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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)


Web Photos That I Like

Delphiniums add a special touch to English style romantic gardens.

I first researched the gardens at Hestercombe when I stumbled upon a striking Delphinium composition [shown above] that had been photographed on this estate and posted by Hermes to his blog site, Gardens of a Golden Afternoon.

I learned that Hestercombe includes a collection of three gardens that span three centuries of garden history. A Georgian landscape had been designed there in the 18th century, A Victorian Terrace was installed in the 19th century, and a Formal garden was added in the earliest part of the 20th century.

Located in Taunton, Somerset, England, Hestercombe has become a tourist attraction and reception center managed by the National Trust of the UK. This philanthropic organization  protects and opens to the public over 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments.


The Music of Foreshortened Flowerbeds.

A fresh metaphor has found its way into the world of gardening. It may not be fresh to the intrepid, well-read, gardener, but for bloggers, it is big news. It is about gardening as music. Yes, music! Some gardeners have a jazz combo playing in a corner of their back yard made up of a few esoteric plants, namely a tall bass player, a medium height guitarist, and a squat drummer. Occasionaly, one will place a chamber orchestra in an island garden where several unusual plants get together to create sensible but fascinating music. Some gardeners grow flowers that sing to them. Others, like me, have a symphony orchestra playing in a 60 foot mixed border. Sadly, the sound of music in that flowerbed is not as rich as I had hoped.

On occasion, I have referred to a garden bed that runs along the width of my back yard. I have remarked how the floral compositions run horizontally from left to right and vice versa. Most of the strategy of combining color, texture, height, and even repetition is lost because one can never view the flowerbed design in its entirety. What ought to be an exhilarating visual experience is not. An instantaneous admiration does not take place because I can never see my garden with one glance. The size and shape of the back yard does not permit the viewer to get a foreshortened perspective and long shots are impossible. I suppose that if I climbed into the center of the left corner of the bed and aimed my camera  at the right corner in the distance, I might get the picture I was looking for; but that is not a sensible allocation of time when there are so many clients’ gardens to be tended.

The criteria that I use to determine if a garden perspective is making beautiful music is based on the breathtaking photographs that I found in coffee table picture books that feature English gardens. Most of the images were captured on large estates, where photographers’ long shots and perspectives are abundant. The best musical images result from flowerbeds that run at right angle to the viewer’s line of vision because, according to the optical phenomenon of foreshortening, the viewer sees all of the plants, colors, height, and textures at the same time. This visual experience creates the most exquisite music that any flower orchestra can produce. Imagine listening to a passage of a symphony when practically every instrument is playing. It is a sublime experience.

Recently, while stumbling and scrolling through more gardening sites than I should, I came across a site titled Gardens of a Golden Afternoon, posted by the astute gardener, Hermes. This horticulturalist collects stunning garden images and shares them with visitors. Here is an image posted on October 30, 2009. It is a perspective of twin flowerbeds, planted with mostly Nepeta and Geraniums, that run at right angle to the viewer’s line of vision. This is beautiful music. Thank you, Hermes, for the concert.


Best Borders: Book Review for

Best Borders Tony Lord,  Frances Lincoln

This book has been in my collection for over 15 years and I return to it regularly to remind me that, in perennial flower gardening, almost anything is possible. No wonder, that the publisher was encouraged to release a new edition just last year.

A review of this book, so many years after I first studied it, was prompted when I read about the frustrations of a fellow gardener who was having difficultly finding proper guidance in creating a flowerbed. All of the books she consulted were inadequate. Her experience led her to conclude that most garden design books offer blueprints and drawings. She was looking for inspiring garden photography where the plants are all identified and clear, with contextual explanations of design principles. When I read her words, Best Borders instantaneously came to mind.

The author Tony Lord is a writer, garden photographer and horticultural consultant. He trained at Kew Gardens, in the UK and holds a doctorate in Horticulture.  Garden book lovers first saw his work when he created breathtaking photographs of English gardens for other writers such as Penelope Hobhouse and Graham Thomas. He is, indeed, an eminent authority on gardening and the photographs in this book are even more impressive.

In this publication, the author presents and discusses twelve lusciously photographed flower borders. They represent the best-looking flower combinations found in some of the most distinguished gardens in England. Each border exemplifies a variation on the theme of the English garden and demonstrates a different aspect of flower garden design. The reader will be pleased to discover many of the classical themes that give English gardens their distinctive look. These include borders that are essentially monochromatic, those that are multicolored, and some that are bold.

While this is a stunning book to look at, it is also surprisingly instructional. The author converts some of the photos into planting blueprints, complete with clearly identified plant names. Anyone wanting to try their hand at English garden design now has a manual, of sorts, to start that process. If the gardener needs to learn about flower borders and is only prepared to buy one book, it has to be this one. Its purpose is to inspire, to stimulate creatively and most importantly, to encourage the gardener to experiment. Readers will be pleased to discover that this magnificently illustrated publication has been invested with the same passion used to create the English gardens that it highlights.



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.

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