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

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Entries in Flower beds (10)


The Most Beautiful Landscaped Flower Garden in Thailand. 

Doi Tung Royal Villa, located in Chiang Rei, Thailand, was built with simplicity in the Lanna and Swiss architectural styles in 1987, as a residence for Her Late Royal Highness Princess Srinakarindra, the Princess Mother.

It's location in the mountains of northern Thailand among the hill tribes was chosen so that the Princess Mother might reforest the area and improve the lives of the local people through education, health care [provided with her own funds] and training. Her goal was to replace the cultivation of opium, which was destroying the social fabric of the local population, with co-op farming and artisan skills.

The plan was successful. Today, members of the hill tribes proudly sustain themselves with small scale farming. On each plot of land homeowners grow at least one of about ten food bearing shrubs, trees and plants and raise several chickens. From each plant, they consume what they require for sustenance and deliver the surplus to a nearby collection center which consolidates the modest harvests and sends it to market. The generated revenue is also supplemented with fine quality handicrafts made from locally woven textiles to be sold at better tourist shops throughout Thailand.

Part of the construction of the villa reflects the Thai tradition of re purposing all plant matter so that nothing grown is discarded. For example, in Thailand’s silk industry, mulberry leaves that are too tough to be ingested by silk worms are pounded into pulp to make a textile used in the manufacture of parasols.

Similarily, at the elephant refuge, located further south in Chiang Mei, dung is mechanically separated. The soft manure is used as compost while the tough indigestible fibres [because elephants don’t discriminate against what part of the plant they eat] are processed into a richly textured  linen-like paper used in souvenir shops for gift wrapping, stationary and picture frame covers.

Respecting the tradition of re purposing, the exterior of the Princess Mother's Villa, while built of concrete, was decorated with wood slabs cut from discarded teak trees, which came from forest thinning work by the Forest Industry Organization. The interior of the Royal Villa is paneled with recycled pine wood, from crates used for imported tools and equipment.

The colorful landscape design, that flows downhill from the building, offers a visual balance to the serenity and simplicity of the home’s architecture. Known as The Mae Fah Luang Garden, it is designed with hundreds of different kinds of annual and perennial flowering plants spread over 10 acres of lush, expansive lawns.  

Chiang Rei, situated in the mountains of northern Thailand, enjoys a cool climate virtually all year round thus making it possible for the Princess Mother to give the Thai people, who never travelled beyond their tropical country, an opportunity to experience a temperate flower garden. 

This tourist destination is a flower gardener’s dream. The enormous amount and varieties of flowering plants, that flow endlessly in front of the visitors’ eyes, create a moving and almost surreal visual experience.

The concept of the garden reinforces the idea that not all landscapes need to be variations on themes of green. Nor must they be designed solely with immaculately trimmed evergreen shrubs. In the appropriate setting, using eye-catching color schemes and climate-friendly plants, a flower garden can be a beautiful attraction.


The Frog Prince in my Garden

Photo is the copy-write property of allanbecker-gardenguru.The Rainbow Knock Out Rose is one of the most important plants in my repertoire and the most difficult to find. Last year, it was available from only two wholesalers in my region who reached a  sold out position by mid season. Half way through, what turned out to be a bumper year for my garden design business, I had to source it from a big box store. Although the plants were scrawny and, for my purposes, overpriced, I had no other choice but to purchase every one that I could find. I promised my clients that the unimpressive diminutive plants, that appeared, at first, to add nothing to their newly designed gardens, would knock their socks off by the following year. 

A garden writing colleague had mentioned that in her region, a similar unavailability occurred. She reported that most retail nurseries refuse to stock it because Rainbow Knock Out Rose doesn’t show very well in its pot. That is true. It is a Frog Prince in the garden. Not only is it unattractive at point of sale but until it produces its first full flush of blooms, it resembles an ugly brambly bush. However, once it starts pumping out multi-hued coral roses, it becomes a prince as it takes visual ownership of the flower bed.

Unfortunately and realistically, no nursery can expect to do business by promising the consumer to take a chance or to wait and see. Consequently, most refuse to buy and miss out on a great and pleasurable visual experience. I am fortunate that my clients trusted me; they have not been disappointed. Some have asked me to plant additional Rainbow Knock Outs after watching the first one develop. 

Imagine an almost spherical shrub, 3 feet high and wide, completely coated in many hues and shades of pink, yellow, coral and blush. It resembles a giant luminous scoop of bubble gum-peach ice cream. For those who live in temperate climates, that might not be such a big deal. Just south of where I live, in the warmer parts of the United States, gardeners have a wide selection of warm, tropical-colored flowering plants that bloom impressively at various times of year. By comparison, the cold climate gardener in USDA Zone 4b, has very few of these experiences. That is why the contribution to the garden of Rainbow Knock Out Rose is so significant. 

How sad that a plant that delivers such a moving experience to the patient gardener should be so unattractive at point of sale that it is removed from market. Perhaps it should be tagged with a luxurious glossy image attached to a plastic wand stuck into the pot. The Endless Summer series of Hydrangeas are marketed that way and I believe that Rainbow Knock Out would benefit from a similar treatment. However, growers should pay special attention to the quality of the photograph that they use. The consumer needs to see two images:- one, a close up of the rose when it is still a deep coral color and two, an image of the shrub coated in multi-hued flowers. 

On the other hand, I’ll bet the breeders are now working to develop an improved Rainbow Knock Out that will present well at retail. In the gardening business, the market is a powerful and influential force that drives change. Meanwhile, I will continue to hunt and collect as many of these roses as I can. This plant belongs in the category of takes your breathe away.


Sisychrinum; a Subtle Beauty Perennial

The best way to tempt a gardener into buying a perennial, that he or she certainly does not need, is to display it in bloom during the spring buying season. That’s how this plant made its way into my garden, into the flower beds of my clients, and into my heart.

Have you heard about this plant? I didn’t think so! Miniature perennials with tiny flowers receive little publicity. One has to look hard to see them in the garden and even harder to find them at the nursery. So discreet are they that growers bulk them up with extra fertilizer in the hope that they will bloom impressively at retail so that shoppers will take notice.

Sisychrinum is a neat, tiny plant that grows in a spray-like bouquet. Its leaves and stems radiate from a center clump that doesn’t appear to grow very wide. Its miniature sword-like foliage resembles tiny fountains. When it blooms in early summer, the sun is not yet strong enough to fade the delicate-but-rich shade of violet-blue of its petals. This unusual color tone is accentuated by a sparkle of yellow in its center to enhance an already attractive flower.

I plant this beauty at the front of the border where it can be seen when strolling past the flower beds. Sadly, this is not a perennial that projects but I am certain that if I had the room to grow it in groves, then surely it would be noticed from far.

Unlike most perennials that are enhanced when grouped with others, I do not use this one in compositions. Its striking visual appearance allows it to take ownership of its spot in the garden so that it requires no other flowers around it. In spite of its diminutive dimensions, this perennial is a veritable specimen plant. It makes such a beautiful statement by itself that I am considering sprinkling several through out the garden beds, just as I did with Dicentra spectabilis.

This will be the third season that Sisychrinum will be growing in my garden. I cannot yet report if it is a perpetual perennial or if it will be short lived. No matter. If it dies after a few years, I will replace it with great pleasure because pleasure is what it has given me.


Vertical Garden Design

There is a new trend developing in horticulture. It is called vertical gardening and it refers to growing plants on walls, either in pots attached to a vertical surface, or directly planted into a growing medium that has been affixed to a wall. Before this new concept was introduced, a vertical garden referred to landscapes planted with design elements that drew the eye upward. Often, such elements help to make a small garden appear larger by tricking the visitor into gazing upward to avoid confronting the physical limits of a small space. Other times, they simply give the eye a rest from the unintended horizontalness that sometimes overtakes a garden’s design. Here is a photo of a bold colored garden arrangement, refreshing in its verticality.  In this composition, columnar evergreens introduce a vertical theme echoed by the spikes of the orange perennial, Kniphofia. The image, used here with written permission, was taken by Jordan Jackson who garden blogs at Metropolitan Gardens. The photo was taken in August 2009 in Regent’s Park at St Andrews Gate. in London. UK.


Gardening in Hard Clay Soil or the Importance of Being Stubborn

The last two homes I lived in were built on hard packed clay. Gardening was challenging. Unlike my colleagues who have made peace with nature and plant only what will grow in dry or wet clay, I was never prepared to compromise or surrender. I am flower deprived because my growing season is short. That’s why I was determined to plant everything on my wish list. Clay was not allowed to be an obstacle. I found a way to overcome the situation and now I grow whatever l like that will thrive in my zone.

I amended the clay soil according to prevailing conventional wisdom of the times [it was many years ago]. Not only did I create a fertile, clay-based growing medium, but also I inadvertently created elevated flower beds. The additional quantities of garden sand, organic matter, and quality earth, used to amend the clay, increased the height of the beds by two feet. Now, they were sufficiently elevated and amended for perennials and roses to thrive. If ever their roots would reach a layer of unamended compacted clay below, they would have no difficulty penetrating that level. The soil would have softened and lightened over time, with the help of the nutrient-rich humidity and natural occurring elements in the organic matter above.

Today, soil scientists advise us not to use sand because it impedes proper drainage. Nevertheless, I continue to use it to help loosen hard soil. I break up the surface of the dry, hard packed clay with a shovel, making certain that the blade deeply penetrates the clay, spread a thin layer of garden sand over it, and power spray with a garden hose nozzle set to jet. The pressurized combination of water and sand penetrate the man-made crevices, making it easier to till and blend the soil with the other additives.

For those readers whose homes are built on large tracts of clay, I would not recommend amending expansive areas of land. The high cost of purchasing and spreading good quality organic matter, [sea compost is the best] that might help alleviate the problem, puts a damper on projects of such magnitude. I would suggest paying attention only to growing beds.

Beside sea compost, here are additional organic additives that one can include in the mixture of amendments to help convert clay soil to loam:- Chipped straw, composted manure, autumn leaves that have been shredded by the blades of a lawn mower, kitchen scraps [must be buried], old decomposing mulch, confetti from an office paper shredder, ripped up newspaper that has been soaked in water, shredded, waterlogged cardboard from boxes and cartons, coffee grinds, shredded pure cotton wadding, crushed egg shells, vegetable and fruit peel, coir, lint from a clothes dryer, bread crumbs from the catch tray of a toaster, composted garden waste, gypsum, peat, peat moss, rich black earth, and garden lime.

Some with generous budgets have successfully used perlite or vermiculite as humidity trappers for dry clay. Gardeners situated on wet clay, who experience spring flooding, might consider gardening on berms, higher wall-reinforced beds [decorative materials are available], or in large containers. These elevation solutions are necessary because pooling water may overwhelm beds that are only two feet off the ground and damage plant roots. Environmentally correct gardeners will avoid using peat or peat moss because these are not renewable resources. In the UK, a tax on peat is under consideration. However, in some areas, peat moss may be the only affordable organic additive available. Coir is one of the most renewable resources because it is nothing more than ground up coconut shells. It also provides work for poor laborers in third world countries.

For those who have been dreaming about planting beautiful perennials and roses but were stymied by natural occurring clay, I hope this post will be an inspiration to think outside of the box. The trick is not to plant at grade level but at least two feet off the ground, or higher.