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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)


Impressionist Painter Claude Monet was a Garden Designer

Monet’s Passion: Ideas Inspiration and Insight from the Painter’s Gardens, by Elizabeth Murray, Pomegranate Artbooks

We are so caught up in the historical and aesthetic significance of the English garden, and its recent American transformation, that we easily forget about the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and his significant contribution to flower garden design. Elizabeth Murray created this jewel of a publication as homage to Monet’s horticultural genius. It is a beautiful, elegant example of the art of publishing at its best.  

Claude Monet, Garden at Giverny, 1900. Musee d'Orsay. ParisAlthough its earlier edition was marketed as an art book, it is indeed a gardener’s delight. I discovered it only recently, when my daughter visited for the holidays and found time to clear out unwanted possessions, left behind from her teenage years at home. She had purchased the book as inspiration for the art classes she once took. Now, it has no value to her and she asked if I could use it. When I picked it up to flip though its pages, I discovered beautiful images of flower beds, some immortalized on canvas by Monet, and others photographed by Ms. Murray. All are suitable inspiration for future generations of flower gardeners.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Waterlilies: Green Reflections. Detail of left side, room 1, east wall, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris. In 1989, a few years before the release of the first edition of the book, fine art photographer, landscape horticulturist, and author Elizabeth Murray assisted with the restoration of Monet’s gardens at his Giverny estate in France. In this best-seller, she reported on the garden’s original development, its maintenance, Monet’s color theories, design elements, and his use of light and shade.

Monet, Bridge at Giverny, also supplied rich photos of the restored gardens in bloom, flowerbeds drawn to scale, aerial diagrams of some of the original flower compositions, as well as translucent annotated blueprints, superimposed on the sketches to assist readers who might wish to recreate the flowerbeds for themselves.

Climbing pink rose tree at Giverny, by Elizabeth Murray.The Giverny estate includes nearly three acres of flowers, an arched tunnel covered with climbing roses, a wide walk carpeted with creeping nasturtium, and a two-acre water lily garden, traversed by a wisteria-covered, Japanese footbridge. Ms. Murray reported that the artist deliberately pondered the placement of every flower that bloomed in his garden in order to create subjects and views waiting to be painted.

Monet's Giverny garden (photo © Elizabeth Murray) to the author, the gardens were designed “using the technique of succession planting. Bulbs and annuals are woven into perennial flower borders to provide color throughout the growing seasons. Scale and borrowed landscapes increase the visual size of the garden. Large blocks of monochromatic colors are used for impact, complementary colors are placed next to each other for intensity, specific color is used to increase the atmospheric effect of mist and sunlight, and the reflection of the sky and landscape on the surface of the water is used as a design feature”. gardening used to be an attraction restricted to a small group of dedicated hobbyists. With the proliferation of the big box garden centers, this passion has become a joyful activity accessible to a much wider population. Even though the book was released over twenty years ago, it has remained a timeless classic that speaks to newer generations of flower gardeners, an audience infinitely larger than the publisher could have ever imagined.

In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of Monet's Passion: Ideas, Inspiration, and Insights from the Painter's Gardens, a revised and enhanced edition was published in 2010. I am happy to have rediscovered this work and share it with my readers.



The Eveready Bunny is a Pink Garden in Devon. 

Here is an example of a pink garden that keeps on giving and giving. This photo essay from Holbrook Garden in Devon, U.K underscores that, in temperate and colder climates, pink is one of the most enduring colors in the garden.

The pink gardens of Holbrook in June

The pink garden in July

August flowers in the pink garden

September blooms in the pink garden

The last hurrah of pink in October


Through the Eyes of a Gardener  

Supermarket Hibiscus by Roy Latham, QuickShotArtist.comNature bestowed upon my family the trait of acute perception. We see things others miss. This ability is a useful tool when communicating with difficult people, but a handicap when it overwhelms us with more information than we can process. We have no control over the spontaneity and speed with which our eyes gather data. It just happens.

Those who share this trait sometimes observe what they cannot understand, and that makes them anxious. Stress may be generated when an object that is out of place is first noticed. In the garden, I am irritated when I see subtle flaws in my work.

My uncle became a renowned home decorator by used this gift. He was valued for his skill in selecting and mixing the perfect shade for a wall’s color. Keen observation helped my father understand human nature. It made him a better restauranteur, a field where peering into other people’s souls is an effective way to help patrons decide what they want to eat. He and his sisters also used their sharp eyes to determine what made people tick.

Whenever they walked into a room, their attention would be drawn to a person whose deportment reflexively attracted their brain’s attention. First, they observed the body deportment and determined if the individual walked tall or inhibited. They noticed the facial expression, the knit of the brow, the purse of the lips, eye movement, eye contact and if the stare was piercing or diffused, whether the eyelid was wide open or lowered, the timber of the voice, the pallor of the skin, the strength of a handshake, and if it was warm or clammy.

They were also keenly aware how people expressed themselves, the choice of words, the inflection of voice, if a question was answered directly, if it was deflected, or if it was ignored. Sometimes, what they presumed they had discovered about a person upset them, deeply. Although they never willed it to happen, nothing about anyone escaped their scrutiny.

I too have the ability to absorb reflexively more visual information than I need. This occurs each time I walk into a crowded room and it overwhelms me. When I visited a nursery for the first time, my eyes darted back and forth over thousands of plants, like untamed horses racing through the wilderness, and I was unable to stop them. Today, with a better understanding of how my behavior is affected by the family DNA, I prefer to socialize in small groups and I don’t go shopping for plants unless I have a list to follow.

When I entered the work force, I used my genetic inheritance to hone my skills in design. I spent over 40 years staring at objects and analyzing colors, shapes, and textures. I would not call it work because the skills that defined the career positions were second nature to me. Designing a product took less time than it did for me to learn how to ski downhill.

Today, these skills are assets when I create flowerbeds. Yet, having this facility can also be an Achilles heel; sometimes I see more in the garden than is necessary to do my work, and I lose my concentration. Then, if I canvas my staff’s opinion, their fresh perspective will help reset my focus.

My eyes are so discerning that I am severe when evaluating the gardens I’ve designed. Although most homeowners are pleased with what I have done, sometimes I am not. After a project is finished, it remains a work of progress in my head. With closed eyes, I imagine that something is not quite right and I send a message to my brain that somewhere a flowerbed awaits tweaking. No one else sees the need to fine-tune it, only I do.  Even in my private garden, of all who come to admire, few - if any – notice the faults that I perceive to be there.

It is fortunate that acute perception has helped me achieve my career goals. Although this trait sometimes gets in the way, I have come to terms with the affect that it has upon me. I used to regard it as a handicap, but not anymore. If anything, it is my strength; it defines who I am.


Are You a Collector of Day Lilies or Do You Grow Them for Pleasure?

H. Angels Gather Round, (Smth 08 ) Tetraploid, Evergreen, Mid Season bloomer, 30 inch scapes, flowers 5.5 inches diameter, smooth peachy-pink self and green throat with ruffled iceberg lettuce-green edge. Image:-daylilyfans.comThe new day lily mail order catalog that arrived this week contains more technical information than I will ever require. Based upon the list of newly introduced varieties, and by paying attention to the details that accompany each plant, one comes to realize that day lily growers target several kinds of gardeners.

First is the nursery owner who is prepared to nurture a plant until it matures to make an impressive display, second is the gardener wishing to add a very specific perennial to the flowerbed, and third is the collector.

Acquiring new and unusual varieties of day lilies is a serious hobby similar to collecting orchids or antiques. It differs from conventional gardening in many respects because it places greater emphasis on the thrill of the hunt for the rare and the unknown, the excitement of discovery, the satisfaction of exclusive ownership, the pleasure of the new and different, an eternal sense of incompleteness - because collecting never ends, and the now-rarely observed trait of one-upmanship.

Collectors also assign a higher market value to desirable plants than traditional gardeners do. Such plants might be difficult to propagate, they may differ dramatically from previously introduced cultivars, or they may combine, in one plant, superlatives of all of the desired traits of the species.

H. Stella d'Oro, (Jablonski '75), diploid, Dormant foliage, Early-Medium-Late bloomer, scapes are 17 inches high, blooms are 3.5 inches diameter, Repeat [continuous] bloomer, gold-yellow trumpets, compact habit. Images:- only has to study the cost of the unusual cultivars to realize that the traditional gardener is not the intended market for many of the newly introduced plants. The prices confirm that collectors are prepared to pay a premium for one that is out of the ordinary. For example, in the above-mentioned catalog, the supplier charges only $4.00 for a clump of several fans of H. Stella d’Oro, but quotes $75 for a single fan of H. Angels Gather Round. I have seen Angels listed as high as $125 from other sources.

While some weekend gardeners may select a day lily based upon a few details such as color and price, here are some of the characteristics that collectors consider when choosing a new cultivar:

Number of Chromosomes  Tetraploid plants have twenty-two pairs of chromosomes while diploids have only eleven.

A.H.S.  Some cultivars are registered with the American Hemerocallis Society, while others are not. For some collectors, registration is important.

 Foliage   A plant may be classified as evergreen, semi-evergreen, or dormant. This designation refers to the hardiness of a plant in colder climates and the sustainability of foliage in warmer areas. Dormant varieties are the hardiest and evergreens may require mulch where winters are severe.

 Bloom Time   In my growing zone of USDA 4, early varieties (E) bloom from June to beginning of July, mid-season plants (M) bloom from mid-July to mid-August, and late varieties (L) bloom in August and September.

 Double   This adjective describes a variety with a higher number of flower petals than others have. Some double blooms will resemble miniature old roses or tiny azaleas.

High Bud Count Some cultivars have a greater number of buds per scape than others. [A scape is a stalk that shoots up from within the clump of leaves and holds the flower buds at its top.] This designation indicates the intensity of the color output (multiple blooms per day) during a plant's bloom period. Because beauty is subjective, a high bud count is no guarantee that a day lily will be appreciated. The gardener must first be attracted to the flower’s overall appearance for the high bud count to have any value.

Reblooming  A variety that will send up new scapes after its first blooming period

Repeat Blooms A variety that sends up new scapes continuously beyond its first blooming period. When designing flowerbeds, most of my focus is on this group of day lilies. If the color is suitable for the composition, it is sheer pleasure having a plant that sustains flowers over an extended period.

Sculpting  A variety with petals that are pleated or covered with relief either at the base of the petals or anywhere on the petals’ surface. One can appreciate this feature when the lily grows at close proximity. From a distance, this characteristic is hardly noticeable.

Spider A variety with long, thin petals – like skinny pinwheels - with a ratio of at least 4:1, that is, the petals are at least 4 times longer than they are wide. Flowers in this group lack the velvety beauty of traditional day lilies and do not project from afar as powerfully as the trumpet varieties do. Spiders compensate for their scraggliness with bold colors, long bloom periods, and tall scapes.

Unusual Form  A variety, usually Spider, whose thin petals are spatula-shaped, or pinched, or twisted, or cascading, or crispate.

Collectors are also interested in knowing if a day lily is very fragrant, if it will bloom in the early morning, if it remains open late into the evening, the name of the hybridizer, the year the plant was registered, the height of the scape, and the diameter of the flower.

 A large day lily flower is a beautiful sight and tall lilies that loom and bloom over other perennials can be very effective in the perennial flowerbed.


How to Enjoy Flowering Gardens During the Depths of Winter

A meadow planting of Snakehead Fritallaria, http://www.holbrookgarden.comWe have just passed a psychological milestone; autumn is over, winter has officially begun, and this passionate gardener can hardly wait for next spring to arrive. Since snow will blanket my garden until next April, I satisfy my need for flowers and plants by visiting the websites of my suppliers. There I study the new perennials they intend to introduce next spring and refresh my mind about those I neglected last season.

Tulipa humilis, http://www.holbrookgarden.comIn addition, I visit the websites of public gardens to admire photos of flower displays. For example, all the images posted here are from Holbrook Garden in Devon, England, U.K.  Of the many pictures displayed on that site, I have selected those that tug at my heart.

Kniphofia uvaria nobilis and Crocosmia Lucifer, http://www.holbrookgarden.comThese cyberspace activities are the next best thing to real gardening. How long will it take to begin that activity anew? I imagine it to be an eternity. Consider that my suppliers closed their premises at Christmas after selling trees and decorative branches for the holidays. Many of them recently left Canada for warmer weather in Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, South America, and the Caribbean.

Iris ensata and Primula florindae, http://www.holbrookgarden.comThey are not expected to return until the end of March and my plant deliveries do not begin before early May. Until then, online images from nurseries, growers, and public gardens will become my kind of virtual gardening. I hope these pictures will help warm your hearts, kindle the imagination, and offer you just as much pleasure as I receive from admiring them.