Need Help?

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.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in garden design (142)


Beware of Tiny Flowerbeds That Are “Up Close and Personal”

A prospective client, who never gardened before and doesn’t intend to garden ever, informed me that she purchased an illustrated book about perennials so that she could choose the plants for a proposed garden. It was the moment I would dread for the rest of the season; a situation that every designer hopes will never occur.

Instead of inquiring what I had in mind for her project, and before listening to my suggestions, she began flipping through the book’s pages, selecting whatever caught her eye. Without any regard for a plant’s personality or performance, she insisted that I work only with her choices for a tiny garden to be planted along her front walkway.

The client lives in an imposing home, on a prominent street, in an upscale neighborhood. In her part of town, the garden is an accessory that enhances the home. One cannot plant only with one’s heart. A keen editing eye is also necessary, especially for a flowerbed on the front lawn. None of that seemed important to this client.

She balked when I tried to explain the design impropriety of using some of the plants that attracted her attention, and the need for miniature ornamental shrubs as structure to showcase perennials. When I continued to suggest plants more appropriate for the scale of the project, I could sense frustration in her voice and annoyance in her eyes. Eventually, I decided to keep my mouth shut. In retrospect, that was the wrong decision. Even at the risk of losing her business, I should have been vocal - very vocal.

As I envisioned, the client’s choice of plants did not look good in her garden. The flowerbed had no bones to enhance its contents, and, as expected, I was not permitted to address that problem. Although a great deal of thought had gone into the plant compositions, the resulting garden was hopelessly ugly. No matter how hard I tried to place and reposition plants, the fluffy, puffy, sprawling perennials, selected by the client, appeared helter-skelter with nothing to ground them.

Exacerbating the situation was an instruction to restrict the color story to hot, tropical tones. This aesthetic preference, perfectly suitable for a large sprawling landscape, gave the small flowerbed a congested and frenetic feeling.

Then, a day before planting, a prevailing heat wave scorched some of the perennials. As I was unable to replace them before the start time - there was a clause in our agreement about the beginning and end date of the contract - I could only hope for temperate weather so that withered plants might recuperate quickly; but that did not happen. Consequently, when the job was complete, neither the customer nor I was pleased.

For the next two weeks, I began the process of replacing prematurely dormant plants, moving remaining ones to enhance their appearance, and discretely substituting some of the client’s plant choices with others more appropriate. In the end, nothing that I did alleviated the client’s disappointment. Sadly, none of that remedial work pleased me, either.

I have learned two lessons from this experience: - First, if I cannot convince a client to reconsider an idea that is unrealistic, I should walk away from the project. Second, I must never accept a commission to design a tiny garden, at the formal entryway to a home, composed exclusively with perennials.

Gardens admired from afar may appear more attractive because distance enhances the beauty of plant combinations. Also, when seen from that perspective, nature’s blemishes are diminished. However, up close and personal flowerbeds - that is, gardens that are literally in one’s face - reveal every flower’s flaw. Fastidious homeowners, who confront the garden intimately each time they enter or exit the house, will notice and scrutinize every fine detail.  As a result, the designer’s intentions are lost because - as the tweaked saying goes – the client cannot see the garden for the flowers.


This Landscaper Does Beautiful Work with Native Plants and Wild Flowers

http://www.pwsteinbeiser.comNo matter how plentiful the ideas that garden designers discover in their personal well of creativity, occasionally, there is a need to refresh and invigorate the mind. Searching online for inspiration is one of many ways that I add to my body of knowledge, because one cannot predict where, or when, the next innovative gardening concept will be born.

http://www.pwsteinbeiser.comThis quest keeps me researching online during the winter, when I cannot garden. On any morning, when I open up my computer, I have no clue where my hunting expedition will lead. Recently, I tripped over the Paul W.Steinbaiser Landscaping website and it stopped me in my tracks. The impressive images, I found there, reminded me that beautiful, eye-catching, flowerbeds can be created using mainly native plants and wildflowers.

In the gardening community, these two genres of perennials have taken center stage, of late, for several reasons. They are reliable, low-maintenance, hardy, easy to propagate, native to some locations, and many supply textural winter interest. While there is no consensus on the role that native plants should - or should not - play in landscaping, gardeners who are concerned about sustainability always find ways to include them in their plans.

http://www.pwsteinbeiser.comConsequently, plants in this category appear as basic themes in many gardens, all over the world. Steinbaiser, too, uses ordinary, easily accessible, perennials to create extraordinarily eye-catching compositions. Yet, rarely have I seen them designed and photographed so effectively.

http://www.pwsteinbeiser.comI return regularly to this website for several other reasons. First, there is much to learn about designing with native and wildflowers from the imaginative work of this commercial landscaper. Secondly, gardeners who have been wondering how they might adapt Piet Oufdolf’s and Michael King’s native and wildflower meadows, to their modest sized properties, will find some inspiration here, even though the examples are limited to a handfull of images. Thirdly, it offers evidence that Rudbeckia, a perennial that I have been avoiding, deserves reconsideration.  

The landscape design and construction firm of Paul W. Steinbaiser, in Frenchtown, New Jersey, USA, also operates a native plant nursery. The organization focuses on the long-lived relationships between the landscape and its users. Local stone, soil, and native plant communities are sourced to create sustainable and eye-catching wildflower meadows and native plant gardens.


How to Create Successful, Seamless, Landscape Designs; a book review for 

Timeless Landscape Design, Mary Palmer Dargan, ASLA and Hugh Graham Dargan, ASLA, Gibb Smith

Over the past three decades, Mary and Hugh Dargan have been creating award-winning landscapes for their clients. That professional achievement has been accomplished with the help of The Four Part Master Plan, a landscape design method they developed and perfected over time. Essentially, this book summarizes and elaborates upon the Dargan’s plan so that others may use it as a guide to creating successful, seamless, landscape designs.

The Master Plan begins with The Approach and Arrival Sequence, an appreciation for the critical, visual experience associated with the simple act of coming home and parking the car. In this opening segment, attention is paid to the driveway, the front walk, and the home’s entrance.

The second section, called The Hub, deals with the integration of the house into the land and focuses on the home’s exterior presence. Here the authors examine the instantaneous perception that tells the eye, and the brain, if the house is, or is not, well integrated into the property.

The third component of the plan addresses the outdoor experiences of everyday life. Aptly titled The Perimeter, it encompasses ways to blend seamlessly the indoor and outdoor design schemes. It also embraces borrowed views and vistas found in the exterior. Topics mentioned in this section vary from  terraces and arbors to lawn entertainment.

The final component discusses the function of garden refuges. Titled Passages to Destinations, it deals with outdoor experiences that are set away from the house itself. These may include flower borders, a bench under a tree, or a secluded garden room.  At this stage of planning, the least pragmatic concerns of homeowners are addressed, i.e. the dreams and emotional needs that the landscape design must satisfy.

However, it is the outset of the book that is pivotal to understanding the authors’ philosophical approach to landscape design. Titled Sources and Inspiration, this prologue discusses the application of art and design principles to the landscaping of a property. An extraordinarily well done preamble, it emphasizes the important role that art plays in what is clearly a creative endeavor.

Unlike some books, that appeal mostly to the weekend gardener, this beautifully illustrated academic work, is best suited to students of landscape architecture and garden design. Therefore, it is not a quick read – it is intended for studious absorption.

Nevertheless, it will appeal to all readers, regardless of their level of professional training or landscaping experience. The authors have taken instructional material and written its text in a warm and friendly style, an appreciated approach usually reserved for the sharing of a beautiful journey.

Lushly enhanced with diagrams and photographs, this publication offers strong visual references to historic, inspirational gardens, as well as superb design examples from the authors’ professional archives. So rich is the content that astute readers may learn a great deal about landscape design simply by admiring the photographs that appear, so generously, on every page. 



The Gardens on "The High Line" and the Power of Nature.

Last week, eminent American journalist, Charlie Rose, welcomed a group of dedicated New Yorkers to his round table, for his nightly PBS televised broadcast. The interview coincided with the publication of a book celebrating New York City’s latest and second most popular tourist attraction, The High Line, a park in the sky.

thehighline.orgThe High Line was an abandoned elevated railway line that still runs through three different New York City neighborhoods. Many years ago, it carried freight trains to and from the meat-packing district, an industrial zone of Manhattan.

thehighline.orgWhen it ceased its usefulness, the rail service was abandoned. During the many years of neglect, nature moved in and, unknown to most Manhattan residents, created a ribbon-field of wild flowers that smothered the tracks and rail beds.

The original wild growth, http://www.thehighline.orgVery stiff opposition arose when there was talk of demolishing the elevation in order to rejuvenate the surrounding commercial properties. On one side were the real estate developers who wanted it gone in order to enhance the monetary value of the adjacent, deteriorated neighborhoods.

The wildflowers they discovered, http://www.thehighline.orgOn the other side was a group of a few conservationists who, having seen the awesomeness that nature and the wild flowers had visited upon the elevation, wanted the High Line preserved as a public park. In the end, the conservationists prevailed.

The new gardens, thehighline.orgOnce considered an eyesore, the High Line cut through derelict industrial slums. Now, it has been transformed into an idyllic park that seems to float, thirty feet above ground, for a distance of a mile and a half. This urban redesign has also spawned cultural centers nearby as well as several world-class architectural projects. The beauty of the adjacent new buildings and the almost magical atmosphere of the park have enriched the quality of life for urban residents of New York City.

The new gardens, thehighline.orgMost of the publicity about this park, emanating from the world of horticulture, has understandably focused upon the genius of Piet Oudolf. Unquestionably, the four-season, wildflower meadow plantings he designated for the High Line contribute significantly to its successful transformation and its popularity.

thehighline.orgHow odd that very little has been reported about the benevolent intervention of the visionary Diane Von Furstenburg and her husband, Barry Diller, whose philanthropic foundation underwrote the project for the sum of twenty five million dollars. Nor have we heard much about Amanda Burden, chair of the New York City Planning Commission, whose strategic and wise negotiations with intransigent property developers helped turn the project from an ideal dream of a few into a reality that benefits many.

thehighline.orgHowever, most of the honor must go to ordinary citizens, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, whose passion for the preservation of this natural anomaly - that each had quietly discovered on his own - was the impetus to start the project. Collectively, these four individuals unwittingly gave new meaning to the concepts of urban renewal and urban design.

thehighline.orgWho would have thought that a handful of urbane residents, in one of the most densely populated, industrialized cities in our universe, would tackle a project wedded to the power of nature? In the end, the group known as The Friends of The High Line created one of the great horticultural destinations of the world. This socially vibrant public space, fully wheel chair accessible, has already attracted over seven million visitors in less than a few years.

thehighline.orgThe photos used here to illustrate the story were taken directly from the publicity for this tourist attraction. For readers who would like to see additional images of this world wonder, The Friends of the High Line, have posted hundreds of © photos of the project on their website at: -

Readers can also learn more about an online Google virtual tour of the High Line by linking to: -



Is Your Garden a Cafeteria for Deer? - a book review for


50 Beautiful Deer- Resistant Plants, Ruth Rogers Clausen, photos: Alan L. Detrick, Timber Press,

Gardeners who live in deer country have a serious layer of complexity to work through when planning their landscapes: - Hungry deer will ultimately eat much of what they plant. Some are prepared to invest in fences that protect their plants from becoming Bambi brunch, while many prefer not to spend funds on such structures, or to invest in the necessary time to install them. As well, applying environmentally friendly products with deer-deterring odors can be both costly and labor-intensive because rain will wash away such products thus requiring repeated applications.

From time to time, many garden writers will publish articles about plants that deer avoid, however that information is usually insufficient. Knowing what deer will or will not eat, might ensure that a garden will not become a cafeteria, but that knowledge is incomplete when it does not address beauty and the elements of garden design.

It’s no secret that planning a beautiful deer-resistant garden is tedious work. Every time we select a plant or include our favorite perennial, we are obliged first to do research to determine if it is deer-candy. How exciting that now we have a list of beautiful, deer-resistant plants, conveniently tucked into a sumptuously illustrated handbook, [Mr. Detrick’s photographs are awesome]. As the subtitle suggests, this publication is about the prettiest annuals, perennials, bulbs, and shrubs. That list also includes herbs, ferns, and ornamental grasses. Think of all of the time liberated by not having to research our preferences before we plan our garden.

Some of the very wise suggestions that the author has also incorporated into this book are

-       the planting of natural barriers that are unpalatable to deer,  

-       how berms and terraces create a physically unwelcome-to-deer environment ,

-        cultural techniques that make otherwise tasty deer food unappetizing, 

-        a list of plants that deer love that must be excluded from the garden .

Since this is a book essentially about beauty, the author supplies design tips that enhance the appearance of the recommended plants. That is precisely the information we need to create attractive gardens with a restricted collection of perennials, shrubs and trees. This knowledge helps us to distinguish between the planting of a perfunctory landscape and the creation of a beautiful garden.

Again, because this is a book about beauty, it is worth mentioning that the graphic design for this publication is a work of art that reinforces the tactile and visual pleasures associated with handling the hard copy of a “real” book. Thanks, Timber Press. You’ve done it again.


Page 1 ... 7 8 9 10 11 ... 29 Next 5 Entries »