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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)


The Gigantic Geranium, a Very Reliable Perennial

Of all the perennials that grow in my garden, Geranium Psilostemon, or Armenian Cranesbill, is my favorite. If ever I should move from my present home, this is the one plant I will dig up and take with me.

I first noticed this majestic perennial in the book “Antique Flowers: Perennials” by Rob Proctor. It caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, I was on a hunt for intensely colored pink plants. Secondly, its vibrant black eyes gave it an iridescence not normally seen in perennials. It just popped off the page.There are two great pictures of it in ”Best Borders” by Tony Lord while in Penelope Hobson’s book ”Flower Gardens”, it appears no less than three times:

None of the nurseries in my area sold the plant but I was fortunate to find it online. In the first season in my garden it did not reach the spectacular growth seen in the books. However, the color was true to the photographs. It's an intense magenta pink rarely seen in perennials and the black eyes popped out at me from my garden just as they did in the books. By year two, its growth was impressive and by the third year, it was awesome, reaching three feet high and two and a half feet wide.

If allowed to flop over, this large geranium makes an unusual and tall ground cover. It does not spread rampantly and nothing can penetrate its foliage. However, when staked to grow upright, it gives new meaning to the term “wow factor”. Unlike other geraniums that last for a few weeks, this one blooms for two months.

If there is empty space in my flower beds, the geranium will self-seed there; but not aggressively. Over the years I have found many welcome offspring that transplant easily. I use them as gifts to my clients. It gives their gardens an exclusive look while making a bold statement. Whenever I require more plants than were self seeded, I split the roots of the mother plant in September and replant on the spot. The mature leaves wither immediately from shock, but by the end of October, new shoots appear from the neck of the new plant to confirm that the propagation has been successful. Plants that are divided in the spring may not flower the first season.

This is a plant that keeps on giving. Notice the richly colored autumn foliage on the right side of the double photo above.This perennial can be purchased from Hortico or Fraser's Thimble Farms. A word of advice: No web photo can do this plant justice, not even the image above. You have to grow it to know it. Thanks to for the photo.

Click here to read an update on this perennial.


Enjoy Early Spring Blossoms Indoors

The apple blossom in early spring Fran Sorin tells us how in her book, Digging Deep.

Branches of spring flowering trees and shrubs can be forced to bloom indoors. Depending on the zone you live in, the forcing should be done in late winter or early spring when the buds are still closed tightly. Here’s what to do:-

1] Harvest branches with sharp diagonal cuts.

2] Remove all leaves and buds from the bottom eight inches of the branches.

3] Fill a pail half way with tepid water; place branches in pail.

4] Store in a cool spot away from the sun.

5] Change the water every second day.

6] Once buds start blooming, transfer branches to a vase filled with water and enjoy.



Miracle Gro Complete Guide to Perennials: Book Review for


Miracle Gro Complete Guide to Perennials  Scott Aker & Laura Deeter, Meredith 

Amongst some gardeners, the Miracle-Gro company is reputed to have created some of the most eye catching TV commercials and print ads that have ever targeted plant lovers. They are very good at visualizing the successful results of proper feeding and care. However, the detail lavished in the preparation of this basic primer on growing perennials surpasses anything that they’ve done in their marketing department.

This is a popular priced book targeting a mass audience and yet the information between its covers and the quality of its color photographs are worthy of a book twice its cost. Not only is it comprehensive and illustrated in clear detail, but almost everything one needs to know about growing perennials may be absorbed by studying it’s pictures. In an age of instant messenger, a book that can instruct with such immediacy is a significant achievement.

With an economy of words, the editor and writers amply cover basic topics such as garden design, plant selection and planting instructions. Great attention is paid to every detail as the reader is guided, unambiguously and step by step, to becoming a perennial expert.

  The chapter on perennial care is a wonderful bonus because this is an area of expertise that determines the difference between a beautiful garden and a perfunctory collection of plants. Here too, the editor makes it so easy to follow. Another surprise is the inclusion of a ninety two page encyclopedia of perennial plants, enhanced with in depth information and color photos. This alone is worth the price of the book.

The greatest challenge facing any gardener of perennials is how to keep a garden in bloom from spring until autumn. Most perennials have a blooming period of no more than three weeks, and each plant has its particular time to bloom. For that reason, creating continuous blooms throughout the growing season requires strategic planning. Many of us have spent countless hours juggling planting blueprints to ensure that there are no gaps in blooming time. I wish that I could have read this book back then because it contains a brilliant bloom time guide that takes the guesswork out of creating a continuously colorfull garden.

The secondary title of this book is called “Techniques that guarantee a fabulous garden” Believe it!



Honeysuckle Saga

This is the bloom of a honeysuckle shrub. The photographer has enlarged the flower many times to show it's beauty. Don't be fooled by it's loveliness. The flower grows on a messy shrub whose gnarly roots are a haven for weeds that cannot be removed The picture above was taken by artist/photographer Ken Beyer of North Yorkshire U.K. Click on the image to visit his site.

Chapter One. Once upon a time a man named Max bought a home with a tiny back yard. Even though the lawn measured sixty feet wide, it only measured ten feet deep. Max was happy to have found the house of his dreams but the tiny back yard bothered him.

One day, after living in the house for several years, Max’s wife asked him to plant a hedge of honeysuckle shrubs to give her privacy. Max was concerned that this landscape treatment would shrink his already tiny lawn and he approached this task with mixed feelings.

Fortunately, for Max, his lawn backed on to that of his neighbor, Ahmet. While Max’s yard  measured only ten feet deep, Ahmet’s lawn was four times deeper.  Ahmet  had lots of room for shrubs on his side of the property line. Besides, he and his wife were rarely at home. They traveled a lot. When they returned from their extended trips, they would never step outside into their back yard. Max was certain that if he planted honeysuckle shrubs on Ahmet’s property, no one would notice or care, and he asked his gardener, Angelo, to do just that. Max had been right. No one knew the difference.

Several years later, Ahmet and his wife moved away. Guess who bought Ahmet’s house?  Me!  And guess what I planned to do along the sixty feet of shrubs that separate my property from my neighbor’s? I would create a perennial flower garden. The next spring after moving in, I went outdoors with shovel and pick-axe to prepare the ground. As I was working, I heard a voice from the other side of the hedge. It was Max; he wanted to introduce himself because he too was an avid gardener.

Chapter Two. Max and I hit it off rather well. Even though he was twenty years my senior, we shared a common hobby and over the years we would spend many hours chatting across the hedge. When Max first noticed the ambitiousness of my garden project, he informed me that it was he who had planted the shrubs and that they were his responsibility to maintain, and to be truthful, they were planted on my property and if I desired, he would happily dig them up and move them onto his side of the property line. If that is what I wanted. Well, a good neighbor is a treasure; for the sake of a peaceful relationship, I told him that the shrubs could stay. What a big mistake! Years later, that decision would come back to bite me in the you-know-what.

Max and I enjoyed each other's company until several years later, when his wife passed away. He was heartbroken, couldn't bear to remain in his house alone, and moved away. The new neighbor, Bertha, owned a dog. In my neighborhood, dog owners need to enclose their back yards. Bertha informed me that she would put up a fence, and did I know to whom the shrubs belonged, because they were in the way of the fence. I replied that the shrubs belonged to her because Max had planted them. I also told her that I didn't like the shrubs and did not object if she wanted to remove them. When Bertha instructed Angelo to uproot the hedges, he informed her that actually they were on my property and that she could install the fence on her side of the shrubs without removing them. Lucky Bertha! Woe to me!

Chapter Three. For all of the years that Max and I had been neighbors, he regretted that his illegally planted shrubs were always getting in the way of my flower garden. Their height blocked the sun that my plants sorely needed. To ease his guilt, every Friday afternoon he would climb through the hedge onto my lawn to manicure the shrubs. When that  task was completed, he would crawl underneath the branches to clean out any wild growth that had germinated inside the exposed roots of the shrubs. Max kept my side of the hedge neat and tidy. He felt that he owed me that much. However, when Bertha moved in, there was no longer a Max to maintain the shrubs. My gardener, Franco, wouldn’t trim them because he believed  they belonged to the neighbor and Angelo didn’t touch them because he knew for certain they were now mine.

Not only was the hedge neglected, but it was also growing taller. My wife realized that we were gaining more privacy every season and that pleased her. That's why we allowed the shrubs to grow. Soon they began to scrape the phone wires strung overhead and their branches became a conduit for wild grape vines that had insinuated themselves into the base of the hedge after Max moved away. Eventually, a grapevine would coil itself around the overhead wires and threaten to disrupt our phone service.

While nature was invading my property high above ground, I noticed that the trunks of the honeysuckle had become a safe haven for all things wild. Weeds, maple saplings, sprouts of crab apple trees, and lots of grape vines had made their home beneath the branches. Because the soil around the trunks of the shrubs was hard packed, it was impossible to dig out the unwelcome, messy vegetation. Consequently, I was unable to keep my property neat and tidy. Max had taken care of all that for me. I never realized how much he had contributed to the welfare of my garden.

Chapter Four. I reached a breaking point when I decided to start my garden design business. It was necessary to photograph my flowerbeds in order to establish my credentials. But how was I going to take pictures of my back yard when it had become so messy? There was only one solution. The entire sixty feet of shrubs had to go. I enlisted the help of my gardening assistants and within two days they had not only removed the shrubs, but also, diligently dug out every remnant root of honeysuckle, maple sapling, crab apple tree and grape vine.

Then, my helpers, who knew a lot  about nature, decided that my flowerbed needed aerating and proceeded to dig up all of my perennials, excavate two feet deep into the earth bed, sift through the earth to remove all unwelcome vegetation and debris, and then they replanted the perennials. In the end, they gave me the flower bed I set out to create the day I first met Max. This coming spring, my back yard will be “ready for its close up”. Max was a great neighbor and I miss his company, but uprooting the hedge he planted proved to be very costly; and it's hard to sit where I got bit.


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