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

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Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Entries in flower pots (6)


Penthouse Gardening with Mandevilla and Skyline

Every spring, I plant flowerpots for a client living on the border of Westmount, Quebec. There is great spiritual excitement working at this site. We garden on the top floor of a twelve-story assisted-living apartment building for seniors that sits at the highest point of Mont Royal, Montreal’s mountain in the middle of a city, modestly landscaped by Fredrick Law Olmstead twenty years after he created New York City’s Central Park.

To the south, we see the Saint Lawrence River and the Champlain Bridge that crosses it; to the west, a  horizon boasting the outline of a new hospital complex, beyond which the skyline fades into the river and the rural areas beyond. To the east, we admire the western slope of the mountain dotted with the lush green clouds of densely populating treetops that grace the elegant homes surrounding this residential municipality.

At this height, we feel a soothing silence broken first by the roar of wind blowing across the Saint Lawrence Valley as it bounces off the southern face of the mountain and second by the music of wind chimes that float from a neighboring penthouse on the same floor. Fortunately, the flowers that I plant are protected from the ethereal gusts of wind by clear Lucite panels that shelter both the client and her potted garden.

The spring sun bathes us in warmth as we work under bright skies that glow in a shade of blue rarely seen at street level; the birds in the treetops provide songs-to-plant-by and on dull days, the unobstructed view of dramatic cloud formations fill us with awe as they float before our eyes.

My staff and I feel a little closer to heaven gardening at this height with such a panoramic view. Although we spend hours designing and planting flowerpots, what we do here does not feel like work. This annual project is an opportunity to experience spirituality. Regardless of their age, personality, gender or field of study, none of the college students who help me plant remain unmoved by what they see.


Current Trends in Urban Garden Design

Readers who follow my garden book reviews may have noticed an emphasis this season on two landscaping topics:- a] gardening in confined urban spaces and b] landscaping without lawns.

From that perspective, it is reassuring that the publishing industry recognizes the large number of urban gardeners who have location-related challenges that need to be addressed. City dwellers must be relieved to know that having a lawn is not, and never has been, a prerequisite to enjoying a beautiful garden.

With the emerging targets markets for container gardening and no-mow lawns, it is prescient that Proven Winners reflects these two trends in their current publication The Gardener’s Idea Book. It differs from previous PW brochures as it focuses primarily on the urban gardener and apartment dweller, both of whom are more likely to garden on a patio, deck, or balcony rather than on a lawn.

Below are images of some of the urban settings that PW commissioned for their current brochure. They illustrate how easy it is to create a pleasurable floral oasis on a deck or patio using only containers, window boxes, and raised flowerbeds.

Once they are planted, such gardens require less attention and maintenance than traditional flowerbeds do. There is no space for weeds to grow in containers or raised beds covered with wall – to – wall plants. The abundant use of annuals reduces the amount of maintenance required to tend some perennials. In addition, there is little or no grass to cut, feed, and water on a deck or patio.

While the emphasis in this publication is on Proven Winner’s attractive, trademarked annuals, readers might want to consider adding perennials, ornamental shrubs, and roses to their raised flowerbeds. Where budgets permit, these plants are also quite effective when used for container gardening.

Image © Used with permission.

Plants included in above arrangements: ANGELFACE® Blue Angelonia hybrid, SUPERBELLS® Plum, SUPERBELLS® Red, and SUPERBELLS® Yellow Calibrachoa hybrids, Sweet Caroline Bewitched and Sweet Caroline Raven,  Ipomoea batatas, SUNSATIA® Raspberry Nemesia hybrid, SUPERTUNIA®, Red and SUPERTUNIA® Royal Velvet Petunia hybrids, COLORBLAZE® Dipt in Wine, Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus), and GRACEFUL GRASSES® KING TUT® Cyperus papyrus

Image © Used with permission.

In matching containers above center: - SUPERBELLS® Dreamsicle and SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrids, Efanthia Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid.

In raised beds:-  Efanthia Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid, Sweet Caroline Raven, Ipomoea batatas, LUSCIOUS® Citrus Blend Lantana hybrid, SUNSATIA® Lemon Nemesia hybrid, GRACEFUL GRASSES® Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum, SUPERTUNIA® Citrus Petunia hybrid, COLORBLAZE® Dark Star, COLORBLAZE® Kingswood Torch, COLORBLAZE® Royal Glissade and COLORBLAZE® ‘Sedona’ Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus). 

Window boxes on edge of raised beds: - SUPERBELLS® Dreamsicle, SUPERBELLS® Yellow, SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrids,and Goldilocks Lysimachia nummularia.

Image © Used with permission.

Above is an aerial view of the previous photo. Notice the abundance of plants and trees growing in the raised beds and containers. The verticality of the gazebo, trees, and tall plant on the left, deflect the visitor's gaze away from the confinement of the fence.

Image © Used with permission.

In raised beds above:- Efanthia Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid, Sweet Caroline Raven Ipomoea batatas, LUSCIOUS® Citrus Blend Lantana hybrid, SUNSATIA® Lemon Nemesia hybrid, GRACEFUL GRASSES® Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum, SUPERTUNIA® Citrus Petunia hybrid, COLORBLAZE® Dark Star, COLORBLAZE® Kingswood Torch, OLORBLAZE® Royal Glissade, and COLORBLAZE® ‘Sedona’ Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus).

Window boxes on edge of raised beds:- SUPERBELLS® Dreamsicle, SUPERBELLS® Yellow, SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrids, and Goldilocks Lysimachia nummularia.

Image © Used with permission.

Plants used in various containers:- SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon Calibrachoa hybrid, SUPERTUNIA® Bermuda Beach Petunia hybrid, SUPERBENA® Peachy Keen Verbena hybrid.

Window boxes: SUPERBELLS® Cherry Star and SUPERBELLS® Yellow Chiffon, Calibrachoa hybrids and ‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Light Green’ Ipomoea batatas.

In all of the photos above, notice the visual interest created by the contrasting textures of fabrics, wood, concrete, stone, container materials, metal, foliage and flowers. A comforting verticality, that adds to a sense of spaciousness, is supplied by upward growing plants, shrubs, trees, and a gazebo. Mood and atmosphere is enhanced by light and fire, as well as the borrowed view of the city sky line.

The colors green and terra cotta repeat throughout these urban landscapes to create a rhythmic, unifying theme, while the color and grain of the fencing timber provide richness. Only one of the above views indicates that there is a grass lawn in the distant background. However, in such a beautiful outdoor setting, grass becomes irrelevant.


Success with Flower Pots and Containers Requires Trial and Error

http://foreverflowercontainers.comWhen I began to design flower gardens, many clients asked me to fill their containers as well. That’s when I dived, head first, into a craft for which I was as yet unsuited and unprepared. Guided by the beautiful photographs in the trade publications, I copied the compositions in the pictures and sourced the same types of flowers that had been used. Unfortunately, the results were never spectacular.

It was only by reading several books on container gardening that I came to understand my own shortcoming and the limited power of the plants that I has selected. The first thing that I learned was that flower pots need potting mixture to grow successfully. I had been potting flowers with rich black garden soil. Containers, I now understand, need feeding every two weeks. I did not know that, but I do now. Containers also need frequent watering. I had been neglectful of that and now I know better.

My lack of experience was also responsible for me making the strategic error of believing that annual flowers in pots bloom all summer long. Who knew that plants could be spent by July and need replacing? I know that now. However, the biggest lesson learned from my trials and errors is not to trust the advertisements for annuals or to rely upon the professional flower arrangements that are photographed for magazines. Those pots look good when planted but not a few months later.

The greatest deception of all is the industry’s encouragement to use specific annuals because many of them are flowers that simply can’t deliver. Like most gardeners, I was so impressed with the hype and appearance of Calibrachoa and Bacopa that when they failed to perform, I was greatly disappointed. These plants are not nearly as attractive in a real container as they appeared in print. The colors are harsh, and do not project. Furthermore, they do not become more attractive after planting. They seem to be at their peak when purchased and then deteriorate until the end of the season.

Summers are short in USDA zone 4 and sometimes spring never comes. With such a protracted season for enjoying flowers, we require reliability. Here it is not OK for flower pots to appear spent by mid summer. By that time, the local merchants of annual flowers have dismantled their kiosks so that replacements are impossible to find. Another lesson learned, now that we are experiencing summers with unending rain, is that dahlias will rot if planted in pots if there is no opportunity for the soil to dry out.

When all of my attempts to creatively plant containers failed, it took a while for me to realize that so many of the most spectacular potted floral arrangements still depend upon pelargonium and begonias as main plants. In the end, what once appeared to me to be old fashioned and overused has turned out to be the most reliable.


Creative Design for Container Gardening; a book review.

Gardening With Color Rob Sproule,  Lone Pine Publishing,

We were introduced to Rob Sproule last year when he published a delightful manual titled New Annuals for Canada. In it, the author wrote about the effective use of annual flowers for colder climates, where short growing seasons are prevalent. In this, his second endeavor, he focuses on the use of annuals for designing and planting containers under the same climate conditions.

The newer book contains 60 design ideas for container gardens. Here are solutions for those that lack the confidence to design their own or for those who feel that their innate creativity still remains untapped. Each of the suggestions is accompanied by a planting diagram, a list of suitable flowers and foliage, and care instructions. The reader is encouraged to consider them as inspiration, to be adapted to ones personal taste and needs. The plans also include guidelines for the size of a container, the recommended amount of sun, water and nutrition, the projected aggressiveness of the component plants and a caution about the restrictions of climate. In addition, the author surveys materials required as well as soil and potting mixes.

Mr.Sproule deals with pertinent topics such as foliage, hanging baskets, the classical style of planting flower pots, and the creative use of color. In the final two chapters, the reader is introduced to modern and contemporary influences in container design and is given suggestion on how to create imaginatively by thinking outside the box.

In a short, magnificent, gem of a chapter dedicated to the elements and principles of design, the author has concisely summarized everything we need to know about this subject. Many books have been published about design in general, and garden design in particular, but none have been able to summarize the science of design as clearly as Mr. Sproule has done. Read the book for this chapter alone; the balance is a useful and informative bonus.


Planting All Season Gardens in Pots; a book review for

Continuous Container Gardens, Sara Begg Townsend & Roanne Robbins, Storey Publishing,                                   ISBN 978-1-60342-702-9

Right from the first page, the authors declare that a container garden is better than a large flower bed because with containers, the gardener can focus on less and do more with it. For example, deadheading a container garden takes 30 seconds if done a few times a week. Furthermore, because pots are closer to eye level, they make it easier to appreciate individual plants. The restricted amount of gardening surface also teaches and inspires the gardener to become a better editor and a better designer.

Traditional gardeners better hold onto their hats because this book will provide a roller coaster of a ride as the authors present a new treatment for an established style of gardening. According to the publisher, the authors submit

 …an innovative system for creating stylish container gardens that can change with the seasons with a minimum of fuss. They begin with a “main-stage” plant — a woody plant, garden ornament, or eye-catching perennial – and then add a secondary player for texture and variety. As the seasons change, they show how easy it is to swap plants in and out for a dynamic display that looks great year-round. Their simple approach yields endless variations, seasonal bursts of color, and varied textures that echo the ever-changing beauty of nature. The book features designs for twelve containers, each with a unique plan for swapping plants every season, for a total of 48 exciting looks.

Essential to the theme of this book is that for container gardens to be sustaining, annuals won’t do. The continuous container garden is less of a colorful floral composition and more of a mini-garden inspired by the nature surrounding a home. To that end, the focus is on perennials and their foliage, ornamental and evergreen shrubs, and ornamental trees that grow less than 25 feet tall. Pretty flowers are considered a bonus, a small decorative splash..

However, one of the requisites of this philosophy of container planting is that one must be prepared to move plants in and out of containers as the seasons dictate. In addition, trees and shrubs might require their roots to be trimmed in order for them to remain pot – friendly, as they mature. Some perennials will require dividing. Therefore, while this innovative form of miniature gardening is refreshing, it is not targeting the busy multi-tasking homeowner. For as little work as it takes to maintain these pots, there is a greater commitment to transform them as the season changes. Dedicated and passionate gardeners, with time on their hands, will be delighted with the results.