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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)


Spring Flowering Bulbs

Photo courtesy of Home and Garden Webshots, Photo 1295486587I received a catalogue for spring flowering bulbs that are planted in autumn and it reminded me how important it is to include tulips and daffodils in the perennial garden composition. These bulbs jump start the color display of the perennial garden. Spring flowering bulbs are a colorful overture to the upcoming season.

Bulbs may be purchased on line, or at retail garden centers that sell bulbs either from open stock or in prepackaged quantities. When shopping for open stock bulbs, don't leave home without a shopping list. It helps avoid confusion when one is confronted with selections that appear overwhelming. However, be forewarned. Buying from open stock is hard work. Customers are required to fill their own bags on which they must write the kind of bulb, its name, the quantity purchased and the unit price. This is tiresome work because it detracts from what should be a pleasant shopping experience. Garden centers that carry large assortments in open stock may have everything one is looking for but finding the desired items can be frustrating.

Pre-packaged bulbs come with an easily scanned bar code so there is no work to do at the point of sale. Often, these packages are attractively priced. However, garden centers that sell only prep-packaged bulbs may not have that one specific variety the purchaser really wants. Also, one might land up with more bulbs than needed. And yet, I will continue to buy prepackaged bulbs because it saves time and money. Besides, the extra bulbs make a nice hospitality gift when cleverly packaged. Better still; plant the extra bulbs in the garden of a friend.

Mail order is the easiest way to shop, especially with a hard copy of an actual mail order color catalogue on hand. Most catalogue houses have idiot-proof on-line ordering services that save many hours of personal shopping. The shipping charges are a worthwhile trade-off to spending too much time at the store.


A Grove of Perennials Can Be Dramatic

Here is a partial view of a lush perennial flower bed that snakes its way along the top of a private cliff on the shore of Schroon Lake [zone 4a] in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Depicted here is a grove of tall and elegant salmon-pink Filipendula rubra Venusta under planted with Lysimachia clethroides that bloomed in unison at the end of July. One could not have imagined that a modest, almost non-descript, white perennial could be used to such advantage when combined in quantity with the flamboyant Filipendula. This is a brilliant utilization of two very different perennials. To recreate this striking composition, keep in mind that this flower bed is deep, long and sinewy. There are several varieties of Filipendula to chose from; the cultivar used in this grove grows to 6 feet or 180 centimeters.


The Big Brown Fence

I removed a row of honeysuckle shrubs that ran along my property line and discovered that my neighbor had discreetly installed a brown mesh fence complete with privacy strips. Brown is not my preferred color. It clashes with the main color scheme of my garden. But that fence is a reality that I have to deal with it. What a great excuse to introduce new colors into my garden.

The photo above demonstrates how I have come to terms with a color that is not of my choosing. As you can see, the perennials have begun to camouflage parts of the fence and appear to neutralize whatever it is about the color brown that I dislike. In the picture from left to right, I have planted the scarlet red Lychnis chalcedonea, Anthemis tinctoria “Wargrave” with Nepata "Walker's Low" cascading in front over the rocks, followed by Lychnis coronaria, Achillea yellow something and Anthemis tinctoria “Kelwayi”.

This photo was shot prior to staking all of the yellow perennials. While they look rather elegant as they spread in all directions to bask in the sun, they are actually taking up valuable space that I need for my southern-exposure test garden. Now that I have digitally frozen the new color composition, I will begin to tidy up this part of the garden. There are new varieties of Gaillardia, Coreopsis, Helenium, Echinacea and Eupatorium that are waiting for their spot in the sun in order to grow.


Tiny Front Yard Gardens

I have just returned from the Boston suburb of Brookline where front yard gardening has been raised to a high art form. Street after street of apartment buildings, presumably condominiums, populate the area south of Beacon Street and west of Winthrop. Each has a small square front yard, where  grass has been removed and replaced with a miniature garden that has been landscaped to look like a jeweled brooch.

  The trick to designing small front yard gardens is to keep the height of the plants low. Except for a tall center plant in the middle of the square garden shape, all of the plants should be no higher than ankle height or mid-calf height, at the most.


The function of a tall plant in the center is to anchor the garden to its small space and to create a backdrop against which the other plants may be displayed. If a tall plant is not desired, a bird bath or a fountain will serve the same purpose. Some gardeners choose to plant a boxwood shrub in the center while others prefer a small grove of day lilies.


 The Boston growing zone is sufficiently warm to make the planting of a tall ornamental grass another reasonable option for the center because it will attain a decent height quite early in the growing season.


Another gardening trick for a small space is to restrict the varieties of shrubs or perennials planted to just a few and then to repeat them to create a symmetrical rhythm. Many of these small gardens are located in shade, given the maturity of most of the trees growing in this neighborhood. It is amazing how many different kinds of shade gardens one can see in Brookline, with no two ever looking alike. The possibilities are endless.



Form and Repetition

This photo was posted by Dee to " Red Dirt" on Feb.8, 2008. It is titled "Wanda's Garden" and demonstrates how form and repetition help to create magnificent gardens. Notice how the repetition of the yellow and blue flowers and their shapes guide the eye through the garden.I have broken a rule of garden design. In city gardens where space is at a premium, I have abandoned all pretext of designing with form and repetition, two elements that are essential to a beautiful flowing garden design.

Recently, I wrote about a client who wanted a perennial garden wherein each plant would be unique and eye catching. A reader wrote to me wanting to know what happened to form and repetition. I replied that in a city garden, form is determined by the shape of the flower bed and repetition is found in colors. There is no space to repeat a flower or a shape to create the visual rhythm so prized in formal garden design.

We all know what happens to a garden with many diverse elements in it. At first glance, it looks messy and unkempt; it is a riot of textures and colors. And that is exactly what my clients, the owners of small city gardens, want. For most of them this is their primary, if not only, residence. They want to experience the beauty and awesomeness of nature on their property, no matter how small a garden they have. There is no room here for the rules of landscape architecture and garden design. The disciplined designer in me is constantly challenged to find ways of pulling it all together. That’s when I resort to trimming a garden with one annual in one color or resort to planting a repetition of a few border plants.

In a garden with a color scheme that is primarily pink, blue, yellow and white, I will use Impatiens Accent Rose sprinkled throughout the flower bed as well as along the front border. This is the glue that holds the kaleidoscope design together. Then I will distribute several identical Sedum or Hosta at the front of the border to anchor the composition. If my clients are pleased, I have accomplished my goal. Form and repetition will have to wait to be used in someone else's garden.