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

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Entries in gardening advice (14)


Easy Care Perennials

Astilbe x arendsii Cattleya is one of the tallest varieties, at 40 inches in height. It blooms in midsummer.Astilbe.  This perennial deserves its own “How To“ manual if only to cover the large variety of colors, heights and blooming periods. With strategic planning, an assortment of different varieties of Astilbe will perform all summer long. All they need is light shade or filtered sun and moist soil.

The key to success is to focus first on blooming time. Astilbes such as Deutschland [white] 24 inches tall, Peach Blossom [salmon] 20 inches tall and Reinland [pink] 24 inches tall, all bloom in early summer.

Astilbes that bloom in midsummer include Arendsi Amethyst, growing to 40 inches in height, Fanal [carmine red] to 24 inches and Jump and Jive [magenta] to 20 inches.

Late blooming Astilbes include chinensis Superba [purple] at 36 inches tall, Diament [white] at 32 inches  and Visions [pink] at 16 inches. Included in this late group is my favorite, Astilbe thunbergia, Ostrich Plume [claret red] at 36 inches tall. The floppiness of its flower spikes adds visual interest to the flower bed.

Blooming even later is chinensis Pumila [mauve pink] that grows to 12 inches.

All of the Astilbes mentioned here represent only a fraction of choices available to the diligent gardener. Unlike any of the other easy care perennials that are mentioned on this blog, Astilbes require a bit more attention. Organic matter should be added to the soil every season to ensure nutrition and moisture preservation. And, every three years, they need to be dug up and divided to maintain their vigor.

Landscape architects plant Astilbes in sinewy drifts in shade gardens. Spectacular results can also be achieved by combing them with other shade perennials as their color palettes makes them versatile companions. Astilbe flowers are soft plumes and the deep green foliage is fernlike and glossy. This perennial adds attractive texture to the shade garden even when not in bloom. Spent plumes may be lefy uncut during winter for visual appeal. This plant is suitable for zones 4 to 8.


Easy Care Perennials: Some Plants Thrive in Spite of Neglect.

Agastache “Blue Fortune”. This fragrant perennial loves the sun and heat, is drought tolerant after the second year of growth, deer-resistant and hardy from Zones 5a to 9b. It will grow from 2 to 3 feet tall and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant likes a well-drained soil that is not too rich. It blooms with many powder-blue spikes from mid summer until October. Birds love its seeds but gardeners do not. Agastache is an aggressive reseeder and is considered invasive. However, the new seedlings are easy to thin out and most gardeners report that digging up new growth is worth the effort, considering the pleasure the plant brings and the neglect it will tolerate.


A First-Frost Flower: Penstemon 'Red Rocks'.

This photo may be purchased from"".Perennials that last until the first frost are a gift for the gardener. Penstemon mexicali x "Red Rocks" is such a plant. This drought tolerant perennial, with dark evergreen leaves, grows only 15 inches tall. For what it lacks in height, it compensates in color saturation. It has been described as rose-red, magenta, and vivid-deep pink. Some have reported seeing coral-pink in the setting sun. No matter how we describe it, one cannot escape its intensity.This plant begins blooming in early summer, re- blooms in October and lasts until the first frost. For maximum enjoyment, grow it in full sun, in the front row of the flower bed. Hardy from Zones 5 to 9.


Gardeners' Lament: Sun in the Morning and Burn at Night

image courtesy of 'kids for saving"Our bodies need a certain amount of daily exposure to the sun in order to absorb essential Vitamin D. But, too much sun can lead to skin cancer. Protecting the body should be a fundamental goal of all gardeners.

Here’s how to be cautious in the sun:

1] Wear a wide brimmed hat that shades the face and neck.

2] Stand up the collar of the knit shirt you wear for gardening to protect part of the upper back and neck. Do not garden in a T shirt!

3] Try to garden before 10:30 A.M. and after 4 P.M.

4] Use both sun block and sunscreen

Sun block is a white opaque cream containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It does not disappear after application but remains visible on the skin. It should be used on burn prone and sensitive areas such as the nose, lips, ears, shoulders, back of neck, and, if you wear prescription glasses, on the cheekbones as well. [corrective lenses magnify the rays of the sun and burn the cheeks.] Sun blocks are messier than sunscreens and may stain clothing so wear dark clothes that will not be significantly damaged by stains. Alternatively, if you prefer to garden in light clothing, wear old clothes that can take staining without regret or clothes that are bleachable.

Sunscreen is a lotion that vanishes after application but still keeps on working. A high numbered sunscreen, 30, 45 or 50, should be applied to the rest of the exposed skin namely: balance of face and chin, front of neck, the area where the neck meets the chest, arms and legs. [Actually, legs ought to be covered with pants and socks to avoid ticks and poison ivy.]

5]  Keep a squeezable container of Aloe Vera gel in the medicine cabinet.  Apply it after gardening on clean skin to areas that might have received too much sun.This preventive measure sometimes helps to avoid the burning discomfort that occurs at nightfall.

6] On very hot days, store bottles of water in a small picnic cooler filled with ice. Keep the cooler in a wheelbarrow so that it is handy at all times or use a cooler on wheels. Drink often! Rinse a hand towel in cold water, wring it out and store it in the cooler. Use it to mop a dripping forehead because the combination of perspiration and sunscreen may sting the eyes. Apply the cold towel to the back of the neck to cool down.


Be Prepared: Handy Gardening Tools.

Here is a list of what flower gardeners keep in their tool sheds.

1] Trowel: This is a small hand tool used for digging holes for bulbs, annuals and young perennials. If you don’t own a specific tool for digging out weeds, this will make a good temporary substitute. Always select a trowel with an ergonomically shaped handle that allows the strongest arm muscles to do the work while keeping the joints in a natural position. If you suffer from arthritis, select a trowel with handles that are wider than normal [about 1 3/8 inches in diameter].

2]  Short - Handled Spade: A square shaped spade, with a D-shaped handle  that can be used for edging, digging holes for plants, trees and bushes and for digging up perennials.

3] Long - Handled, Round - Pointed Shovel: For digging compacted soil, slicing through roots and for digging out deeply set plants.

4] "Toolstep" or "Trenchfoot."

This is a new product that slides over the spade handle to rest on the head of the blade to form a wider step. The additional width lessens the stress on the sole and arch of the foot when pushing down on the blade. This product is useful if you plan to do a lot of digging. Sold as "Trenchfoot" in the U.S.A., it is available online from the Garden Gate Magazine Store. In Canada, it is known as "Toolstep" and is available online from Lee Valley Tools.

5] Bypass Hand pruner: A pruner is used to deadhead flowers, trim stems, stalks and branches and to cut flowers for indoor use.This is a multipurpose tool and a most important one for keeping a perennial garden tidy. Look for ergonomically shaped handles that are coated in plastic to create a comfortable grip.

6] Weeder: A weeder may be a long or short-handled tool for digging up weeds. This tool is available in many models, some dating back to the Middle Ages. Choose whatever style appeals to you because there is no ultimate weeding tool. Hard packed soil makes weeding difficult so moisten or aerate the earth before starting that chore.

7] Wheelbarrow: Transporting shrubs, tools and earth is hard work. Lighten the load by using a wheelbarrow. Your back will thank you.

8] Garden Hose: The hose should be long enough to bring water to the farthest point of the garden.

9] Adjustable Hose Nozzle: Newly planted vegetation and freshly sown seeds need watering. Ideally, a watering can is best because it delivers water gently. However, a hose, adjusted for low water pressure and attached to a nozzle that is tuned to a fine mist, works just as well and requires less effort.

10] Gardening Gloves: Gloves keep hands and fingernails clean, prevent the formation of hand callouses and protect hands from thorns. Rugged gloves are best for digging with a trowel, shovel or spade but they do not allow for fine work such as planting seedlings. Soft leather gloves made from goat skin or pig skin mold to the hand and allow full use of fine motor skills. They are not easily found and are usually sold in women’s sizes only. Don’t give up the search! Once you’ve tried them, you won’t want to wear anything else on your hands.

11] Kneeling Pad: Something must come between the ground and your kneecaps. A flat spongy kneeling pad is more comfortable than wearing knee pads.

Quality of Tools: Buy the best quality that your budget allows. Better tools last longer and make work easier.