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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)


A Garden Makeover All Because of a Hedgehog

The hedgehog that lived in my backyard was much larger than the one shown here. Learn more about hedgehogs by clicking onto the above image.

Our back yard deck sat five and a half feet off the ground atop an enormous rock garden that measured twenty feet wide by sixteen feet deep. A previous owner, who had built it, did things on a grand scale. One day, a giant hedgehog decided that our deck would make a comfortable home and began to burrow into the sides of the rock garden just underneath the flagstones of the deck and up against the foundation of the house. He created a tunnel that ran twenty feet from one end to the other.

Soon, the flagstones began to shift. A few years later, they would sink into the tunnel. Although we had attempted to repair them several times, the hedgehog would undo all of our  work in a season. The deck had become a perpetual safety hazard and need to be replaced.

All of the contractors we approached insisted that the raised rock garden would need to be demolished, to facilitate construction, and of course, to evict the hedgehog. If it were to be done right, there would be  no options to economize. In destroying the deck, the contractor we chose also demolished the supports of the permanent overhead awning.That too would need to be replaced.

For the new deck, we chose a polymer material called Eon that would liberate us from the chore of deck restaining. For the awning, we found a polycarbonate material called Suntuf that offers protection against UV rays. We're hoping that the heat blocking properties of the translucent color we selected, metallic silver, will help reduce energy cost during airconditioning season.

When the project was completed, we mused that, for only $500, the provincial government would have trapped the hedgehog and released him into the wild. We didn’t trust the hedgehog; we were certain he would find us again, no matter where he was released. In the end, we had spent many multiples of that amount on the new deck.

Our next project was the surrounding lawn. A backhoe, used to demolish the old deck, had destroyed the grass. I had budgeted for landscaping but neglected to factor in the cost of carting away damaged sod. Even though there was a lot to haul away, I did not want a dump truck on my property. It was the rainy season and my clay-earth back yard was too boggy to support any heavy equipment without  leaving craters. It occurred to me that I might be able to “recycle", thereby saving  money and whatever was left of my back yard.

Fortunately, my assistant knew a lot about composting. He selected a forty- foot- long empty flower bed that ran along the  fence separating my property from my neighbor’s, and piled the damaged sod, face down, along the length of the fence. At several intervals, he would sprinkle compost starter on the pile, which I found at Veseys. Then water was applied  and  the piling  process continued. When the job was done, the new mound  was covered with fresh top soil left over from the resodding project. Looking at my back yard now, no one would know that I was composting. All that the eye can see is a neat brown flower bed waiting to be planted next spring.

The composting exercise was inspiring and I needed  to learn more about it. By coincidence, a book about composting arrived, by mail, a week later.  My review of that book will be posted here shortly.You can read it now at

P.S. The hedgehog  moved  into my neighbor's back yard.


Web Photos That I LIke

Clive Nichols photographs stately gardens in England and sells them on line. Click on the image to purchase. This photo bears reference number 043524 . Seen here are Achillea "Terra Cotta", Erysinum "Apricot Delight", Hemerocallis "Anzac", Rosa "Frensham", and Monarda "Gardener Scarlet". Notice the blue Salvia on the right. It offers just the right amount of blue to make the orange and yellow colors in this garden pop when seen from the opposite perspective.


Web Images I like

Here is an image of a four season garden from issue 26 of Garden Gate Magazine. The sketch includes ornamental grasses, bush clematis , a juniper and other perennials. The plans for this garden are available from the publisher. Click on the image to access their website.


Honeysuckle Saga

This is the bloom of a honeysuckle shrub. The photographer has enlarged the flower many times to show it's beauty. Don't be fooled by it's loveliness. The flower grows on a messy shrub whose gnarly roots are a haven for weeds that cannot be removed The picture above was taken by artist/photographer Ken Beyer of North Yorkshire U.K. Click on the image to visit his site.

Chapter One. Once upon a time a man named Max bought a home with a tiny back yard. Even though the lawn measured sixty feet wide, it only measured ten feet deep. Max was happy to have found the house of his dreams but the tiny back yard bothered him.

One day, after living in the house for several years, Max’s wife asked him to plant a hedge of honeysuckle shrubs to give her privacy. Max was concerned that this landscape treatment would shrink his already tiny lawn and he approached this task with mixed feelings.

Fortunately, for Max, his lawn backed on to that of his neighbor, Ahmet. While Max’s yard  measured only ten feet deep, Ahmet’s lawn was four times deeper.  Ahmet  had lots of room for shrubs on his side of the property line. Besides, he and his wife were rarely at home. They traveled a lot. When they returned from their extended trips, they would never step outside into their back yard. Max was certain that if he planted honeysuckle shrubs on Ahmet’s property, no one would notice or care, and he asked his gardener, Angelo, to do just that. Max had been right. No one knew the difference.

Several years later, Ahmet and his wife moved away. Guess who bought Ahmet’s house?  Me!  And guess what I planned to do along the sixty feet of shrubs that separate my property from my neighbor’s? I would create a perennial flower garden. The next spring after moving in, I went outdoors with shovel and pick-axe to prepare the ground. As I was working, I heard a voice from the other side of the hedge. It was Max; he wanted to introduce himself because he too was an avid gardener.

Chapter Two. Max and I hit it off rather well. Even though he was twenty years my senior, we shared a common hobby and over the years we would spend many hours chatting across the hedge. When Max first noticed the ambitiousness of my garden project, he informed me that it was he who had planted the shrubs and that they were his responsibility to maintain, and to be truthful, they were planted on my property and if I desired, he would happily dig them up and move them onto his side of the property line. If that is what I wanted. Well, a good neighbor is a treasure; for the sake of a peaceful relationship, I told him that the shrubs could stay. What a big mistake! Years later, that decision would come back to bite me in the you-know-what.

Max and I enjoyed each other's company until several years later, when his wife passed away. He was heartbroken, couldn't bear to remain in his house alone, and moved away. The new neighbor, Bertha, owned a dog. In my neighborhood, dog owners need to enclose their back yards. Bertha informed me that she would put up a fence, and did I know to whom the shrubs belonged, because they were in the way of the fence. I replied that the shrubs belonged to her because Max had planted them. I also told her that I didn't like the shrubs and did not object if she wanted to remove them. When Bertha instructed Angelo to uproot the hedges, he informed her that actually they were on my property and that she could install the fence on her side of the shrubs without removing them. Lucky Bertha! Woe to me!

Chapter Three. For all of the years that Max and I had been neighbors, he regretted that his illegally planted shrubs were always getting in the way of my flower garden. Their height blocked the sun that my plants sorely needed. To ease his guilt, every Friday afternoon he would climb through the hedge onto my lawn to manicure the shrubs. When that  task was completed, he would crawl underneath the branches to clean out any wild growth that had germinated inside the exposed roots of the shrubs. Max kept my side of the hedge neat and tidy. He felt that he owed me that much. However, when Bertha moved in, there was no longer a Max to maintain the shrubs. My gardener, Franco, wouldn’t trim them because he believed  they belonged to the neighbor and Angelo didn’t touch them because he knew for certain they were now mine.

Not only was the hedge neglected, but it was also growing taller. My wife realized that we were gaining more privacy every season and that pleased her. That's why we allowed the shrubs to grow. Soon they began to scrape the phone wires strung overhead and their branches became a conduit for wild grape vines that had insinuated themselves into the base of the hedge after Max moved away. Eventually, a grapevine would coil itself around the overhead wires and threaten to disrupt our phone service.

While nature was invading my property high above ground, I noticed that the trunks of the honeysuckle had become a safe haven for all things wild. Weeds, maple saplings, sprouts of crab apple trees, and lots of grape vines had made their home beneath the branches. Because the soil around the trunks of the shrubs was hard packed, it was impossible to dig out the unwelcome, messy vegetation. Consequently, I was unable to keep my property neat and tidy. Max had taken care of all that for me. I never realized how much he had contributed to the welfare of my garden.

Chapter Four. I reached a breaking point when I decided to start my garden design business. It was necessary to photograph my flowerbeds in order to establish my credentials. But how was I going to take pictures of my back yard when it had become so messy? There was only one solution. The entire sixty feet of shrubs had to go. I enlisted the help of my gardening assistants and within two days they had not only removed the shrubs, but also, diligently dug out every remnant root of honeysuckle, maple sapling, crab apple tree and grape vine.

Then, my helpers, who knew a lot  about nature, decided that my flowerbed needed aerating and proceeded to dig up all of my perennials, excavate two feet deep into the earth bed, sift through the earth to remove all unwelcome vegetation and debris, and then they replanted the perennials. In the end, they gave me the flower bed I set out to create the day I first met Max. This coming spring, my back yard will be “ready for its close up”. Max was a great neighbor and I miss his company, but uprooting the hedge he planted proved to be very costly; and it's hard to sit where I got bit.



Web Photos That I  Like

This is one of the finest perennial compositions to be found on the internet. It is the front lawn sign of Gardens Plus, a nursey in Peterborough, Ontario, specializing in daylilies and hostas. The owner can be contacted at