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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)


The Contemporary Garden: Book Review for


The Contemporary Garden  Phaidon Press 

The editors of Phaidon Press continue to impress me. They make rigorous work seem easy. In their latest publication The Contemporary Garden, they tackle an encyclopedic amount of material [as they did with The English Garden] and distill it into an easy-to-read picture essay. In this instance, the essay is about the evolution of the contemporary garden from the early 1920’s up until today.

As some readers have discovered, a garden does not always refer to a front or back lawn with beautiful flowers. Often, it is a substantial expanse of land surrounding either a residential dwelling or a public building. The type of landscape treatment used for these spaces usually reflects the aesthetic philosophy of the artist, architect or landscape architect responsible for designing it. That style may reflect trends in modernity. From that perspective, this book offers an historical summary of the modern movement in arts, sculpture and architecture as interpreted in landscape design.

The book covers many of the seminal contemporary gardens, including ones by sculptor Constantin Brancusi, landscape architect Shunmyo Masuno, architect Frank Gherry and garden designer Piet Oudolf. Among the one hundred gardens presented in this book, two stand out for this reviewer. The first is the waterfall grotto located beneath the Frank Lloyd Wright home “Falling Waters” in Pennsylvania, USA. Mr. Wright chose to leave nature untouched by positioning that home directly over a waterfall. The second is the outdoor installation designed by landscape architect Claude Cormier titled “Blue Stick Garden”. Originally created in Canada for the Metis International Garden Festival, it moved to Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset U.K. where it gained additional fame for its audacity and vibrancy.

This is a provocative book for perennial gardeners. By our nature, we tend to be traditional in our outlook. Consequently, an ultra modern garden is not always a pleasant place for us. This book reminds us that without modernity and modern building materials, contemporary artists could not be true to their times. While the modernity of some gardens may leave us wanting, at least we now can appreciate the context in which they were created. This has been an exhilarating book to read and even more exciting to review.



In Nature, Colors Never Clash

This photo of a field of multicolored wildflowers is posted on the website How Stuff Works. This entry is titled Woody Flower Garden Ideas. Click on the image to visit that site.It’s been almost twenty years since I first created a pink and yellow garden for my wife. During that time, we discovered that pale colors didn’t project very well. Some of the flower combinations looked good only up close. To enjoy our flower beds from afar, it became necessary to introduce colors that we had never considered before. By planting blues, I made the yellow flowers pop. Purple enriched the pink flowers, as did the addition of magenta.

My work with clients who prefer intense colors has emboldened me to introduce scarlet, red, and coral into my own garden. Some might say that hot colors will clash in our pastel garden. I don’t agree. One only need look at a field of wildflowers to realize that, in nature, colors never clash.


Web Photos That I Like

Here is a gardening design exercise worth trying. Two attractive perennials are planted together to create a composition that is more beautiful than either plant growing on its own. One might call it synergy in the garden. Shown here is a burgundy-leaved Heuchera with the pink Geranium "Ballerina".

This image is taken from the photo gallery Terrific Perennial Combinations at the Perennial Resources website.


The Private World of Tasha Tudor: Book Review for



The Private World of Tasha Tudor  Tasha Tudor & Richard Brown,  Little, Brown & Company 


The late Tasha Tudor was a writer and illustrator of children’s’ books. Her farm in southern Vermont is a physical manifestation of all that was dear to her. This book explores her home, gardens, hobbies, writings and illustrations, all of which reflect the romantic nature of this multifaceted individual.


Of interest to this reviewer are the gardens that she created. Inspired by romantic English gardens, Ms. Tudor has given them a decidedly American flavor. She maintained the flower selection and color palette but discarded the formality. Hers are casual perennial gardens, meandering over her property and tamed only by surrounding meadows. These are not flower compositions to be viewed from an ideal perspective. Instead, they are gardens that surround and surprise as we wander about. Her property is filled with flowers to be enjoyed up close.


And yet, when each flower bed is viewed from a distance, we notice, in the background, a building, a stone wall or a tree that anchors the garden to its surroundings. What appears to be a spontaneous growth of flowers is, in fact, a well-planned composition. This method is well known to students of British gardens. The English pay a great deal of attention to the landscape architecture of their properties. Gardens that seem to appear out of nowhere are indeed, meticulously planned installations. Nothing is left to chance.


Ms. Tudor’s gardens are enhanced by the breathtaking images of Richard Brown, a renowned nature photographer. If this book were a theatrical production, Mr. Brown would merit a standing ovation.




Almost All You Need to Know About Peonies

Peony Sorbet are the backbone of any garden. They bloom dramatically and reliably in early summer when most other flowers are still developing. This perennial creates an overwhelming sensory experience because it produces large beautiful flowers with a powerful, intoxicating aroma. It is very long-lived with an extensive color range. With diligent research, a gardener will be able to find plants that bloom in white, black, cream, coral, crimson, pink, purple, rose, scarlet and yellow. That’s not a bad selection for a reasonably undemanding plant. One can ensure that peonies flower for 6 to 8 weeks by paying attention to the bloom period of each variety because different varieties of peonies bloom early, mid-season and late.

For maximum enjoyment, peonies that share the same bloom time should be planted together in open groups of three because one peony does not show well as a specimen [i.e. planted on its own]. Even when incorporated into a flower bed, its best to have at least three peonies blooming at the same time.

Growing in zones 2 to 8, peonies thrive in full sun but will tolerate very light shade. Because new tubers planted in spring may not bloom for several seasons, it is best to plant them in September to give them a head start. Peonies develop into deep-rooted plants. The tubers that make up their root system do not like being moved. It will take 10 to 15 years before one will notice that they are overcrowded and require dividing. However, given ample room to grow, peonies can remain in place forever.

When planting a peony tuber, ensure that its eyes are no more than 2 inches deep otherwise it will not bloom. During the flowering season, this plant must be dead-headed after flowers fade because seed development will rob next season’s flowers of their nutrients. As well, harvesting too many flowers for indoor enjoyment will reduce flowering in the future. As a rule, remove no more than 1/3 of the flowering crop each season.

Another precaution is to allow the foliage to grow untrimmed after the blooms have faded. Peony leaves are a nutrient factory for next season’s flowers and they will spend the rest of the summer in production. At the same time, their glossy green texture makes a lush background for later-blooming perennials.

Large flowering peonies cannot withstand heavy wind or rain. They are prone to flopping over and cracking their stems due to the heavy weight of the flower head. To avoid damaging the flower, stake the plant before buds open. This can be done by first inserting 4 or 6 stakes around the plant. Then a lattice of green twine is woven in and about the peony stems and attached to the stakes. This will prevent opened flower heads from flopping over. If not for this important maintenance step, this plant would qualify as a truly care-free plant.

Peony “Sorbet “ shown in the image above is unusual because of the distribution of its pink and white colors. This variety will grow to about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide and each flower head should measure  6 inches across.