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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in garden rules (4)


"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.


There are no Rules in Cool School of Gardening

I was scrolling through a fellow gardener’s blog when I came upon a photo of her front yard. Protruding out of the lawn were several rocks and I admired how much they added character to the landscape. Another colleague noticed the same photo and was unimpressed. Her opinion was that the rocks had to be removed. It was then that I realized I was participating in a clash between old school and cool school.

There are rules and habits that some traditional gardeners follow that will cause younger, busy people to turn away from horticulture. Old school gardeners tend to venerate old masters whose experience and advice they admire. Cool school gardeners consider these sages to be stale and anachronistic. Another source of concern is the newbie gardener who has managed to memorize all there is to know about gardening from a recently read book, even if that book is outdated. Sometimes garden books become outdated; a few by virtue of their style of writing and a few by the laborious methods that they recommend to busy, impatient readers.

Advancing technologies increasingly shape the kind of world we live in. As a result, we have experienced significant changes in lifestyles, values, priorities, and the way we transmit and collect useful information. Nature, of course, does not change but the manner and perspective that we bring to dealing with nature does. Some of us have little time to garden or to research botanical information due to many obligations we cultivate at home, in community and in the workplace. Because all converge to place severe demands on time available, a short cut to accomplishing anything is often appreciated.

In the last fifteen years, we have experienced an exponential growth in the numbers of people who have discovered the pleasures of gardening. Among the new adherents are independent thinkers who are unencumbered by other peoples’ rules. They bring to their new-found passion either irreverence for tradition or a desire for the immediacy usually found in technology. These new gardeners reflect the fact  that North America is a continent of innovative people. Many look for newer, more efficient ways to accomplish traditional goals. This population worships the future, more than it venerates the past. Its members are legitimate representatives of a forward-looking society. That perspective has allowed some of them to conclude, about gardening, that there are few absolute truths and hardly any sacred rules. Welcome to the new, cool school of gardening.

 Here are a few aspects of the changing attitudes about gardening:-

  • Tom Fischer, horticulturalist, garden writer and publishing editor has this to say about color in the garden: anyone who claims that there is a theoretically correct way to approach color is full of hooey…..  the biggest fiction of all is the color wheel, that tired, utterly artificial arrangement that gets trotted out in book after book to “prove” various assertions about which colors “go” together.
  • Horticulturalist, educator and author, Linda Chalker-Scott has warned that some types of compost teas, thought to improve the health of plants, might be breeding grounds for e coli bacteria and salmonella. This author has been busting myths about many more widely held but erroneous horticultural lore.
  • Some gardeners ignore the zones of hardiness printed on plant tags.
  • Gardeners have begun experimenting with natural looks for their properties by allowing lawns, once though to be essential, to be converted into meadowland that they imagine, rightly or wrongly, the original settlers found in North America many years ago.
  • Some adventurous gardeners ignore the type of soil in their gardens; they plant whatever they please and are prepared to live with the consequences.
  • Carefree gardeners allow nature alone to irrigate their established flowerbed, regardless of the kind of perennials they’ve planted.
  • The eminent American garden writer, Stephanie Cohen, has boldly declared that the original, authentic English garden has no home in North America. Finally somebody has said it emphatically! Here is her opinion as quoted by Sally Cunnigham in the Garden Rant blog titled “Dishing With The Diva” on June 22, 2010:- On English gardens and English garden books: "The light is different, the soil is different, the climate is different…. People read these books, they see a picture, decide that’s what they want, and then drive everybody crazy. Buy a book written by and for Americans. We have heat, humidity—our sun, come summer, is so strong that some of the plants they talk about would crisp in one minute."
  • Tilling poor soil in order to amend it is now considered back breaking work. Instead, we are encouraged to layer additional nutrients onto the original soil using the “lasagna” method.
  • Some gardeners no longer cut down their perennials in autumn, preferring instead to allow the dried plant stalks to provide textural winter interest and food for birds.
  • Some homeowners prefer to leave natural occurring rocks protruding from their lawns in order to preserve a wild look.
  • Impatient gardeners are discovering that it is more efficient and exciting to invest in mature plants, that deliver instant pleasure, than to watch and wait as a seedling plant matures.

The way to a beautiful garden may be a never-ending journey but the path we choose is a personal one. Some of my fellow bloggers prefer to perpetuate traditional gardening techniques either because they experience a kind of spirituality in the older, patient methods or because they are more comfortable with the true and tried. On the other hand, some newer weekend botanists, harried by their lifestyle, look for quick fixes in order to create instant flowerbeds. Both approaches bring their respective adherents enormous pleasure. That is why gardeners should never be admonished for the choices they make. For this blogger to write such words is a veritable reversal of position. I am the one who warned his readers to consider the neighbors by never gardening in poor taste. Now I consider it more important to respect colleagues who choose to garden without restrictions. In a society, unfettered by social convention, we garden as we please.


Does Your Garden Advice Lose Its Flavor On the Blog Post Overnight?  

Are there garden experts out there that resent the abundance of horticultural advice that is posted online? Sometimes, I get the impression that they would prefer to be the only authoritative voices. I first became aware of this situation last year when I discovered disparaging remarks written by an established garden expert. She was insultingly critical of some garden writers’ opinions and, to avoid censure, stealthfully buried her thoughts in the “comment” section of a fellow gardener’s blog. Another garden expert was not so discrete and publicly expressed her dismissiveness of garden bloggers, as an off-the-cuff response to a question on a radio progtam. She stated that they tend to post incorrect advice. [I learned about this latest affront from Sheila at The Stopwatch Gardener].

The goal of every gardener is to create beauty and pleasure. As we strive in that direction, we adopt rules that seem to help us accomplish our objectives and we discard rules that are obstacles. If, along the way, we have made mistakes in judgment; nature will tell us so by not permitting a plant to thrive. Whether our actions in the garden appear to be successful or disappointing, we are eager to report the results to our supportive blogging peers. The absolute right to post our thoughts is now a forgone conclusion.

When we publish advice that is mistaken or that is not universally applicable, members of our online community tell us so and the doubtful information is usually corrected. Furthermore, some of our blogs are read by many garden hobbyists outside our circle and, for their sake, we need always to be as accurate as possible. However, because we are human, sometimes we stumble. Fortunately, the blogging community is far more forgiving of inaccuracies or omissions than are members of other media.

With or without professional credentials in horticulture or writing, and for better or for worse, technology has permitted many to become garden writers or botanical photographers. Judging the high quality of some of the work that is posted online daily, either as a blog, a photo journal, or a comment, it is clear that we have exceptionally talented people within our garden blogging community.They deserve to be celebrated and not derided.

I wonder if we garden bloggers are accelerating the dialogue of new ideas at a speed uncomfortable for a few established experts. Some are not prepared to welcome modernity in gardening techniques or design, and others are unable to appreciate garden blogging altogether. Regardless of their attitude, we must be prepared to be confronted by them, at any moment. It might be their destiny to forever be dismissive of those who err, who contradict them, or steal their thunder. Perhaps they are unaware to what extent they demean themselves when they broadcast disparaging remarks or derisive comments.


Garden Etiquette: How to Behave in Someone Else's Garden.

Two blogs that I follow are very different in content and style from each other, yet each has recently dealt with the identical topic. By coincidence, both postings popped up on my Google reader within minutes of each other. The topic is garden etiquette, a subject worthy of some elaboration.

Barry of Teza’s Garden is reluctant for others to visit his garden for fear that someone might criticize his work. Anyone who recognizes and appreciates his passion for gardening understands why such comments are intrusive and undeserving. The message in his blog is a reminder to readers to restrict their opinions to polite comments when visiting someone else's garden.

Wayne of WynEden:a Gardener's Diary dealt with the same topic but from a different perspective. Because he gardens on 10 acres of land, he can allow his trees and plants to grow into their natural shape and height with minimal trim. His neighbor, by comparison, chooses to keep her garden disciplined. A common friend politely reminded Wayne that the neighbor’s garden was neater. What an affront! That is unacceptable behavior.

I do not know where I read it, and I cannot remember who wrote it, but a respected published gardener once advised readers that it is not polite, and it is downright inconsiderate, for a visitor to offer unsolicited criticism or judgment about an owner’s garden or plants. Some garden mavens, who are too free with their advice, forget a fundamental fact about gardening: nature gave us plants long before humans chose to tame them. When harnessing nature for personal pleasure, there can be no hard rules. Therefore, no one has a monopoly on what is correct. One ought to appreciate all gardens for the effort invested in them. Yes, there are some rules, based on scientific observation, on what is pleasing to the eye. These are guidelines about aesthetics. The gardener has the freedom to consider or ignore them. Creativity, in any art form, has never been about strictly following rules.

There is another reason why it is wrong to comment cavalierly about someone else’s garden habits. A lot of information that circulates among gardeners might be myth masquerading as fact. It only takes one person to repeat a fact that is incorrect for that statement to grow wings. Once upon a time, I heard a wise aphorism that compared the words we speak to down feathers escaping from a pillow. Once they are out, it is impossible to take them back. Some information that we exchange with others might be rooted in folklore but not corroborated by science. Some information we believe to be truth might be a fabrication, or a distortion of truth, disseminated by garden product suppliers, but not supported by research.

In an earlier blog, I repeated advice I had seen on a PBS home renovation program. The commentator was using Epsom salts as nutrition for roses. I followed that advice for several years and shared that knowledge with my readers. Now I discover that University researchers in horticulture, claim that applying Epsom salts is only helpful for rose growth where very specific soil conditions demand amendment. Using this nutrient, without determining if it is required, might have adverse effects on the nutritional health of the garden.

Another topic I wrote about was the need of some of my clients to have at least one of each of their favorite plants and colors growing in their small urban gardens, regardless of the visual outcome. The resulting flowerbeds looked like kaleidoscopes. That made the clients very happy, but not some of my readers. One wrote to ask if I had forgotten the rule about using Form and Repetition in garden design. I hoped that my reply was sufficiently polite. I reminded the reader that, for some homeowners, a garden is not about rules. A garden is about whatever makes them happy.

We have an obligation to encourage others to respect garden etiquette. In between investing neophyte gardeners with our passion about gardening and sharing with them some of our favorite plants, we need to instruct them on how to politely conduct themselves when visiting other gardeners. It is ironic that we should need rules about gardening etiquette when rules about gardening itself are unwelcome.