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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  gardengurumontreal.ca

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

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in garden design (142)

Monday
Feb112013

This Visitor Deserves a Gardening Blog of Her Own

Front porch. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comA recent visitor to my blog has taken a very long journey through all of my posts. Sheila, who signs as Orchard Annie, leaves comments that reflect a reader with a passion for gardening who truly deserves a blog of her own.

The play yard. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comI was so impressed with the breadth of one of the comments she posted that I contacted her to ask permission to use them as a freestanding guest blog. Her advice, written in a unique, folksy style, was a reaction to Part 3 of a three-part post that first appeared here in 2009. In that series, I advise readers how to create beautiful landscapes using perennials and flowering shrubs. I titled it How to Paint a Masterpiece in the Garden.

A spring flowerbed. Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.com In Part three, I dealt with the monetary aspect of perennial gardening. Click to link to that article: http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/journal/2009/12/10/how-to-paint-a-masterpiece-in-the-garden-part-three.html  

Image copyrighted by Sheila Robertson, Scents and Centsabilty.comBelow are suggestions that Sheila added to my post about designing a perennial garden on a budget. Although I have done some minor editing for flow, most of the text is in its original form so that readers can get to know her, as I have, through the personality of her writing style. All of the images above that illustrate this post belong to her.

Expansion on your budget ideas.
1) Intersperse low, wide growing evergreens. The tiniest pots can be had for $5 at big box stores. They take being overrun or severe pruning so that in the case you have to move or get too busy or ill to take care of a flowerbed there is a gorgeous plan B waiting to be revealed.

You must look upon your garden as a hobby, not a property value return. I cringe to recall my sister-in-law sodding a beautiful yard because she wanted to spend time camping  with the kids on weekends and not to be stuck taking care of the yard. A high maintenance yard can actually lower the selling price of a home.


2) Multi colored collection of fall planted bulbs (crocus, Spanish blue bell, etc.) can be found at very reasonable bulk prices. Plant them wider than recommended and be patient, in 4 years you will be able to transplant them into those lovely solid colored drifts displayed on magazine covers.


3) If you see a garden you adore, make a habit of taking your walks on that route. Surely an avid gardener working in their yard loves a compliment and eventually will share their knowledge and their plants. I often supply grocery sacks for complete strangers. Take along some plastic sacks in your pocket (for the pooch right?) and a Sharpie to write on the sack the name and height of the plants you receive. If you forget the particulars, you can type in an image search on Bing for some good examples of what to combine them with, along with care instructions.


4) Alan Titchmarsh had a "Love Your Garden" episode (I love YouTube!) on a man's room after room of exceedingly formal clipped and topiaried gardens where monochromatics were stunning. You cannot convince me that formal gardens are budget though, how anyone keeps a whole yard of box or yew uniformly healthy is not possible to imagine.


5) Plant permanently. Some combos are low maintenance forever heaven. I bought bulk mixed, 4 months of bloom, daffodils from Brecks - (order a catalog, a coupon comes with it, and if you start an online order then decide the price is too steep and delete it before the payment is sent they'll sometimes email a coupon) -  and interspersed them with budget daylilies chosen for their bloom time, color and heights.

Gilbert H Wild and Son have hearty bare rootstock day lilies and though the new varieties are pricey, older ones can be had for $2.75. When daffodils fade, the day lilies completely cover the withering foliage (no clean up!) - both daffodils and day lilies are long lived perennials that tolerate total neglect. - (Don't put nitrogen on day lilies or you'll get all foliage and no flowers.) – Eventually, this combo will choke out any and every weed, even grass. As with all perennials after bloom, I chop the entire day lily plants down to the ground: they soon send up foliage as fresh as springtime. In this bed, I will be able to take the bagging lawn mower over the entire island.


6) Plant a hedge if you cannot afford a fence. An appraiser told me a board or like fence will retain it's value in resale, chain-link fences will recoup half of their cost, and a filled in hedge will add as much value as a board fence to your property's value.

Research what grows best in your area. I planted a big box emerald green arborvitae and then discovered a Wisconsin native, that I found later, that was much more vigorous and care free. I bought the smallest size shrubs and carefully plotted out placing them to compliment what my neighbors had in place so they would look less awkward while puny. The wind and sun scald they suffered [and which stunted them] stopped when I started applying Cloud Cover (a polymer that slows evaporation) before the temperatures dropped below 40F. The manufacturer of that product also recommends applications throughout the growing season to decrease watering.


7) Look beyond your own perimeter before planning. It may be tempting to nix an unattractive shrub but probably a previous homeowner put it there in order to hide an unpleasant view. Likewise, there could be an attractive view waiting to be borrowed from next door or the horizon if you carve out a frame for it.


8) Research the varieties of plants present in your yard. Many shrubs respond thankfully to renewal pruning, and many crowded expensive perennials look like a bed of weeds for want of transplanting.


9) Learn how to prune and don't be afraid of it! You will increase the beauty and lifetime of shrubs and trees twenty fold as well as keep the size in check, but it must be done before the point of no return.

Likewise, don't feel heartless about discarding the remnants of flowers you've divided. Overcrowded borders do not perform to their full potential: you will get frustrated and feel you must start from scratch with a whole new planting scheme.

If it makes you feel better put divided plant discards in a cardboard box at the end of your drive marked "free, variety, color and height."  If they don't disappear, which would surprise me, take them to the municipal yard waste site and set them slightly apart from the pile. If no one takes them, the pay loader there won't object to adding the cardboard box to the compost heap. A friend with a lawn care business collects all the plant divisions he can get, piles them into his work yard and waters them until he gets a request for a garden.


10) Pruning lessons: I got over my fear working at my father-in-law's apple orchard "Don't worry, you can't kill them," he said. Volunteer at a municipal garden, where you will be greatly appreciated and where you find out which tools suit you best before you buy any. YouTube has several wonderful tutorials from all parts of the country on every variety of plant.


11) Scour the classified ads in Spring. Garden clubs hold plant sales as fundraisers, and the prices are so right! Arrive early if you can: members pot up slips from their own gardens, sometimes it's the "I shouldn't have splurged" rarest, priciest plants that they share.


12) Consider long-lived edible plants. I have ruby stemmed rhubarb at the end of a ferny asparagus hedge. The rhubarb stays lovely as long as I reach in to bust off the flowers stalks as they appear, and if the leaves get tired or crowded looking, they make swift single layer mulch that dries to earth color in a few days. The asparagus backs an Asian gravel garden with stone "islands", a Buddha temple, and bamboo fountain, redbud, Siberian iris, and dwarf conifers. Both the asparagus and rhubarb blend nicely with that theme....and the best part is that both plants are the first flavors of Spring!

Thank you, Sheila/Orchard Annie, for your input. To introduce her to my readers, I requested that she email some photos of her garden and a short biography. I was not prepared for what I received. She sent me enough mouth-watering images of her horticultural work to create many interesting garden blogs and her biography revealed a romantic narrative about the role of men in her gardening life. I will share that lovely story in a future post.

Readers who recognize Sheila's talent from the photos she supplied, and from her original and intimate style of communicating, are invited to leave a comment below to encourage her to create her own blog.

Visitors who missed out on my three- part series can link to Part 1 and 2 here:

How to Paint a Masterpiece in Your Garden Part 1 http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/journal/2009/11/27/how-to-paint-a-masterpiece-in-the-garden-part-one.html

How to Paint a Masterpiece in Your Garden Part 2 http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/journal/2009/12/4/how-to-paint-a-masterpiece-in-the-garden-part-two.html

Sunday
Dec092012

Designing the Layered Garden at Brandywine Cottage; a book review.

The Layered Garden, David L. Culp, photographs by Rob Cardillo, Timber Press.

A layered garden refers to a design process that maximizes beauty within each planted space; it also describes a garden that supplies visual interest through - out the seasons. The objective of the publisher was to demonstrate how a beautiful garden - Brandywine Cottage – situated in southeastern Pennsylvania, USA, - achieved that result.

It was accomplished by:- combining complementary plants that either grow and bloom together or follow each other in succession . Then, it continues to …encompass the development of each bed and how the beds relate to each other and the garden as a whole.

Image: Timber PressThe essence of a layered garden, therefore, is to understand and take advantage of each plant’s growing habit as it evolves through the seasons. One plant may provide a variety of different textures, colors, and effects at different times of the year. At each interval of growth, it will evoke a different sensory experience.

Furthermore, to get the most interest from any garden, all the layers need to be considered from the ground level to the middle level of shrubs, and small trees up to the canopy trees.

Image: Timber PressLayering allows the gardener to utilize as many plants as they have, in attractive and exciting ways. The result is a garden that highlights an individual plant while integrating the entire collection of plants into one cohesive design. In addition, the garden at Brandywine Cottage has been deliberately planted so that different areas of this 2-acre garden peak at different times.

Image property of www.davidlculp.comAlong with a keen eye, the author’s patience, optimism, and pro-active attitude were important factors in the execution of his garden. While describing its evolution, he encourages readers to be bold so that they focus on the possibilities of plants rather than upon their inherent limitations.

Readers will discover what Mr. Culp has learned; that one of the most exciting aspects of a layered garden is the suspenseful gradual revelation of the composition – the way that each part provides multiple layers of interest, sometimes working together with other plants and sometimes playing off each other.

Image property of www.davidlculp.comBoth the author and the photographer have worked from their hearts to create a warm and welcoming experience. Once inside the book, the reader will be embraced with design inspiration, plantsmanship, and practical information all emanating from one location - Brandywine Cottage, an iconic American-style landscape.

If you thought it impossible to capture effectively the essence of a beautiful garden in words and pictures, think again. This successful publication is both charming and inspirational.

                         

Monday
Nov262012

How to Design a Garden for Health and Longevity; a book review.

Lifelong Landscape Design, Mary Palmer Dargen, Gibbs Smith.

When planning a residential landscape, the author of this well thought-out publication recommends we focus on the end-use for our garden. Her premise is that successful and effective outdoor living spaces are those that enrich our health and our longevity at each stage of our lives.

Suggestions to achieve maximum benefits from the land that surrounds our home have been shaped by the author’s 30-year career in landscape design and enhanced by over 200 beautiful photographic illustrations that blend perfectly with her text. The quality of her images is clear, clean, and inspiring.

Ms.Dargan submits that at each stage of life, as it is influenced by family, health, life-cycles, friends, and community, the purpose and usefulness of gardens change. Just as we continue to fine-tune our gardens as they grow and mature, similarly we need to make changes to our outdoor spaces to reflect our evolving needs as our families mature.

A young family will require outdoor spaces that allow children to play and have fun, while at the same time it offers opportunities for them to interact with nature.

Some homeowners need outdoor spaces for dining and entertainment, outdoor sports, or simply relaxing and experiences the fresh air. Here, nature serves as a refuge from the stresses of life as it supplies relaxation through a symphony of sensory stimulations affecting vision, hearing, smell, and touch.

Empty-nesters and retirees, looking forward to spending more time in their garden, will be pleased that the writer has given special attention to homeowners who are about to enter their golden years.

Readers will be introduced to the holistic design process of resting lightly upon the land, an approach that relies upon the principles of sustainability for site development. Recommendations are made for designing gardens that encourage social interaction and outdoor sports.

Ideas are offered for aesthetically integrated kitchen gardens, dynamic access pathways, peaceful enclosures, and for creating stress-reducing environments. Even the strategic location of pools, paths, decks, outdoor furniture and BBQ pits merit discussion here.

It is suggested that the friendships we build within our communities – especially when they are born out of a shared love of gardening and nature – help to improve the quality of our physical and emotional lives.

The essence of this publication, therefore, is that a successful landscape design creates an environment that allows us to connect with nature, family, and friends. Such an outdoor space encourages a healthy lifestyle through physical mobility and social interaction and provides a refuge to sustain both body and soul.

Anyone planning to landscape a residential site, or considering redoing an existing one, will surely benefit from the cornucopia of practical health-enhancing ideas found in this book.

                           

Tuesday
Nov202012

"Heaven Knows Anything Goes": Coral Pink and Lemon Yellow in the English-Style Flowerbed.

Forground right:Itoh Peony Bartzella. Center and left: Rainbow Knock Out Rose - more coral than pink in the summertime. Far back right: Rose Carefree Wonder..

Coral pink is a very warm, almost hot, color. It never was part of the master plan in my head when I planted the front walkway English-inspired garden.

When it was first introduced, the hype about Rainbow Knock Out Rose was as intense as the coral pink color of its petals. Then, its subsequent performance in my test garden was so awe-inspiring – yes, gardeners do feel awe when a plant out-performs its expectations – I just had to transplant it into the front yard flowerbed.

It can be frustrating for some gardeners to know that an uber-beautiful plant is flourishing in an unseen back yard garden. I prefer to admire such plants as I exit and enter the front door of my home.

Then, only a year after the coral pink rose was moved to the front garden, I acquired Bartzella. The most convenient spot to plant this magnificent yellow Itoh peony was two feet away from Rainbow Knock Out.

In a short while, both plants grew exponentially as they literally reached out to touch each other. That’s how a new, unplanned color combination, one that I never thought appropriate for my English-inspired flowerbed, came to dominate the early summer palette of the front garden.

To my pleasant surprise, this coral pink and lemon yellow composition appeared very pleasing to the eyes, especially with the long view of the grey stone house façade in the background. It should not have been a surprise. After all, the peony is yellow, albeit a cold yellow, and coral pink contains pigments of yellow.

Although the added vibrancy of this color combination upset the cool balance of the flowerbed, it ushered in a new approach to coloring the garden.  In time, the warm color palette would become my inspiration to increase the intensity of tones of future flowerbeds. This change of heart coincided conveniently with increasing requests from clients for me to use bolder colors.

What an evolution this has turned out to be! At the outset of my gardening experience, I adhered to emulating the British palette of polite, cool pastel shades. Now, I am comfortable using brassy color combinations that some might consider clearly American in spirit.

As long as the tones of a home’s façade can accommodate hot colors, there is no longer any protocol preventing gardeners from using them. As time goes on, rules about the aesthetics of garden composition – especially in North America – evolve or change. In some communities, they have been  discarded altogether.

Now, courageous homeowners plant for their personal pleasure; often to the dismay of their more conservative neighbors. As the lyrics of a Cole Porter song recount, now heaven knows, anything goes.

Wednesday
Nov072012

Perpetuating the English Garden; a Chronical of the Impressive Career of Rosemary Verey 

Rosemary Verey, the Life and Lessons of a Legendary Gardener, Barbara Paul Robinson, David R. Godine, Publisher.

The English-style garden, complete with pastel palette and focal point, appeared stale and tired-looking, after the Second World War. It might have disappeared from our contemporary gardening lexicon were it not for the contribution of Rosemary Verey who strove to perpetuate its beauty and its charm.

Here is a passionate book that follows the career of a late-blooming garden designer; it also serves as an attestation that sometimes innate talent and perseverance can be a substitute for formal training.

An internationally renowned, self-taught, master gardener, Mrs. Verey wrote her first book at the age of 62; and published seventeen more in the following twenty years. However, it was her avid fans, which she cultivated throughout the USA, who treated her as a V.I.P. Not only did they accord her a celebrity status but also they were responsible for turning most of her books into best-sellers.

Although Mrs. Verey appeared outgoing and sociable, she was, at heart, a private person, even when she made entries into her diary. As a result, Ms. Robinson’s research, thorough and meticulous as it is [sixty-nine people were interviewed} has produced a fascinating chronicle of an influential gardener’s life and career, rather than a biographic narrative. Nevertheless, it is a very satisfying book.

The author also drew upon a personal relationship with her subject. Ms. Robinson, who is a successful New York City lawyer and a passionate gardener, had taken a sabbatical from her practice in order to study under Rosemary Verey’s supervision.

The author Barbara Paul Robinson, on the left, with Rosemary Verey, on the right. Photo credit Charles Robinson and drgodineblogspot.caWhat drew this reviewer into the private world of a housewife – turned – designer was a poignant discovery of antiquated social norms that restricted and shaped the life of a talented women. Mrs. Verey was so gifted that had she been born into contem- porary society she might have become a lawyer or a banker, or even a professor of Economics. Instead, she became a traditional 1950’s wife and mother.

After her children were grown, and while she was contemplating  a “second career”, Mrs. Verey decided to redesign the landscape surrounding her home, Barnsley House, an historic U.K. residence, belonging to her husband’s family. The success of that project would eventually catapult her into an international career as an authority on English-style gardens.

Barnsley House. photo credit Jerry Harpur and drgodineblogspot.caWith encouragement from her scholarly husband, she began her formidable project by researching  historic British gardens. That led to a realization that certain design elements were essential to the creation of beautiful landscapes. Up until that time, such elements had been excusive to large estates.

It did not take long for this gifted neophyte designer to learn how to adapt the feel and mood of these aristocratic grounds in order to recreate them on her modest-sized property. Later, when she became the doyen of the English garden to most Americans, one of her most admired talents was the ability to take imposing elements from larger, acclaimed gardens and interpret them for the small scale of the American backyard.

Dedication, perseverance, and hard work - combined with the eye of a mathematician – transformed Mrs. Verey from wife of an upper middle class gentleman into a world-renowned authority on English Gardens. Among her clients were the New York Botanical Garden, Sir Elton John, HRH Charles Prince of Wales, the late King Hussein of Jordan, and the Honorable Hilary Weston of Canada.

Adding to my enjoyment of this book is the way the author weaves several themes throughout the biography. One thread is the confirmation that beautiful English gardens require maintenance. Without it, they cannot perpetuate the vision of the designer. A second thread deals with the feeling of inadequacy experienced by some successful but self-taught designers when in the company of diploma-bearing professionals.

Another theme examines the role the client plays in developing a garden design. When planning the grandest of her projects, no matter how tenaciously she held to her opinions, Rosemary Verey wisely deferred to the whims of the homeowner.

Mrs. Verey’s influence upon me, as well as on many of my colleagues and clients, has been so pivotal that as soon as I found out about this book I added it to my must-read list.

In it I found comfort when I learned that the placement of a plant - as challenging as it might be for us today - was no less of a challenge for the world’s great authority on that subject. It is reassuring to discover that even the most talented among us sometimes struggle, as we do, in order to overcome obstacles.

Readers are in for a treat when they continue to the writer’s acknowledgments at the end of the book. Throughout Ms. Robinson’s manuscript, a secondary story accompanies the biography. It describes the special relationship between Rosemary Verey and her husband; how he continuously encouraged her to achieve her personal goals.

That narrative is echoed in the author’s revelation about the encouragement she received from her own husband so that she too might garden and eventually write this book. What a touching comparison this turns out to be when it creeps up on the reader as a delightful surprise ending.