Need Help?

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

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

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

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in flowerbeds (13)


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.



How Gardening Made my Sad Parents Smile.

This is one of the finest photos of a perennial garden on the web. It is the front lawn sign of a nursery in Peterborough Canada that specializes in Daylilies and Hosta Hemerocallis Venetain Fringe, never saw a real flower up close until my sixteenth birthday. All things beautiful existed, for me, only in books and magazines; that's because my parents cared little for material possessions. They had no need to surround themselves with objects of beauty or comfort. Those were things that I would see in movies or in the homes of friends and relatives.

While still a young boy, I came to realize that I enjoyed looking at anything that was colorful, patterned, textured or faceted. I would spend hours trying to figure out what happened to light when it refracted off the beveled edge of a mirror and turned into a color spectrum. I was curious to know how snow crystals on the ground converted the rays of neon lights into scintillating stars. I could study the pattern of an Oriental rug for hours wondering where its sinewy lines might lead. My eyes have always yearned to see all things beautiful. To this day, they never tire of looking at anything; even the label on a soup can stimulates my curiosity.

I spent my childhood in a densely populated neighborhood that, to my mind, resembled a grey concrete jungle. Everything around me was hard and cold. All that I remember was the rhubarb that grew wild out of the crack that separated the foundation of our home from the sidewalk. The colors and aroma of flowers were merely something my mother talked about when she spoke of her childhood. They were nothing I had ever experienced.

On my twelfth birthday, my family moved to a residential town with lots of trees and lawns where I hoped to see color. But that didn’t happen. In our new neighborhood, trees were so mature that they created green canopies that overhung the streets. As a result, sun and rain barely touched the ground; consequently, all the lawns were bare.

Then, when I turned sixteen, we moved to a newer town where green lawns were bathed in sunlight. To my excitement, empty flowerbeds prepared by the previous ownersurrounded our home. Since they knew nothing about gardening, my parents gave me free reign, to learn what I could from the neighbors who gardened, and to replicate their successes in our back yard. All that my father asked for was red flowers.

The first summer, when I saw my garden in bloom, marked the first time I saw real flowers, up close. It was also the first time that I saw my father smile. It happened one day when he returned home from work to see his red flowers in bloom. Up until that day, my father had been such a somber man that I didn’t recognize the happy person admiring my garden. When I got used to his brightened disposition, I promised myself I'd garden forever if only to keep him smiling.

One day, my mother discovered the strong aroma emitted by Lilies of the Valley growing wild in our back yard and she became enchanted.  Never before I had heard my mother sigh with such pleasure. Happiness had been erased from her life by childhood tragedies. When she sang to my brother and me, the songs were cheerful but her vocal chords sobbed with grief. At last, thanks to plants, there would be real joy in her voice and under our roof. The aroma of my flower garden had brought newfound happiness both into her life and into our home.

That family transformation compelled me to expand my gardening horizons and I began to experiment, rather successfully, with fragrant plants such as roses, irises and nasturtium, and with every red plant that would grow in my climate zone. The greater the number of aromatic perennials that I could find, and the more varieties of red flowers I planted, the longer my parents' happiness endured. What an enormous burden for a young teenager to carry. Nevertheless, from that day onward, whenever they stepped into the garden, my mother would sigh with pleasure while a huge smile would explode across my father's face. That made me happy.

My parents' reaction gave me some measure of accomplishment. I felt useful and proud to give them a renewable source of happiness. Now, when I look back upon those formative years of gardening, I recall that I never planted flowers to please myself. I gardened to see my parents smile.

I continued my quest to bring happiness to others, through gardening, after I married. When I became a family man, my subsequent  gardens were filled with pink and yellow flower because those were the colors my wife had chosen for her wedding bouquet. Later on, when my daughters grew old enough to speak, one of them would ask for blue flowers. That began a hunt for blue perennials that goes on to this day. I still have not decided what my favorite color flowers might be. I spend too much time ensuring that those who admire my gardens will find happiness there.

Page 1 2 3