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

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Entries in flower combinations (4)


Thalictrum Hewitt’s Double is a Singular Sensation

Thalictrum Hewitt's Double floating over the partially spent September flowerbed.The tall, frothy Thalictrum that grows in the flowerbed on my front lawn is in its third year of maturity. As one can gather from the photo, it is a conversation piece. Everyone thinks that it’s a tree. No visitor to my home, or neighbor on my street, has ever seen such a delight for the eyes. It touches the admirer in a profound way.

I first discovered Thalictrum, the species, about 18 years ago, when I purchased over 100 seedling perennials, all of which had plant tags that indicated  flowers in pink or flowers in blue. At that time, Thalictum aquilegifolium, was an unknown entity to me. However, since it promised to provide pink blooms, I added it to the assortment, without a second’s thought. I was eager to be surprised.

Over the years, this species perennial, a very different-looking plant from the Hewitt's Double variety, would grow successfully and fully easy-care in my back yard garden. Tall and upright during the months of June and July, its stately, elegant pale salmon-pink plumes appeared iridescent in the shade but faded in bright sunlight. These feathery heads added an ethereal mood to my garden. When allowed to grow and mature without propagation, they created a grove of pastel softness suitable for any fairy tale illustration.

The species delivered such an impact to my soul that I was motivated to seek out other varieties. Almost 15 years later, A. Hewitt’s Double, a Thalictrum with a longer bloom period  [June to late September] appeared in some nurseries and I decided, this time, to plant it on my front lawn, where growing conditions seem to pamper perennials more than my back yard does. I expected some similarities with the species, but those are few.

Closeup of Hewitt's Double flower head.One characteristic that sets this plant apart from others is its translucent lilac colored flower heads. They scintillate in sun – especially when they are backlit – and glow in part shade. These visuals create a nearly supernatural mood in the garden. What a bonus!

Another unusual characteristic about Hewitt’s Double is that it cannot grow upright, even with the help of heavy-duty stakes, which are unquestionably necessary. Its flower heads grow in such a precarious position, that heavy rain and strong wind will cause the heads to crack off from its otherwise formidable stalks.

Up until this year, I expected that staking the plant in a delphinium style, i.e., one very tall support behind the plant, would be sufficient to keep it from buckling over. It wasn’t!  By the end of summer, I had added an additional three stakes behind the first, each one taller and thicker than the last. None was able to prevent the plant from bowing over to catch the sun. And combined, they were no match for nature's pull.

Because several tall broomsticks together were no match for the pull of this plant, I resorted to using a one-inch wide steel I-bar, 6 feet tall. The perennial became upright as soon as I inserted this metal stake into the earth with the help of a mallet [it took at least 200 whacks to secure it in place] and tethered the plant to it. For that solution, I must thank my lawn service staff who came up with the idea and gifted me with this repurposed steel object.

Especially when held upright, an astute garden designer may have noticed in the posted image that the proportions of this perennial are not suitable for both the narrow width of the flowerbed and the height of the neighboring plants.

Hewitt’s Double towers awkwardly over the other perennials because none of them grow tall enough to anchor or integrate it into the color scheme. This impression, of one plant floating above the others, while it creates movement, also creates instability which makes me uncomfortable. That is reason enough to lift and place it elsewhere.

The rose patch that grows directly behind this flowerbed, and up against the elevated veranda, appears to be a better location. I intend to move the Thalictrum to the left of the pink Rose Bonica that appears in the far background.

I hope that both this rose, along with Rose Carefree Wonder to its right, will provide sufficient height, volume and shape to weave Hewlitt’s Double into the overall garden design. I expect that the iridescent lilac color of this unusual perennial will appear enhanced and even more amazing when it blooms next to the rich baby-pink of rose Bonica.


Astilbe Amethyst: Another Awesome Perennial

The Astilbe family is one of  the politest collection of flowering perennials. Not only do these plants grow almost maintenance-free, but they bloom in colors that cooperate, behave, and blend in well with practically every garden color scheme.

With bloom periods ranging from June until September, one can enjoy this plant all season long. In addition, the heights of different Astilbes vary so greatly, that an assorted collection, randomly planted in a flowerbed, might resemble scattered notes on sheet music. No wonder landscape architects use them, albeit sparingly, when they are obliged to add neat flowers to their serene, green plant compositions.

Astilbes grow in, tight, upright clumps that increase in size slowly. There are no spreading roots systems that require controlling, no messy sprawl, no staking of its flowering, feathery spikes, almost no pest, bug, or fungus problems, no additional nutrients required, no winter protection, and in colder climates, no exponential growth from one season to the next.

In fact, when the blooms have dies, the elegant, brown spiky seed heads add texture and vertical architectural detail to the garden. Furthermore, the Astilbe colors, even though they span every shade of pink, mauve, violet, red, peach, and cream - to - white, never appear garish, bold, or offensive.

However, one Astilbe does not conform to this modesty. The variety Amethyst is a scintillating pink extravaganza. It sizzles in the sun, where it ought not to be, like a display of fireworks, and glows intensely in shade and part - shade in vivid tones of lavender - pink. As a specimen plant, it is breathtaking; and when combined with other perennials in the garden, it is transformational.

At maturity, A. Amethyst reaches 40 inches in height and two feet in width. It performs best in a moist garden situated in part to full shade. However, mine is planted in damp sun, where the daylight makes the flower heads sparkle, and it is doing just fine.

I purchased  this variety last year for my test garden because I had never seen it in bloom and because the trade description suggested that it might be an ideal addition to my repertoire of elegant, tall perennials. I was not disappointed. The combination of good height, architectural presence, and intense color makes this versatile perennial a traffic stopper.


How to Design Exciting Flowerbeds Throughout the Seasons; a book review for

Perennial Companions: 100 Dazzling Plant Combinations for Every Season, Tom Fischer, Richard Bloom & Adrian Bloom, Timber Press

Tom Fischer never fails to dazzle us when he produces his little gems of garden books. This publication contains unusually beautiful photographs that reproduce the intense pleasure that only flower gardening can provide. There are one hundred plant combinations portrayed in this book, not only to admire, but also to inspire readers to create their own beautiful flowerbeds throughout the blooming seasons. For sourcing these exquisite images, we are grateful to the very talented Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom.

a midsummer to late summer combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.Once the gardener has become accustomed to selecting, planting, growing, and caring for perennials, the next step is to use plants to compose visually exciting compositions. Some call it nature’s eye candy. For this project, the garden is a canvas, and the plants are paint colors and texture. This is about flowerbed design and one does not need a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Design to understand or master it. All it takes is patience and a love for experimentation. Moving plants around, until a beautiful combination is achieved, is not difficult work.

Composing with flowers and foliage is an opportunity for gardeners to connect with the creative side of their brain and to have some fun. By using one’s imagination, one’s eyes, and a shovel, the experimentation does not have to be hard work. If anything, it is quite enjoyable and rewarding. Given the thousands of perennials available for us to work with, and the extraordinary range of plants' shapes, colors and textures, the possibilities for beautiful flower combinations are endless.

early summer combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.The purpose of this book, therefore, is to act as inspiration, to help unleash the creativity that lays hidden deep within all of us. No one is exempt from creativity. It is there; one just has to find a way to connect with and coax it out. The visual inspiration contained within this book is for just such a purpose. Open up any page and, instantly, one may become smitten by the beauty of the seasonal compositions.

To achieve this powerful affect, Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom photographed eye-catching flowerbeds in many world-class gardens. In the UK they found :- Bressingham Gardens, in Norfolk, Eastgrove Garden Cottage Nursery, in Worcestershire, Glen Chantry, in Essex, Hulwood Barn, in Suffolk, Lady Farm, in Somerset, Merriments Garden, in East Suffolk, The Picton Garden, in Worcestershire, RHS Wisley, in Surrey, Scampton Hall Garden, in North Yorkshire, and The Thumbit, in Suffolk.

In the USA, the gardens that were sourced are: - Chanticleer Garden, in Wayne, Pa., New York Botanical Garden, in Bronx, NY., and Dennis Schrader’s and Bill Smith’s Garden, in Mattituck, NY. Some of the designers whose work is represented in this compilation of seasonal beauty include Adrian Bloom, Judy Pearce, Tom Stuart-Smith, Piet Oudolf, and Ann James.

mid-spring to late spring combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.So that there is no mistake about the artistic purpose of the book, only some technical information about portrayed plants is provided; the author wisely recommends further online research for any needed elaboration. After all, this publication is a visual stimulant, not a primer.

Although I have written about this before, it must be repeated that the beautiful graphic design, that identify Tom Fischer’s Timber Press books, transform them into thrilling must-haves for gardeners - books so versatile that they may also serves as hospitality gifts, token presents, and stocking stuffers.



The Eveready Bunny is a Pink Garden in Devon. 

Here is an example of a pink garden that keeps on giving and giving. This photo essay from Holbrook Garden in Devon, U.K underscores that, in temperate and colder climates, pink is one of the most enduring colors in the garden.

The pink gardens of Holbrook in June

The pink garden in July

August flowers in the pink garden

September blooms in the pink garden

The last hurrah of pink in October