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 Creativity (3)


Fran Sorin's Inspirational Garden Guide Has Been Reissued.

Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening,  Fran Sorin,   Braided Worlds Publishing.             

There is one book in my library that I can never part with: Fran Sorin’s Digging Deep. When it was published ten years ago, it validated the personal creativity I discovered when I first began to garden. On its pages, I also found a lifetime mentor in the author’s warm, inspiring voice and I return to her words whenever I need to refresh my creativity.

Recently, the book was republished in a revised tenth anniversary edition with a forward by the esteemed author and Mind/Body/Spirit/ thinker and practitioner, Larry Dossey, M.D. It is well worth reading again.

Gardening is more than simply growing plants. It is a creative, rewarding and spiritual experience. However, not all potential gardeners feel they have the skill to identify their needs, to express themselves or to find fulfillment. They do! Just ask Fran.

Ms. Sorin demonstrates that by digging deep into our souls all of us can find the garden of our dreams - an idyllic setting that generates personal happiness; a place to reconnect with nature to help make our lives feel complete.   

With a background in landscape design, psychology, communications and healing, the author built a successful career assisting clients to imagine and realize their buried wishes. On occasion, the process would prove challenging because some clients thought they were uncreative and expressed helplessness in articulating a personal vision.

To overcome that mindset, the author introduced them to self-awareness, an introspection of sorts that helps one find innate creativity stored within. Digging deep within oneself allows one to discover hidden dreams that translate into a meaningful garden. It also represents the first of seven steps that guide the reader to acheive that goal namely: imagining, envisioning, planning, planting, tending, enjoying, and completing.

The new edition includes revisions that reflect the evolution in lifestyle and conventional wisdom over the past ten years with a corresponding deletion of information from the original that is now superfluous or outdated. Its re-publication is also prescient.

Our society has become so technologically obsessed and increasingly nature deprived that many of us are spiritually and physically detached from the world we were intended to inhabit. The reissuing of this book is an inspiration to re build our bonds with nature to help us create richer, more joyful lives.

Readers will be so charmed by the author's intimate style of writing they will want her for a friend. Seasoned gardeners will recognize themselves on her pages and will delight in the affirmation she brings them. Novice gardeners will be inspired.



The Artist as Landscape Designer and Vice Versa; a book review for

From Art to Landscape, Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design, W. Gary Smith, Timber Press

Examine the front cover of this book. Notice how it is divided into 5 distinct color bands, each one deliberately positioned to play against the band adjacent. Notice too, how beautiful is the pastel sketch of a forest in band three and how it relates to and echoes the photograph in band four. This cover illustration, a work of art in its own right, heralds the beautiful visual experiences the reader will find inside this publication. Day after day, I would find myself returning to it, simply to enjoy the pictures. Often, I would forget that I was supposed to purposefully read it in order to write a review.

Mr. Smith is an award winning landscape designer specializing in botanical gardens. He is also a talented artist. His book takes the topic of garden design to a new level by raising the bar on the discussion about the role of art in landscaping. His work is neither a manual, nor a guide, nor a text book. It is an ode to the beauty and creativity we insert into nature when planning great estate gardens. Readers should not dismiss this book if the phrase great estate gardens does not apply to them. These settings illustrate universal elements of creativity in landscaping. Lessons learned here, and there are many, can be applied to gardens of any size..

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, the author introduces himself with a sensitive autobiography that narrates his development as an artist. Then he proceeds to build our visual vocabulary with elements of design that empower a garden designer. This section, pivotal to the overarching theme of the book, includes concepts such as shapes, forms, and patterns. These are categorized into scattered, mosaic, naturalistic drifts, serpentine, spiral, circles, dendric, and fractured. For each, there is a brilliant visual demonstration how such a concept impacts design.

According to the author, the next step is to encourage landscape designers to get in touch with their own creativity, and to sensitize their eyes to beauty. In that respect, the following chapter is a natural extension of a theme developed by Fran Sorin, in her publication, Digging Deep.  Mr. Smith’ recommends that we develop an aptitude for sketching, painting and drawing. These skills, he believes, liberate us from constraint and encourage creativity.

Furthermore, the author suggests, garden designers may be inspired by artists from other disciplines such as painters, sculptors, photographers and the performing arts, as all have a role to play in artistic nurturing. For example, in an examination of the Cascade Gardens at Longwood, the author demonstrates how cubism and abstract expressionism influenced the overall design of that garden and, in the next chapter, discusses how the Garden at Winterthur is, in its totality, an expression of fine art.

Part two of Mr. Smith’s book is a journey through the author’s professional accomplishments, with an emphasis on the artistic elements that shaped each of his works. These include The Pierce’s Woods at Longwood Gardens, The Tropical Mosaic Garden at the Naples Botanical Gardens in Naples, Florida, The New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods at Framingham, Massachusetts and The Enchanted Woods at Winterthur. The final chapter discusses the essential role that garden designers can play in the conservation and establishment of ecosystems and the philosophical relationship between art and gardening.

Prepare to be overwhelmed by the stunning images that the author has complied for our education. Some readers may find it necessary to put down the book after each chapter, to savor the moment. But don’t read it for that alone. Read it also to appreciate the author’s richly colored images of proposed and executed garden designs. I would welcome the opportunity to hang all of Mr. Smith’s artwork on my walls; He is that good.



The Imaginary Magic Butterfly Net in our Brain

Boy With Butterfly Net by Henri MatisseI cannot sit down at the computer and create a blog on demand. I need an inspiration. Sometimes that push will come from a comment in another garden writer’s blog; very often a news articles will stimulate a discussion, and occasionally an idea will hit me out of the blue. The inspiration might come while driving the car, taking a shower, reading a magazine, or falling asleep. The same goes for the flash of ideas needed to solve a garden design problem. I am unable to create flower compositions, standing on my feet, as I consult with a client who wants a solution now. I must first relax and listen to the humming of the cogs in my brain.

That is why I cannot understand how painters and writers are able to bury themselves in their studios for hours, with the expectation that they will create something marketable. I recognize that they do so because they need to eat or support a family. Nevertheless, it boggles this writer’s mind how they can produce creative matter on demand.

Two prominent member of the entertainment industry have shed illuminating insight on this subject.

David Foster is by far the most successful person in the popular music industry. Composer, music producer, performer, he has reached the highest level of success both for himself and the artists he nurtures. An interviewer once asked him if there was a well inside him that he draws upon for his creativity. Mr. Foster replied that creativity is not something that we store inside ourselves. It flows through us. And when it does, we must recognize it and capture it at that very moment.

Justin Timberlake is an extraordinarily talented singer, dancer and composer who began his career as a lead singer and dancer in a boy band that catered to young girls. Over the years he has managed to re invent himself several times; today he is respected by a wide fan base that covers all ages, gender and race. Recently, it was reported in the media that although he has not produced a new body of work since 2006, he refuses to feel pressured to make another CD. This is how he explained it:

 “Does a painter make a painting because he has to make it by December 21? No, he doesn’t. It happens when it pours out of him. That’s how music is for me”.

The above two opinions confirm my own take on this subject. The talent that accompanies creativity may be likened to a magic butterfly net in one’s mind. When one feels the creative ideas flowing through, when one is inspired, one must grab that net and capture the moment. That is how I approach design and blogging. The gardens that I compose on demand, and the blogs that I post because I must, are never quite as successful as those that result from a spontaneous, revealing moment that sweeps through my imagination. When I feel it happening, the magic butterfly net is nearby.