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

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Entries in English gardens (10)


"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.


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.



A Dutch-Influenced Garden: The Millennium at Pensthorpe by Piet Oudolf

Readers who have seen the book review of Designing with Plants, posted here on July 12, 2010, may already know that Piet Oudolf is one of my favorite garden designers. Yet, it is unlikely that I will ever have a landscape-as-canvas vast enough to emulate his work. What he has created can never be duplicated in the urban or suburban flower beds of my clients’ gardens. Oudolf’s work requires parklands, meadows or fields. Fortunately, there are plenty of open spaces around the world, managed or owned by visionaries, who have already invited Mr. Oudolf, a native of the Netherlands, to work his magic on their land.

Just the other day, Hermes, who blogs at Gardens of a Golden Afternoon, came across a photo essay of Dutch-influenced gardens; some designed by Oudolf, others inspired by his style. This collection of images was originally posted at the marvelous website of the Telegraph, an online version of The London Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper that supports the garden designs industry in a significant manner. From that collection, I have selected the above photograph, by Alamy, to share with my readers. It is known as the Millennium Garden, spans one acre, and is one of three gardens located in Pensthorpe, a wildlife and nature preserve in Norfolk, England. The parkland is open to the public and sells plants of all flowers that grow there. Orders are also taken for sold out varieties which are shipped to visitors when they become available.

After discovering the pictures posted by Hermes, I stumbled upon additiional images of this same garden. The photos below, taken by Andrew Lawson, have been used to illustrate an article of the Telegraph and the official site of Readers may click on any of the images on this page to link to the accredited sources.


The planting scheme of the Millennium Garden is predominantly maroon, purple and russet. Plants used include Echinacea, Monarda, Astrantia, Bronze Fennel, Astilbe, Aster and Vernonia; intermingled with a variety of golden grasses such as Deschampsia. In all, about 100 different species of perennials and over 20 types of grasses have been used. The plants are set off by tracts of open water, and explored by winding paths.

Horticultural travelers to the UK now get “more bang for their buck”. In addition to visiting the traditional English gardens, that are challenging to re create in North America, they can also study English based but Dutch-influenced gardens, planted with flowers and grasses more suitable for our climate.


What's In a Name of the English garden?

A fellow garden blogger wrote to me because I had used the term English Garden to describe the landscape of the Dillon Gardens. The writer felt that it was inaccurate to describe that garden as English because its owner, Helen Dillon, is a Scotswoman and the garden she designed is located in Ireland.

I respect the writer’s concern about the accuracy of the descriptive words, English garden. Unfortunately, I don’t think that there is any other way to realistically describe such gardens. Although I have given it much thought, I still have difficulty finding alternative ways to describe enclosed landscapes made up of perennials, roses, flowering vines, and ornamental shrubs. This style of garden design was developed and refined in England and there are simply no other words to describe it exactly. Traditional? Yes. European? Yes.  Continental? Yes. Mixed? Yes.  Lush? Yes. Romantic? Yes. That garden is all of these and more. The word “English” gives the garden a precise, clear description of a very specific style. As much as I would like to make my fellow garden blogger happy, I can’t because the usage of the phrase English Garden has entered our lexicon permanently. It’s not ready for change or modification because it is used and understood universally.

However, what has changed is the look of these gardens when they are adapted in North America. For this transformation, we do need a new vocabulary to describe what has become a decidedly American garden, regardless of its origin.

Here are some factors influencing the morphing of the English garden into an American one.

  • Geological and meteorological differences between the British Isles and North America, and the many different and contrasting physical gardening conditions faced here.
  • Without a tradition of securely enclosing garden spaces, our gardens do not have walls that frame and make them cozy.
  • A desire to live in harmony with nature as opposed to bend it to our will.
  • A uniquely American comfort with wide-open, wild spaces.
  • A disdain for unnecessary rules.
  • A desire to create one’s own rules.
  • Irreverence for the past.
  • A forward-looking attitude that enthusiastically embraces new ways and ideas.
  • A lack of concern for social convention.
  • The undertaking of gardening by “do-it-yourselfers” for whom creating and maintaining a garden is no more important than any other domestic chore on a “to-do” list.
  • The multi-tasking that occurs in daily life, resulting in little time to devote to gardening.

All of these factors have contributed to modifying and transforming the English garden in North America. Some garden writers refer to this new landscape as The New American Garden. What also contribute to making this style different from the English is the inclusion of the distant or contiguous meadow into the landscape, a strong use of Ornamental grasses and native plants, and a more dramatic combination of colors.

Even the kind of gardening books that some Americans need seems to be different from the traditional publications that the UK is known for. Many gardeners are looking for books that read more like manuals for instant success rather than guidelines on developing a passion for horticulture.

Traditionalists and purists are dismayed by this trend. Some are concerned about the lack of spirit, pleasure, and adventure that results when do-it yourselfers consult manuals for quick fixes. Others are upset that ancient gardening rules, clearly anachronisms in the new world, are being flaunted. However, I do not believe that any of these changes or differences is such a bad thing. The more people that garden, regardless how they choose to garden, the stronger the industry becomes. A healthy industry encourages research into developing better and more beautiful plants and innovative, ergonomically designed tools. As well, the arrival of lesser-committed gardeners also results in a healthy support for the garden publishing industry. Because I am optimistic about these matters, I am hoping that, in the end, the perfunctory do-it-yourselfer will become passionate about gardening, just as I did.


Web Photos That I LIke

The Dublin Garden Group is a website devoted to highlighting Ireland’s most distinguished gardens in the greater Dublin area. Here is an image from their website. It is exemplary garden composition, at Rathmichael Lodge, designed in the English style.