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

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Entries in flower borders (2)


Upscale Gardening with a Mass-Market Manual, a book review

Plant Combinations for Your Landscape by Tony Lord, with photographs by Andrew Lawson, Published by Creative Homeowners.

A prominent garden designer and a garden photographer have put their names to a mass-market how-to garden book. This attractively priced, lavishly illustrated, and dwarf-sized publication measures only 5.5 x 6.5 inches. However, it is no less important than more elaborate and larger-sized volumes selling at three times the price.

The conciseness of the gardening advice is as compact as the book itself, yet it contains everything a new gardener needs to know about plants and how to combine them in the garden. The author has divided the manual into six clearly defined topics plus an invaluable introductory chapter. These preparatory pages instruct the reader how to use the guide effectively and how to interpret the short hand symbols; it also clearly explains concepts that are fundamental to garden design.

These concepts include the value of light, bedding and borders, the importance of color- repetition- balance, the role of containers and hanging baskets, meadow planting, the June gap in the flower garden, the late spring shearing of tall summer plants, late summer color, bulbs, and climbers. Distilled into twenty tiny pages, this treasury of basic information, fundamental to garden design, can be read in a flash.

The opening chapter instructs the reader about the essence of a garden’s basic structure, namely shrubs and small trees. The list included no less than sixty-five plants. The next chapter introduces forty-two climbing plants that add a vertical dimension to a garden, followed by a chapter discussing sixty of the most versatile of all plants, the rose.

The subsequent chapter discusses perennials, the herbaceous plants that play an essential role in designing and filling a garden. Here, the reader will discover seventy-eight of them. Twenty-six attractive bulbs are also included in this book because of their ability to grow through layers of other plants. Finally, the book ends with a chapter discussing sixty-four annuals. This topic includes biennials, frost-tender perennials, and vegetables with ornamental foliage.

Each of the chapters begins with an introduction and overview of its topic, followed by a short summary about each plant. The summary divides into two short paragraphs. One, titled How it Works, is a concise explanation of the growth habit and appearance of a specific plant. Another paragraph, titled Recommended Partners, lists additional plants that combine successfully with the featured one in order to enhance the garden.

Because it prevents the reader from feeling daunted by the subject of garden design and plant combinations, this book is important for first-time gardeners. If one uses the structure of the book itself, the undertaking will be easy to accomplish.  By reading about one component of design at a time, at one’s own pace, one can easily build a garden in stages. The trick is to follow the sequence of the chapters. It’s that simple – that’s what manuals are intended to do – and Mr. Lord and Mr. Lawson accomplish that task admirably.

This review is also posted to




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.