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

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Entries in flowering plants (3)


Lespedeza Gibraltar Is A Waterfall Flowering Perennial

Extreme close up of a Lespedeza floret in my garden. With normal viewing, it isn't as attractive as it appears above.Whenever I receive a catalogue from an online nursery, my first action is to search for perennials I’ve never seen before. I pay attention to those that are considered hardy in USDA Zone 4 [Canada Zone 5]. I delve into details to select only flowering plants with a long bloom period. Finally, for those that appear to have potential, I evaluate for attractiveness and for colors that work well in the English-style flowerbed.

Photos used in the above-mentioned publications are often deceptive. An image may reflect a close-up of a petal or floret that in real life has no visual appeal. An image may have been captured with a lens filter that alters the plant’s true color to make it appear more attractive in print. Occasionally, the plant is staged with hidden props to hide an unattractive growing habit. Computer technology may be used to transform a plants image into a vision the human eye can never see. Rarely are we informed that a perennial is messy, aggressive, invasive or short-lived.

A true portrait of mature Lespedeza by White Flower Farms, Click on image for more details.One requires courage to experiment with newly introduced plants and, like inside the now-proverbial Forest Gump box of chocolates, one never knows what one is going to find. Even though no amount of technical prowess could hide the fact that Lespedeza was not an attractive perennial, I ignored cautionary guidelines when I first noticed it and bought blindly.

My onlione provider did not mention that it was bushy. The close up of Lespedeza thunbergii Gibraltar showed no sign of weeping or cascading. The small image of a floret close-up looked enticing as did the hype in the catalog informing me that this perennial would

  •  Bloom at the end of the season and for several months when little else is in bloom. It did.
  •  Flower in a rich, vivid color making it attractive from afar. It was, if one likes harsh tones.
  •  Spread at least five feet in diameter. It did.
  •  Cascade over sunny slopes. It does.
  •  Sport foliage that would remain attractive and disease free all summer, even in hot, humid climates. It did.

Limp and wilting in my autumn gardenUnfortunately, before the first season was over, I realised that Lespedeza is not a perennial for my neat city English-style garden. It belongs either in a rural setting where it might be valued for its practicality rather than for beauty or in a meadow-like garden where unpretentiousness is a virtue.

Flowers didn't turn brown immediately. They just lay there exhausted.Lespedeza Gibraltar is too robust for the pastel, polite and strategically planned urban theme. Its multidirectional growth and intense purple-pink coloration generate energy that prevents gardeners from combining it into pleasant plant compositions. In bloom, the pea-like florets appear scraggly even from afar and sorely wilted for a long while when flowering is over.   

There has to be a reason why this perennial doesn’t show up on most nursery offerings. Perhaps one explanation is that in fact it is a low growing, messy, flowering shrub that needs to be cut down to the ground every autumn. It’s a perennial want-to-be.

My garden was not the appropriate location for such a plant.Yet, in the context of a meadow garden, or in a matrix of a Piet Oudolf inspired composition, this plant has merit. When planted on a slope to cascade visually unobstructed, its texture and color interact well with other low growing plants. The harsh tone of its flowers blends well among the mellow hues of ornamental grasses and appear to glow happily next to bold native flowers. Lespedeza Gibraltar is a perennial that holds its own in the company of other robust garden personalities and proves once again that, in the plant world, one gardener’s nemesis is another gardener's friend.


Beautiful Plants: Can There Ever Be Too Many?

Azalea gardens, from

When the renowned landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme died last December, one of his pet peeves was reported frequently in various tributes to his lifetime accomplishments. Oehme abhorred Azaleas. Not only did he find them ubiquitous, but he also found their green foliage boring after the shrub stopped blooming.

 I am not comfortable with his assessment.

Azalea closeup courtesy of

The first time I saw azaleas, I was overwhelmed with joy. I thought I had magically stepped into a Technicolor Walt Disney movie. It happened when I first visited Rockland County, New York at the height of the blooming season; I was euphoric. 

Once, azaleas were new to me. I had never seen them growing in my area - that is until recently, after they were bred to be winter-hardy. Some might say that if I had grown up in a temperate climate, where they grow abundantly, perhaps like Mr. Oehme, I too might tire of them.  

But I doubt that would ever happen. Those of us who are moved by colorful flowers will admire them where and when we can, no matter how short the time to enjoy them.

The family, including rhododendrons, is quite versatile. Its  many varieties have proven to be visually effective even when used as foundation plants. Flowering shrubs in this group create a win-win situation for the gardener. They provide lush clouds of vivid color in late spring, followed by a proscenium of green foliage that not only enhances later blooming perennials and also camouflages the homes’ foundations. I will never tire of using them.

Understandably, it is an aspect of human nature that ubiquitous plants will annoy some gardeners and turn a few of them into horticultural elitists. They observe the same plant used so often, and in so many locations, that they cannot  bear to look at it. The question remains: - why do the rest of us continue to plant them? Because they are reliable.

Wild eupatoreum,

Endless miles of native species of eupatorium, asclepias, and achillea that I observed as a child on summer holidays left me hating these native perennials. Later in life, I would deliberately avoid using them. Then, one day, I noticed new cultivars bred from these families, growing in a neighbor’s garden; I was impressed how attractive they appeared.

That inspired me to reconsider my attitude and I began to incorporate them into my work. When they were combined with other plants to create impressive combinations, they proved to be among the more dependable specimens in my flowerbeds. Now, they are the workhorses that help make my gardens beautiful.

Hemerocallis Stella d'Oro,

A similar case can be made for Hemerocallis Stella d’Oro, and Knock Out Roses. They are considered by some to be good-old-reliables; they grow anywhere, pump out endless color, and return season after season with little effort from the gardener.

Knock Out Rose,

That they have become ubiquitous should not make us cringe upon seeing them. They are effective wherever they are used. It is fortunate that, living in unpredictable and changing climates, we can count on them to awake and rebloom each season.

In deference to the late Mr. Oehme, I understand his reaction to the seas of azaleas he discovered when he first arrived in America from Europe. Perhaps it is because he took up residence in a temperate climate that he disliked them so. Wherever endless varieties of plants grow in abundance, one has the privilege of selecting and discarding them at will. After all, there are so many from which to choose that eliminating one or several from one’s repertoire is not a serious matter.

We northerners cannot behave so cavalierly in our gardens. We work with a restricted list of plants that withstand our cold climate and short growing season. Consequently, we are appreciative of all beautiful plants. No matter how often they occur in the gardens around us, we never tire of looking at them. We are just grateful.


When Plant Breeders Get it Right, There's No Such Thing As Too Much Pleasure.

When the names of the annual titles and awards for plants were released a while ago, some of my blogging colleagues wondered about the role that these plants play in gardening. Each year, there are many disappointments among the new introductions, but there are also a few successes. It is this paltry collection of new garden heroes that keeps us coming back for more, every season. That’s because we have an agenda:-

Let us first tackle the subject of breeding for the joy of owning a new color of flower. Every few years a new shade will appear on the scene so that gardeners can add something unusual or different to their flowerbeds. In order to argue on behalf of those that celebrate newness, we need to acknowledge that gardening is not always about establishing a permanent installation. Some consider a garden to be a dynamic composition, subject to annual change when new varieties become available. Others like change simply for the fun of it.

Secondly, we should recognize that breeders play an important role in their ongoing attempt to develop hardier species that can survive colder climates. Gardeners who pine for certain plants, but cannot grow them due to climatic conditions, are delighted when winter - hardy strains are introduced. I am one of those gardeners. Breeders do me a great service when they discover a new variety that will survive a USDA 4b winter.

Lastly, breeders contribute to our enjoyment of gardening when they try to eliminate the messiness of flowers. Many landscape architects and garden designers are mandated to plant only those species that grow neatly because few clients have a desire to care for their plants. Its not always about the cost of maintenance, it’s usually about the continuity and reliability of a garden’s clean image. Breeders working on developing  neater plants are invaluable because these new introductions will extend the boundaries of our design palette, giving us more raw materials to work with.

Unfortunately, in the process of meeting market needs and pleasing almost everybody, nature and scientists make compromises; often, new introductions will disappoint. Some plants lose their fragrance when they are bred for hardiness or shrink in height and volume when tweaked for neatness. Invariably, a new variety bred for unique petal coloration might lose its hardiness, or its longevity, or both.

However, if a plant delivers what I need to make my gardens look better, without compromising hardiness or longevity, I don’t allow myself to become sentimental about what it has lost in the transformation. Instead, I focus on what I have gained in creative materials and how my clients have benefited from me having a wider selection to work with. Each new season, along with other gardeners, I experience the excitement of new plants bred for our unique enjoyment. In flower gardening, there can be no such thing as too much pleasure.