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

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Entries in Gardening (57)


Yoga Positions for Gardeners, a book review

Gardener’s Yoga - Bend & Stretch, Dig & Grow. Veronica D’Orazio, Sasquatch Books.

Essentially, this delightful little manual demonstrates how yoga can help combat the common aches and pains associated with otherwise pleasurable gardening chores.

In this cheerfully illustrated handbook, the author suggests a series of yoga poses that help prepare our bodies for our favorite hobby, protect our limbs from surprising strains, and soothe our muscles after our outdoor work has taken its physical toll.  

For both men and women, the objective is to foster awareness how breathing, posture, and deliberate flowing movement can benefit the gardener. For those who have never practiced yoga before, this publication, based upon twenty-one simple poses, also serves as a general introduction to yoga itself.

When Veronica D’Orazio felt her back go out after a strenuous week of weeding, she decided to soothe her sore muscles with yoga. That inspired her to create a yoga program that targets the body’s stress, helps prevent injury, and bolsters strength and flexibility.

Prior to beginning a gardening chore, the reader is encouraged to Break Ground. This group of yoga poses gently warms up the spine and prepares the lower limbs for the day’s work

For the actual outdoor chores, aka Planting Seeds, the author suggests poses that emphasize breathing and balance to reduce body tension and soreness.

In the last section titled Harvest Time, the focus is on poses for relaxation and elongating tired muscles to restore and unwind the body.

A valuable addition to this publication is a chart that readers can consult when seeking guidance to cure specific pain. Seven body parts that are most vulnerable to discomfort are cross-referenced with specific yoga poses that offer relief.

If yoga is a new concept for gardeners, it’s helpful to know that it does more than relieve strain on muscles and joints. It also rejuvenates the mind and spirit, balances the central nervous system, cleanses internal organs, strengthens the circulatory system, and promotes an overall sense of well-being and contentment. In that respect, both yoga and gardening are sources of similar natural benefits and each complements the other.

The author is a certified yoga instructor and gardener. The illustrator, Tim Foss, who gives life and meaning to Ms. D’Orazio’s text, is also a gardener and yoga practitioner. The publisher, Seattle-based Sasquatch Books, has created the ultimate printed product. It is an instructive, affordable gift, beautiful to look at, and fun to read.



Twelve Children’s Books on Gardening 

It's a sign that that spring is almost here when children’s bookstores display garden books in their storefront windows. On a trip to Boston this past weekend, I noticed that The Childrens Book Shop on Harvard Street, in Brookline, Massachusetts, has dedicated its entire streetfront display to the topic of gardening. Here are twelve books they selected along with publishers or sellers descriptive notes. Click on each image for more information, prices, and shopping. A Day At The Market, Sara Anderson. Celebrate one glorious day of fresh flowers, fish, and produce at Seattle's Pike Place Market--a 100-year-old working farmer's market that steals the hearts of locals and visitors alike. With her signature cut-paper style and playful rhymes in a sturdy, oversized board book with peek-a-boo die-cuts, Sara Anderson captures the essence of the Market she treasures--not only its friendly cacophony, but also the richness of its colorful community, the secrets of its many nooks and crannies, and its irresistible summer bounty. All ages.

Earth Care, Margaret Read Macdonald. A collection of traditional tales and proverbs from over twenty countries or ethnic groups, touching upon both human and ecological themes such as environmental protection, the care of other creatures, and the connection of all things in nature. The book contains 41 stories and 41 proverbs. 53 cultures are represented. Ages 5 and up.

Growing Garden, Lois Ehlerts. Color explodes from the author's bold, beautiful cut-paper collages like seeds from an over-ripe pod. Three gift-sized editions of her beloved hardcover picture books--Eating the Alphabet (with a glossary of fruits and vegetables), Planting a Rainbow (a concept book about colors and different flowers), and Growing Vegetable Soup (includes a recipe!)--are packaged in a lovely slipcase with a 16" x 22" flower-garden poster. Age 4 and up.

How Does My Garden Grow? DK. Help your child discover the science behind the wonderful world of plants. They'll learn all about the lifecycle of plants, how they work and where they live through hands on fun projects that show science in action. From pollination to hydroponics, this book will teach your child new science facts in a fun and simple way. Age 7 and up.

In The Garden, Elizabeth Spurr. In this gently rhyming board book, a young boy creates a garden, one small action at a time. First, he digs in the dirt and plants seeds, then he adds soil, water, and some patience. With time, the seeds grow and the boy excitedly discovers what he has helped to make. Along the way, readers learn the words for simple objects related to the garden and nature.

Maisy’s Garden, Lucy Cousins.  A Maisy book with stickers!  There are lots of wonderful things growing in Maisy’s garden - fruits, flowers, vegetables, grass, and more! Young readers join the fun as they complete the scenes with more than 25 full-color, reusable stickers. Age 3 and up.

My Garden, Kevin Henkes. A girl helps in her mother’s garden, but in the garden of her imagination, there are chocolate rabbits, tomatoes as big as beach balls, flowers that change color, and seashells. Age 2 and up.

Plant A Little Seed, Bonnie Christensen. With a little help from a watering can, bright sunlight, and a lot of patience, two friends plant seeds in their community garden and watch how they grow. Slowly, the seeds turn into sprouts, which grow into stems, followed by leaves and buds! The garden will soon be teeming with life and ready for a harvest season celebration. But until then, the children water and wait and dream. Age 3 and up.

Secrets Of The Garden, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. Alice's family plants a vegetable garden each spring, and this budding naturalist reports how the plants grow, what insects come to eat the plants, and what birds and animals come to eat the insects.  It's the food chain, in her backyard! Age 5 and up.

Seed, Soil, Sun, Cris Peterson. With these three simple ingredients, nature creates food. Using the corn plant as an example, the author celebrates the agricultural cycle of growth, harvest, and renewal. This American Farm Bureau Foundation Agriculture Book of the Year also discusses the make-up of soil and the creatures who live there--from microscopic one-celled bacteria to moles, amoebas, and earthworms. Ages 4 to 7.

The Future Of The Earth, Yann Arthus-Bertrand. In easy terms for the older child, a book about sustainable development. A primer on mankind's direct and indirect impact on the natural world, it explains how global trends, economic disparity, and invasive species have changed our world. Spectacular photos of fragile environments. Age 10 and up.

Who Am I? Farm Animals, DK. A peephole format to keep babies and toddlers engaged, and age-appropriate text introducing simple facts about favorite objects and animals. Lift-the-flap format establishes parent and child interaction; Peephole guessing game improves cognitive skills and memory; Simple facts encourage early learning and oral skills; Ages 0 to 5.


Dianthus Anonymous; a Pungent, Pink Perennial

When Frances moved into her new home 60 years ago, a neighbor presented her with a cutting of a short, pink-flowering perennial. The plant had no name. It remained anonymous until years later when a cutting of it was passed down to me and I recognized it as a member of the dianthus family. I still do not know its specific name.

When her daughter Suzanne purchased a home, Frances gave her a clump of that same plant with the advice that it was hardy and reliable. Years later, when my wife and I purchase our home, Suzanne, in turn,  gave us a cutting of that same plant. Over time, when the clump in my garden grew to maturity, I too would begin to hand out cuttings to all my friends and neighbors. The perennial was truly rugged and very well suited to our climate here in USDA Zone 4.

Prior to receiving that gift, I had not been very successful growing this family of plants. As a teenager, I had ordered dianthus many times from mail-order catalogues but the strains that I received could not  survive the Montreal winters of the 1960’s. However, this anonymous dianthus, passed down from generation to generation and from one friend to another, would prove to be very hardy.

Without thinking, I chose a very challenging sunny location for my cutting.  I placed it in a prominent spot in a rock garden where the earth was really too well drained, Combined with the searing heat of the sun, the dense dry clay earth created a desert-like environment. Up until then, all that survived there had been vigorous weeds and insinuous wild flowers. How was I to know that dianthus is a drought loving plant and that I had made a wise decision?

In those days, I watered my garden nightly and nourished it with generous amounts of manufactured fertilizer. The dianthus seemed to have enjoyed all that pampering; by the end of summer, it had grown from a messy, scrawny, leggy cutting into a lush cloud-shaped carpet of silver-blue pinnate foliage. The dense mat it created became a weed-free oasis surrounded by a sea of wild flowers eager to invade but unable to do so.

The following summer, that low-growing mound of pastel blue foliage produced a crop of baby-pink dianthus flowers, from which emanated a pungent, spicy aroma that intoxicated my brain. The sensory effect was euphoric. Previously, only the aroma of dwarf Korean lilacs had given me a similar sensation.

Inspired by this fantasy-like aromatic experience, I attacked the now-lush mound of dianthus in order to propagate it. I wanted to spread this source of pleasure throughout. After all, if one mound could be so powerful, surely several would be hypnotic.

Propagating dianthus was not an easy task because the makeup of the root ball is illusory. While the plant may spread in all directions, its roots are confined to a very spindly compact fortress at its center.

Suzanne had dug into the center of her plant to give me a viable cutting. I was more inclined to separate several strands of the plant from the root ball’s perimeter. Both methods result in the mother plant and its cuttings to appear ragged for a while, but it is worth the messiness to achieve a greater goal.

I also discovered that it is possible to remove strands of the plants with or without roots attached - it didn’t seem to matter. So rugged is this perennial that rootless pieces thrived and established themselves over time to produce lush plant mats even when placed into my dry, hot clay bed. As an added bonus, the spreading mats would eventually cascade over the boulders in the rock garden to create miniature waterfalls of plants, now silver blue and later baby pink.

After propagating, the front borders of my flowerbed shimmered with the silver blue trimming that is dianthus. I was delighted with the pungent aroma the plants produced in early summer. I was also pleased that the foliage did not turn brown in autumn; it held its blue-spruce color up until the first snowfall, when it disappeared – color intact - under a blanket of white.

The following season, when the warm spring sun melted the snow, the silver- blue foliage appeared to have been untouched by winter. It provided a pleasant surprise of color in the garden, when all else was still brown.

From many sources, I had learned that dianthus will rebloom during the summer if the first crop is dead headed. I tried to achieve that second flourish for many years until my body lost some of its flexibility. The flowers grow so close to the ground that some mature gardeners will find it challenging to engage in the heavy-duty crouching required for this task.

This is not a one-dead-head-at-a-time job either. The chore requires a hedge trimmer using one or several swoops to remove the miniature florets. A hand clipper will not do because there are too many tiny flowers to manicure.

However, in my experience, the second batch of blooms produced by the dead headed perennial was never as spectacular as the first. The bending and crouching required to produce the meager additional crop did not justified the hard work. Eventually, I gave up.

Long after I recived my first dianthus cutting, newer varieties began to appear on the market. Sadly, not one has proven to be as hardy or robust as the anonymous pink hand-me-down. In my growing zone, the newer botanical inventions tend to last only one or two seasons. There is something to be said for the good old reliable “heritage” perennials. They never disappoint.


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.



Gardening Eyes and the Grandmother Clock: Yes, There is a Relationship.

Eupatorium rugosum "Chocolate".The flowering perennial, Eupatorium “Chocolate”, is inappropriately located in my garden.  Unlike the other plants in the flowerbed, I derive no pleasure from staring at it, because it appears lonely and lost.  No one else notices that it is out of place, but I do.

The height of the plant is too short for its location, the brown shading of the leaves causes it to disappear into the brown slatted fence behind, and its white flowers are too insipid for the garden’s colorful composition. Yet, all who admire my garden comment on the rich, unusual color of its foliage, and on its regal and stately deportment.

Foliage of Eupatorium r. Chocolate. Copyright photo by, used with permission. Click on image to link. Because of the opinions of others, I recognize that this plant has some redeeming value. In spite of what my eyes and brain tell me about its imperfections, the perennial is prominent in the eyes of my visitors and that is enough to stop me from digging it up and heaving it onto the compost heap.

One day, I must plant additional perennials nearby. A composition of several other taller and shorter plants will mitigate my perception of the Eupatorium, by contrasting its dark foliage and pale flowers with richer looking companions. Perhaps, when it is surrounded and enhanced by other plants, my eyes and my brain will be happy.

I experience a similar visual tension when I enter the home of my Boston-based children. There, I am confronted with an antique clock in the center hall. It appears to be just as lost, hanging alone on an empty wall, as the Eupatorium does growing in my garden.

Whenever I notice it, my eyes tell me that the clock needs a companion – a piece of furniture - to integrate it better into the room. With each visit, I desperately want to place a wood bench beneath it. Yet, I dare not share this critical vision with my children because, like the Eupatorium in my garden, the clock has a redeeming value to others that far surpasses the aesthetic disconnect that I feel.

With Roman numerals on its aged, ivory face – a reminiscence of Queen Victoria’s England - the wood-framed antique timepiece speaks of its long history. This austere-looking clock was a wedding present to my daughter and son-in-law from his grandmother. Instead of a monetary or utilitarian gift, she chose to buy the newlyweds an item that would perpetuate her memory in their lives.

Selecting and purchasing the gift was difficult for Grandma. Her frail physical condition made it challenging for her to leave home; when she did go out, her body’s low energy caused immense fatigue. Nevertheless, she considered a wedding gift for her grandson sufficiently important to ignore all of her ailments in order to shop.

The clock she selected is over one hundred years old. It and thousands like it once graced the walls of every railway station in the UK. When they were replaced with more accurate timepieces, hundreds of the old clocks were shipped to North America. There they were sold in quaint shops to unsuspecting neophyte antique collectors. According to experts, once these clocks break down, they will never again keep time, no matter how often they are repaired and regardless how qualified the watchmaker.

Yet, in spite of the fact that I perceive the clock to be out of place, and that it regularly stops working, my children do not intend to remove it. Like the stately, regal Eupatorium growing in my garden, this historical object has an undeniable prominence.

In the Midwest of America, where my son-in-law’s parents were raised, a present is considered holy. The energy and thought invested in selecting a gift is more important than its monetary worth or intrinsic utility. The gesture of generosity and thoughtfulness is its primary value. When my children made me aware of this Midwestern trait, I finally appreciated the importance of the clock in their lives.

Now, in my imagination, I can see passengers inside a Victorian railway station, staring at the clock. It hangs on the wall with authority, surrounded by oak benches that anchor it into the overall interior design. It is the most important item in the waiting room. Then, I envisage Grandma buying the clock in an antique shop and, suddenly, I notice her face break out with a smile of extreme satisfaction for having found a suitable present. Eventually, I see her exhausted and hobbling with pain - but never complaining - as she heads back to her car.

Like the visitors to my garden, who found regality in a plant that I disliked, I gained an appreciation for Grandma’s clock when I saw it through the eyes of my children.


Note:  The above image of foliage is the most accurate depiction of brown shading on the leaves of Eupatorium rugosum Chocolate. I found it via Google Images at  Since all of Rob’s photos are copyrighted, it is used here with his permission, for which I am grateful. Readers who visit his garden website and click on the "photo" icon in the website banner will be rewarded with a large array of stunning close-ups of perennial flowers from USDA Zone 6.