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

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Entries in garden design (142)


Thalictrum delavayi "Splendide"

This past season, a variety of Thalictrum, that was new to my garden, gave me such great pleasure that I am eager and pleased to share that experience. Every year, a local nursery promotes one of several Thalictrum varieties. Since imitation is the finest form of flattery, each spring, I too will plant the featured perennial both in my own flowerbeds and in the gardens I design. Last year, I worked with Thalictrum "Hewitt’s Double". This year, the choice has been "Splendide".

The breeder was being kind when he named this variety. Splendid is an adjective that is so overworked on our hyperbolic, commercial, world that the name didn’t give me a hint of what to expect. To say that I am ecstatic about its performance would be to understate my glee. This perennial scintillated as it bloomed magnificently in my garden, up until the last week of September. Then, by mid October, when the older, taller stems lost their flowers, the shorter, newer ones at the base of the plant,  continued to bloom on for another few days. This is one of the best gift plants for a USDA Zone 4 gardener; it is full of so many surprises.

Of course, my jubilation at the continuous blooming is somewhat tempered because this is the first season that the plant has been growing in my garden. Who knows what the grower fed it at the outset, to make it appear so impressive or to flower for so long? Now, I must wait until next season to determine its realistic bloom time. But the pleasure of this plant is more than just its lengthy flowering period. This perennial introduces a novel shade of pink to the garden, an unusual billowy shape, exquisitely fine floral texture, and an almost humorous upside-down verticality that some fastidious gardeners might consider to be a flaw.

As we all know, nothing in the world is perfect and even the best of anything has its down side. One flaw - and only a garden blogger will care - is that this plant is camera-shy;  I had to resort to posting professional trade images here to illustrate my impressions of this plant and to convey its unusual beauty. A second flaw is that it is top-heavy; although heavy is not an adjective to describe a frothy, billowy cloud with cherry milkshake coloration. As is worships the sun, it bows down from its "waist". That is not a shortcoming if the plant was smaller, but since it reaches five feet in height in my garden and even taller in warmer climates, staking it is a requirement. Normally, I do not recommend plants that need this kind of care but this one is too beautiful to ignore.

In my clients’ gardens, I used a four foot stake and allowed the top of the flower-cloud to billow downwards. When the fluffy lavender pink clouds cascade, they create a soft, reverse vertical direction in the flowerbed. Gardeners who are able to position this plant so that it is backlit by the afternoon sun will rejoice with the ethereal effect that the lacy flowers create when the sunrays shine through them..

When researching this perennial, I came across an irreverent, but extremely clever, sales pitch for it. The people at Plant Delight Nursery, Inc. in the Carolinas are such humorous horticulturists, that I need to share their gem-of-a-description with my readers. The added, italicized commentary and translation are my own.

“Holy S...!  a censored, colloquial expression of intense, pleasurable astonishment with no polite equivalent. This giant meadow rue from French heuchera breeder, Thierry Delabroye popped up as a garden seedling  unplanned parenthood  resulting from a midnight rendezvous  an illicit intimate encounter  between the Chinese T. delavayi and T. elegans...oh, those hot French liaisons! The result is a 9' tall stalk,  well, 5 feet in USDA Zone 4  composed of lacy, deer-resistant foliage, the top 3' of which is a massive 4' wide   believe it!  cloud-like cluster of lavender-pink dangling flowers  like dense pink snowflakes  starting in late June (NC) and continuing until late summer.  It blooms throughout the month of September in USDA Zone 4b.  Because of the immense floral weight, the stems are more slanted than the politics on MSNBC,   it flops over  so a support structure of strong neighbors is suggested.  Don’t rely on the neighbors. Use a tall stake. 'Splendide' also had its tubes snipped (legal in France),  the plant is sterile and will not self seed. so don't worry about having unwanted meadow rues to support.  It’s so beautiful, I wish I had countless seedlings to share with others! Rich soils,  use compost!  like relatives, are highly recommended.”

Unlike the Species that blooms earlier in the season, in a pale pink color that fades in the sun, this variety holds its intense, twinkling shade of lavender-pink all season long. Its unusual flower, color, form, and texture offer the creative gardener an opportunity to think outside the box when situating this variety in the flowerbed. At the least, it is challenging fun; at best, it is an experience bordering on joyful.


Upscale Gardening with a Mass-Market Manual, a book review

Plant Combinations for Your Landscape by Tony Lord, with photographs by Andrew Lawson, Published by Creative Homeowners.

A prominent garden designer and a garden photographer have put their names to a mass-market how-to garden book. This attractively priced, lavishly illustrated, and dwarf-sized publication measures only 5.5 x 6.5 inches. However, it is no less important than more elaborate and larger-sized volumes selling at three times the price.

The conciseness of the gardening advice is as compact as the book itself, yet it contains everything a new gardener needs to know about plants and how to combine them in the garden. The author has divided the manual into six clearly defined topics plus an invaluable introductory chapter. These preparatory pages instruct the reader how to use the guide effectively and how to interpret the short hand symbols; it also clearly explains concepts that are fundamental to garden design.

These concepts include the value of light, bedding and borders, the importance of color- repetition- balance, the role of containers and hanging baskets, meadow planting, the June gap in the flower garden, the late spring shearing of tall summer plants, late summer color, bulbs, and climbers. Distilled into twenty tiny pages, this treasury of basic information, fundamental to garden design, can be read in a flash.

The opening chapter instructs the reader about the essence of a garden’s basic structure, namely shrubs and small trees. The list included no less than sixty-five plants. The next chapter introduces forty-two climbing plants that add a vertical dimension to a garden, followed by a chapter discussing sixty of the most versatile of all plants, the rose.

The subsequent chapter discusses perennials, the herbaceous plants that play an essential role in designing and filling a garden. Here, the reader will discover seventy-eight of them. Twenty-six attractive bulbs are also included in this book because of their ability to grow through layers of other plants. Finally, the book ends with a chapter discussing sixty-four annuals. This topic includes biennials, frost-tender perennials, and vegetables with ornamental foliage.

Each of the chapters begins with an introduction and overview of its topic, followed by a short summary about each plant. The summary divides into two short paragraphs. One, titled How it Works, is a concise explanation of the growth habit and appearance of a specific plant. Another paragraph, titled Recommended Partners, lists additional plants that combine successfully with the featured one in order to enhance the garden.

Because it prevents the reader from feeling daunted by the subject of garden design and plant combinations, this book is important for first-time gardeners. If one uses the structure of the book itself, the undertaking will be easy to accomplish.  By reading about one component of design at a time, at one’s own pace, one can easily build a garden in stages. The trick is to follow the sequence of the chapters. It’s that simple – that’s what manuals are intended to do – and Mr. Lord and Mr. Lawson accomplish that task admirably.

This review is also posted to




The Spiritual Gardens at The Scots Hotel

Towards the end of the 19th century, when the Ottoman Turks ruled the Middle East, the Church of Scotland sent a mission to the Holy Land under the leadership of a young doctor.

Explicitly, the goal was to improve health and sanitary conditions in the Galilee area. Implicitly, its mission was to bring Christianity to the local population.

In 1894, when it became apparent that the goal was unattainable, the young doctor converted his mission into a maternity hospital, open to all creeds.

It remained in operation, with the gratitude of the population, until the early1950’s when the nascent Israeli government introduced socialized medicine.

Following the closure of the hospital in 1953, and in a desire to find an alternative use for its property, the Church of Scotland, converted its buildings into a guesthouse for international pilgrims and visitors.

Delonix regia CaesalpiniaceaeIn 1999, the buildings’ further renovation and refurbishment resulted in the creation of a first class hotel, where the architecture maintains the spirit of the original structures. Respectful of the goals that brought the Church of Scotland to the Galilee in the first place, superb landscape architecture and garden design help make The Scots Hotel an elegant, spiritual, destination.

Jacarandum mimosifolia BignoniaceaeOn my travels through the Middle East last summer, our group chose this location upon the advice of the travel agent, who promised that we would be impressed. Indeed we were. The landscaping moved us greatly.

In the heat of August, when most of Israel is the color of sand, green vegetation is seen very rarely, except in the north, and the Galilee. While few, if any, flowers are in bloom at this time of year, some floriferous trees on the hotel’s grounds, such as Delonix regia Caesalpiniaceae and Jacarandum mimosifolia Bignoniaceae, gave us the splash of color that was sorely missing on this trip.

Our tour guide had taken us through practically every square mile of Israel and the accessible West Bank. Nowhere else did we see such horticultural beauty as was offered to our tired eyes by The Scots Hotel. The grounds surrounding its property are so magnificent that the photos above should speak for themselves.


Hemerocallis Prairie Blue Eyes

When I first saw the ad for a blue-ish looking day lily in a mail order catalogue, I could feel the acceleration of my heartbeat. At first, I was excited to stumble upon a cold-colored day lily. Then I became even more excited, this time with indignation, at the high retail price tag attached to it. At the time, I had not yet seen Hemerocallis Prairie Blue Eyes offered by any of my better-priced suppliers. Fearing that I might never stumble across it again, as often happens with unusual day lily varieties, I decided to splurge and placed my order at full price.  Another two years would have to pass before this variety would become available from local, more affordable, growers.

Like all other daylily fans that I received by mail, this one required three years of growth before it bloomed impressively. When it did, I was more than pleased. Although it did not bloom in the pure lavende-blue shade that I saw in the catalogue, [I never believed that a real day lily could be that blue, anyway] it did flower in a shade of lilac - blue, with an overcast of subtle pink. Those tones allowed it to blend in successfully with the palette of my English-spirit garden. However, as a dwarf variety, it showed best in the front row of the border.

Directly above is a photo of how the unnaturally-colored day lily appeared in the mail order catalogue. It was too blue to be true.

Now look at the above photo taken with my camera. Its automatic setting captured the flower with an intense pink cast that the naked eye cannot see. In the mid-day light of the real world, the pink is more subtle while the lilac - blue is more dominant.

This beautifully shaded day lily answers the prayers of English-style perennial gardeners who prefer hemerocallis that bloom in cool colors. Wouldn’t it be great if breeders developed a similarly colored variety that bloomed longer, or taller, or perhaps even later?


A Perennial Garden in Bloom

Here is a long shot of a July flowerbed, in USDA Zone 4b, that flanks the path to my front door. It took many seasons before I got the combination of plants, bloom times, and colors just right. Since then, the bed has remained untouched and has re-bloomed for many years with precise reliability.

Except for Platycodon that requires staking [because it kneels to the sun] all of the plants are very low maintenance. They are neat, upright, grow in clumps and now at maturity require little or no feeding. Also, they are unaffected by current weather patterns that bring bouts of severe heat and drought followed by torrential rains.Their strong root system, developed over many years in my garden, seems to give them the strength to perform reliably as if they were wild flowers, native to this growing zone. Yet, they are actually foreign plants that have adapted well.

Blue Platycodon is seen in the lower left corner of a shot that captures several varieties of Phlox, a lemon-yellow Hemerocalis that might be either Happy returns or Hyperion, Liatris, Rainbow Knock Out Rose in its white phase, and in the distant right, Rose Bonica in its faded July cycle, one month before it begins its richer pink August re-blooming.