have spent countless hours juggling planting blueprints to ensure that there are no gaps in blooming time. I wish that I could have read this book back then because it contains a brilliant bloom time guide that takes the guesswork out of creating a continuously colorfull garden.

The secondary title of this book is called “Techniques that guarantee a fabulous garden” Believe it!



Garden Design Details: Book Review For


Garden Design Details  Arne Maynard & Anne De Verteuil, Harper Collins

Gardeners are happy to read books on their favorite topic because there is always something new to discover. So it was with much anticipation that I sat down to read Garden Design Details. What an eye opening experience! In the hands of this author and his collaborator, a garden can be transformed into a modern sculpture. Organic and full of texture that it may be, it is, in the end, a work of art.

      In this beautifully crafted book, the author treats terrain as an artist’s canvas, using vegetation as the artist’s medium with hedge clippers and lawn mowers as artist’s tools.

     As one turns the pages and studies the unusual photographs, one will come across a picture of Boxwood shrubs, sprinkled over a lawn and round- clipped to resemble a collection of giant green beach balls. Another photograph illustrates how a lawn mower has cut a path along a planting of taller grass to delineate a whimsical border. Elsewhere in the book, a gently sloped lawn is transformed into a miniature Roman amphitheatre by inserting stone terraces along the grade. If one thought that the role of a landscape architect was to integrate a structure into the land, or solely to create an idyllic environment, think again. This author works outside of the proverbial box.

      It came as a great surprise to this reviewer that most of these clean line gardens are located in European countries that are known usually for their traditional romantic gardens. And yet, these are the countries that are at the forefront of this new wave of garden design that treats the landscape as artwork.

      To instruct the reader in the composition of the garden as contemporary art, the author distills the essential elements universal to all garden design asverticals, horizontals and punctuation. The major portion of the book is then dedicated to illustrating how these elements work in nature. Vertical elements include hedges, walls and trees as well as upright boundary markers. Horizontal elements include lawns, paths, wild flowers, water, and low hills shaped into unusual geometric shapes called land sculptures. These sculptures are an innovative element as they bring a fresh treatment to the world of gardening. The punctuation is the strategic placement of garden- related objects such as fountains, lawn furniture and gazebos. They serve as focal and resting points in the garden and determine how an area will be used.

      As a traditional gardener, who creates flower beds for other peoples’ pleasure, I was, at first, disappointed at the deliberate exclusion of flowers and flowering shrubs from the books. However, by revisiting the book several times, I was won over. I came to understand that the author’s goal is not to reinforce traditionally held beliefs. Rather, his objective is to open our minds to new and innovative interpretations of the contemporary garden and to consider the landscape designer as an artist working in the medium of living plants.


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