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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

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Entries in garden design (142)


An Interesting Perennial Combination

Before clicking on the image to see more plant combinations from Jan and Mieke Bastiaens make sure that your pop-up blocker is working!Jan and Mieke Bastiaens garden on 35 acres in a small village south east of Flanders in Belgium. Their web photos of perennial combinations are the most inspiring to be found anywhere on the internet. I first used this photo to accompany my introductory blog but decided to move it here instead because it deserves special attention.This is one of the most powerful perennial combinations I have seen online. What you see here is exactly what most of my clients ask for when I plan their gardens. Unfortunately, the combination in this photo is not suitable for most of them.

The pink perennial in the foreground is Peony "Bowl of Beauty". Like all peonies, this is an easy care plant that deserves a blog posting all to itself. The purple-blue plant in the background is Hesperis matronalis. Hesperis is a perennial that grows to 3 or 4 feet tall, in zones 3 to 8 and blooms in late spring. Most gardeners avoid it because it is a vigorous self seeder and once its seeds become established in the garden, it will pop up everywhere for years to come. After it has bloomed, this perennial loses its leaves.If you are planning to use it, in spite of its vigor, it is best to plant it behind later- blooming perennials that will fill the void or, as in this case, behind a plant whose leaves create a camouflage.

Most of my clients do not tend to their gardens themselves so it would be unfair to plant Hesperis for them. That is unfortunate because there are very few blue perennials that will bloom exactly when the peonies do, and blend so well with them.

Hesperis is for the adventurous gardener who is not afraid to take on a challenge and whose garden is large enough to accomodate its wild nature.


Annuals for Perennials

Impatiens Accent Rose is an annual that I use to complete a newly planted perennial garden. My clients expect instant color the moment my work is done and Impatiens is perfect to meet that need. What I like about the color Accent Rose is that it blends well with most of the color schemes that I use. It is luminous in a shade garden, does not fade in the sun and projects its color brilliantly. If planted in full sun, though, it will require daily watering to maintain its vigor during the brutal heat of midsummer. Griffin Greenhouse and Nursery Supplies has the most extensive and beautiful photo selection of impatiens on the web. Click here to see their slide show. Visit their website at


Where Do I Start? Gardening Advice from Fran Sorin

The best advice, for taking the first steps in gardening, is to be found in the book “Digging Deep” by Fran Sorin. With very minor adaptations of my own, here are her suggestions:

1] When the garden plan is final and you are ready to proceed, start with the big items such as patios, pathways and large structures, such as pergolas and trees.

2] Whenever you are unsure about the size or numbers of plants, always go larger and bolder than you originally think.

3] For small gardens, use no less than three of one perennial specimen. For very larger gardens, no less than five.

4] Work in odd numbers when planting perennials. Odd numbered configurations hit the eye better.

5] If the garden is large enough, plant bushes in groups of three or more unless you are using them as an architectural statement.

6] Always know what the spread and mature height of a tree will be before you plant it.

7] Plant in flowing, wavelike lines [not in straight rows, unless it’s a vegetable garden].There are no straight lines in nature.

8] Consider leaf texture, shape, size, and color when deciding which plants to put where.

9] Place largest plants at the back of the borders and garden beds; smaller plants in front.

10] Think ahead - try to incorporate different plants that will give your garden four seasons of growth

11] Always water your plants before putting them into the ground.

Visit Fran Sorin’s website; Buy her book “Digging Deep” at


And Now for Something Different: a Perennial to Knock Your Socks Off!

Cephalaria gigantea or Scabiosa gigantea. As the name suggests, this is a giant perennial with a Scabiosa flower head, only taller. It will grow 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide; so give it lots of room to bloom. Flowers are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and range in color, depending on growing conditions, from creamy white to bright yellow. Its long stems make it a good cut flower.This is a dramatic background perennial for deep gardens with vast perspectives. However, its coarse appearance requires that it be partially camouflaged by other plants. European gardeners have been successfully using this perennial in the back row of their flower beds for quite some time. It is now available in North America, but not yet well-known.This plant requires moist fertile soil that is well drained. It also needs full sun; otherwise it will flop over. Be prepared to stake it with unobtrusive fencing using transparent fishing twine and tall stakes.To prolong blooming, deadhead flowers regularly. After stems are spent, cut them down to the ground and trim foliage for a tidier appearance. Plant is hardy from zones 3a to 9b and is attractive to birds and butterflies.


Annuals for Perennials

Blue Salvia "Victoria" may be a late bloomer in spring but it lasts for a long time. While many annuals are spent by the end of August, this one continues to pump out brilliant color until the first frost. Use it in a mass planting to create a powerful blue statement or distribute it among pale perennials where its intense violet - blue color helps showcase lemon - yellows and pinks. Flowers grow on sturdy spikes in sun or part shade to a height of 16 or 18 inches. I have been using  this excellent border plant as accent color in my perennial gardens for years. It has never disappointed.