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

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

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 garden design (142)

Monday
Feb202017

The Most Beautiful Landscaped Flower Garden in Thailand. 

Doi Tung Royal Villa, located in Chiang Rei, Thailand, was built with simplicity in the Lanna and Swiss architectural styles in 1987, as a residence for Her Late Royal Highness Princess Srinakarindra, the Princess Mother.

It's location in the mountains of northern Thailand among the hill tribes was chosen so that the Princess Mother might reforest the area and improve the lives of the local people through education, health care [provided with her own funds] and training. Her goal was to replace the cultivation of opium, which was destroying the social fabric of the local population, with co-op farming and artisan skills.

The plan was successful. Today, members of the hill tribes proudly sustain themselves with small scale farming. On each plot of land homeowners grow at least one of about ten food bearing shrubs, trees and plants and raise several chickens. From each plant, they consume what they require for sustenance and deliver the surplus to a nearby collection center which consolidates the modest harvests and sends it to market. The generated revenue is also supplemented with fine quality handicrafts made from locally woven textiles to be sold at better tourist shops throughout Thailand.

Part of the construction of the villa reflects the Thai tradition of re purposing all plant matter so that nothing grown is discarded. For example, in Thailand’s silk industry, mulberry leaves that are too tough to be ingested by silk worms are pounded into pulp to make a textile used in the manufacture of parasols.

Similarily, at the elephant refuge, located further south in Chiang Mei, dung is mechanically separated. The soft manure is used as compost while the tough indigestible fibres [because elephants don’t discriminate against what part of the plant they eat] are processed into a richly textured  linen-like paper used in souvenir shops for gift wrapping, stationary and picture frame covers.

Respecting the tradition of re purposing, the exterior of the Princess Mother's Villa, while built of concrete, was decorated with wood slabs cut from discarded teak trees, which came from forest thinning work by the Forest Industry Organization. The interior of the Royal Villa is paneled with recycled pine wood, from crates used for imported tools and equipment.

The colorful landscape design, that flows downhill from the building, offers a visual balance to the serenity and simplicity of the home’s architecture. Known as The Mae Fah Luang Garden, it is designed with hundreds of different kinds of annual and perennial flowering plants spread over 10 acres of lush, expansive lawns.  

Chiang Rei, situated in the mountains of northern Thailand, enjoys a cool climate virtually all year round thus making it possible for the Princess Mother to give the Thai people, who never travelled beyond their tropical country, an opportunity to experience a temperate flower garden. 

This tourist destination is a flower gardener’s dream. The enormous amount and varieties of flowering plants, that flow endlessly in front of the visitors’ eyes, create a moving and almost surreal visual experience.

The concept of the garden reinforces the idea that not all landscapes need to be variations on themes of green. Nor must they be designed solely with immaculately trimmed evergreen shrubs. In the appropriate setting, using eye-catching color schemes and climate-friendly plants, a flower garden can be a beautiful attraction.

Wednesday
Jun242015

White Persicaria and Red Roses

White Persicaria polymorpha, Rose Emily Carr and on the left foliage from Eupatorium purpureum that will bloom later in the seasonThe above drama occurred serendipitously.  Originally, a flowerbed was planted to be a theatre perormance. Contrasts in colors, textures, heights, and movements supplied by a composition of continuously blooming roses and perennials were created for the pleasure of apartment dwellers when they looked down from their terraces high above a garden in a private park.

The tall red roses planted five years ago – Emily Carr, from the Canadian Artists collection of hardy shrub roses - were the focal point of the flowerbed. Although they looked stunning in bloom, something was amiss because most of the strong visual energy that the roses supplied weakened by the time it reached the twelfth floor above. More staging was required.

The solution and inspiration came from a visit to a wholesale perennial grower in the countryside. A large round flowerbed was planted in the center of a circular driveway to serve as a landmark for clients approaching along a winding country road.

In the centre of the 10-foot diameter bed, three Persicaria polymorpha perennials were planted in triangle formation several feet apart from one another. At the time of my visit, the composition had matured over three years to create a tall swaying grove of white feathery texture.

The very rugged but elegant plant, also known as Knotweed, is a sun perennial that also grows with magnificence in part shade. The bloom period is quite extensive and the luxuriously sensual flower heads - alive or dead - remain shapely and texturally interesting throughout the season.

To draw focus to the flowerbed, I decided to use this perennial as a proscenium for the red roses. In addition to contributing height and drama, it also diverted tenants' eyes away from a view of the neighboring apartment building.  

However, never was any thought given to the powerful visual impact this perennial might make on the appearance of the roses themselves. Emily Carr roses were intended to be the main attraction, to enhance the appearance of other plants and to give pleasure to the apartment dwellers. Instead, Persicaria made the roses appear to bloom more beautiful than ever before. It enhanced the red color; it showcased the shape of the flower; it made the composition glow and gave it movement. A new dimension to the overall design of the garden was created simply by planting this white perennial behind the red roses. That is serendipity.

Wednesday
Apr152015

A Review of "Garden Design, a Book of Ideas"

Garden Design, a Book of Ideas, Heidi Howcroft & Marianne Majerus, Firefly Books

Glance at the image above to appreciate the shape and color of the Eupatorium flower head close-up in the foreground. Let your eyes caress the feathery texture of the upright ornamental grass in the background and notice how it contrasts with the smooth bark of the vertical trees while delineating the horizontal border of the pool. The book cover photo captures an example of garden design at its best and is an indication of the quality of information to be found inside.

In an age of sensory overload, authors Howcraft and Majerus found a successful way to reach out to readers. They created a refreshing visual reference book to introduce ideas to a new generation of garden owners, architects and designers who desire to know more, while reading less in order to focus on what is relevant to their needs.

The result is an enchanting sourcebook of ideas containing 600 inspiring photographs and 24 case studies. Ms. Howcroft uses comprehensive but lean text to encapsulate each garden design concept while Ms. Majerus adds precise photo-examples to elaborate.

Every aspect of garden design is explored from assessing a location, evaluating the soil, choosing a style for inspiration, selecting plants and hardscape elements to tackling challenging spaces.

Readers will find useful, effective treatments for their garden design needs regardless where they live. Images of professionally designed settings have been collected and categorized from a wide variety of sources to inspire urban folk, weekend suburbanites and countryside dwellers. The authors include ideas for contemporary gardens, classically defined landscapes and naturalistic meadows. Whether one’s home is a cabin or a castle, whether the locale is family friendly, cocktail party serene or BBQ informal, the suggestions offered are adaptable to most locales and budgets.

If you’re planning a new garden or refreshing an older one, add this book to your must- read list; after it has inspired the creation of the garden of your dreams, place it where it can be admired by gardening colleagues. It’s that beautiful.

                                                          

Monday
Feb232015

Fran Sorin's Inspirational Garden Guide Has Been Reissued.

Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening,  Fran Sorin,   Braided Worlds Publishing.             

There is one book in my library that I can never part with: Fran Sorin’s Digging Deep. When it was published ten years ago, it validated the personal creativity I discovered when I first began to garden. On its pages, I also found a lifetime mentor in the author’s warm, inspiring voice and I return to her words whenever I need to refresh my creativity.

Recently, the book was republished in a revised tenth anniversary edition with a forward by the esteemed author and Mind/Body/Spirit/ thinker and practitioner, Larry Dossey, M.D. It is well worth reading again.

Gardening is more than simply growing plants. It is a creative, rewarding and spiritual experience. However, not all potential gardeners feel they have the skill to identify their needs, to express themselves or to find fulfillment. They do! Just ask Fran.

Ms. Sorin demonstrates that by digging deep into our souls all of us can find the garden of our dreams - an idyllic setting that generates personal happiness; a place to reconnect with nature to help make our lives feel complete.   

With a background in landscape design, psychology, communications and healing, the author built a successful career assisting clients to imagine and realize their buried wishes. On occasion, the process would prove challenging because some clients thought they were uncreative and expressed helplessness in articulating a personal vision.

To overcome that mindset, the author introduced them to self-awareness, an introspection of sorts that helps one find innate creativity stored within. Digging deep within oneself allows one to discover hidden dreams that translate into a meaningful garden. It also represents the first of seven steps that guide the reader to acheive that goal namely: imagining, envisioning, planning, planting, tending, enjoying, and completing.

The new edition includes revisions that reflect the evolution in lifestyle and conventional wisdom over the past ten years with a corresponding deletion of information from the original that is now superfluous or outdated. Its re-publication is also prescient.

Our society has become so technologically obsessed and increasingly nature deprived that many of us are spiritually and physically detached from the world we were intended to inhabit. The reissuing of this book is an inspiration to re build our bonds with nature to help us create richer, more joyful lives.

Readers will be so charmed by the author's intimate style of writing they will want her for a friend. Seasoned gardeners will recognize themselves on her pages and will delight in the affirmation she brings them. Novice gardeners will be inspired.

                                               

Saturday
Sep212013

I Didn't Charge for My Gardening Advice.

My financial adviser Billy called me the other day and asked if I would offer garden design advice to one of his neighbors. The wife is undergoing chemotherapy and has determined that a revamp of her tired-looking garden would be an ideal project to put back some balance into her life. Their garden truly needs a major overhaul and I was pleased to offer suggestions; I even recommended the name of a handy man that can do it economically. The husband is on board with the project and eager to make it happen.

When I first heard the family name of these neighbors, I smiled. Their two children had been classmates of my two daughters in elementary school over thirty-five years ago; both children and parents are among the nicest people my wife and I had ever met. That our two families did not develop a long-term relationship was a loss. We lived at opposite ends of town and our paths did not cross outside the schoolyard.

Given the unusual three-way relationship between us all, professional fees seemed  inapropriate and my wife inquired how I intended to handle this matter. I replied in a nano-second and without deliberation. There would be no charge for this meeting.

My decision was not influenced by the fact that the wife is ill or by the warm disposition of these extraordinarily nice people. I took my cue from Billy. He is my role model for generosity of heart. If he asks for help on behalf of another person, I will offer it for the same fee that he has been charging me for the past twenty years, whenever I rely upon him to help me navigate through choppy and unfamiliar waters, i.e. there is no charge.

Before becoming a financial adviser, Billy was an architect with a background in commerce, housing developer, and renovator. In those roles, he took upon himself the responsibility of guiding some of his clients through financial crises that might have otherwise caused them to lose their homes. That serendipitous kindness, combined with a facility with numbers, led him naturally into his present career as a financial adviser.

During the past twenty years, he has worn several hats in our relationship with him. While renovating our home, inadvertently he became our personal therapist due to the trauma and upheaval that the project created. When I retired from industry, he guided me through the maze of bureaucracy so that I might ease into my golden years with dignity. Now, whenever there is maintenance to be done around my home, I ask for his opinion. That counsel is offered with enthusiasm and sincerity; usually, I receive instructions for a solution and the name of a handy man or contractor whom he has already vetted for competence, reliability, and affordability. Later, he will inquire if the recommended tradesperson satisfied my needs.

In all the years that we have known him, whenever my wife and I have leaned upon Billy, and it has been frequently, he has never asked for compensation. My calls to him are not screened and my email inquiries are sometimes answered late at night, on weekends and on holidays. At the worst, while communicating by phone, he will sometimes put me on hold in order to comfort another client in distress.

To ease my guilt for taking advantage of his kind nature, I once offered payment when time invested in my issues became excessive and to this day, I will insert a plant into his garden, at no cost to him, when I discover there is a difficult-to-find item or a flower color on his wife’s wish list. The irony is that Billy is a competent weekend gardener and there is very little that I am able to do for him. Recognizing that I have a need to be helpful, he will occasionally contact me for garden advice just to make me feel good.

Realistically, my gestures of appreciation to him will never sufficiently compensate for his accumulated generosity of self. Therefore, when he phoned and asked me to assist his neighbor, I was delighted to do as he does. I passed it forward by sharing my time and knowledge with them without motive, expectation, or compensation. That too, made me feel good.