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

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Entries in Landscaping (25)

Wednesday
Dec142011

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.

Sunday
Sep252011

One Gardener's Gold Is Another One’s Garbage

I stumbled across a blog written by a gardener who had just purchased a weekend retreat in the country. In the process of re landscaping the new property, the writer decided to share with her readers the problems she faced and their optional, potential solutions.

One project entailed landscaping the front lawn -a gentle rolling hill that ran from the foundation of the home to the road. The new owner faced a challenge: - what to do with the rocks that protruded out of the ground. Well, they weren’t really rocks. They were, in fact, a grouping of deeply embedded boulders that peeked out of the earth in the center of the lawn. The gardener asked readers for their input.

I suspected that the rocks may have been in place since the glacier age and commented that they appeared to be so deeply embedded that it might be too costly to remove them. Since the blogger’s home was set in a rural area, with relaxed and informal landscaping, I suggested that the boulders remain in place. I recommended that they be incorporated into a plant composition in the center of the lawn.

The texture and color of the boulders were ideal for enhancing the foliage of vertical growing plants, especially those with variegated leaves. I have similar naturally occurring rocks in my own flowerbeds and, even though they are located at the surface, and easy to remove, I keep them in place because they make nearby plants look better. The contrast of grey stone against green foliage adds character to a garden.

As usual in the world of garden blogging, mine was not the only opinion that the writer received. A reader in the UK commented strongly that the blogger should remove the rocks on the front lawn. What an interesting opposite point of view. Perhaps that reader had a more traditional view of the purpose of a country front lawn than I do. Was there a cultural bias at play, here?

I know very little about UK gardeners – only what I have learned from friends who have visited the homes of their British hosts. They report that, when they arrive, it is customary for the host to direct the visitors' attention to the garden before setting foot inside the house. By comparison, on this side of the Atlantic,  a host might first draw a visitor’s attention to new granite countertops in the kitchen or an entertainment system in the family room. The garden might be shown later, if at all.

Some believe that if a garden defines one or one’s home, then it must always remain attractive to visitors. Under those circumstances, rocks, that are smack-in-the-middle of a green lawn, are deemed an eyesore. In contrast, my fellow blogger who is also defined by her garden, but who enjoys the privacy of her rural retreat, left the boulders in her lawn, exactly where she found them.

Friday
Mar252011

How Landscaping Creates Serenity

Baptism Center, on the banks of the Jordan River. Photo copyright by Paul Charles Wolfe.The interesting thing about color in the Middle Eastern landscape is that it is found in very few places. To experience color, one must visit open air markets, gift shops, and art galleries. In markets, one finds colorful displays of spices and produce, as well as intricately decorated garments. Gift shops feature the handiwork of local artisans who create rather useful souvenirs in colors that reflect the vibrancy if the many local cultures that live there. In galleries representing local artists, the paintings have been executed in vivid reds, oranges and yellows - in shades so intense that they sometimes overwhelm tourists from more sedate cultures. Perhaps it is the bleaching sun that inspires the use of such vivid colors. However, as soon as one steps out of these venues, the landscape is bleak. Beige stone and sand are everywhere. That is the nature of the Middle East. Clearly one does not visit this part of the world for an aesthetic outdoor experience based on color.

Google aerial view of Kasar al Yahud, the location of the baptism centers on both sides of the sepentine Jordan River. The left side of the river is located in the West Bank; the right side is in the State of Jordan.During my visit there last August, when our tour group arrived at a baptism center on the banks of the Jordan River, we all let out a sigh of relief. We had found color. Baptism centers had been established on both sides of the river, in response to the needs of devout Christian tourists who wish to be immersed in the same waters used to baptize Jesus, over two thousand years ago. In creating this outdoor space, the attention given to atmosphere is impressive.

The azure blue of the water, combined with the pink of the flowers, are enhanced by the woodland effect of green-leafed trees on both river banks. All of these naturally occurring colors, deliberately landscaped only recently, contribute to creating a spiritual experience. The serenity of this place is palpable.

Wednesday
Mar092011

The Advantages of Self-Sustaining Gardens, a book review for bookpleasures.com

The Self Sustaining Garden, a guide to matrix planting Peter Thompson, Timber Press,

We are in the midst of a multi-faceted historical development in gardening that has been propelled by social change. In our era, time available to maintain a garden has become as precious as water in the desert. Consequently, alternative styles of landscaping are evolving; styles that require fewer resources. In one way or the other, all of the alternatives politely ignore traditional gardening philosophies. The self sustaining garden is one option.

The author submits that a self sustaining garden requires less effort because the plants do the work. The key to success is not to attempt to grow ones favorite plants. Instead, one must select those that are best matched to local ecological conditions. In such situations, what goes on in the garden will be controlled not by the gardener but by the relationship between the plants that are happy growing together.

The author refers to this kind of self-sustaining landscape as matrix planting and offers wildflower gardens as an example:  Wildflowers grow all over the world with no help from humans. They survive by forming self-sustaining communities-broadly know as vegetation- which shelter and protect the plants within them, while excluding outsiders. They are successful because the plants within each community have established a balance with one another which enables each to obtain a share of resources, living space and opportunities to reproduce…Matrix planting is based on this natural model…

Matrix planting requires less energy and resources as it contradicts traditional garden maintenance methods. For example, tilling and amending the soil is no longer required. Regular use of fertilizer is unnecessary; weeding of self seeding plants is discouraged. Pesticides and slug pellets are never used and irrigation becomes irrelevant. The objective is not to grow bigger and better looking plants, simply healthy ones that can survive without too much intervention from the gardener.

The author establishes the basic steps to creating a sustainable garden. They begin with proper soil preparation and an understanding of the concept of planting in patterns and rhythms. He continues with dedicated chapters that discuss the variety of sustainable gardens based on specific growing conditions, such as ornamental grass meadows and pools and wetlands. One chapter is devoted to the function of shrubbery while another deals with gardening in shade. Within each chapter, inspiring case studies are included and lists of plants appropriate for very specific growing conditions are supplied. From cover to cover, over 1000 plants are recommended.

Readers who are mostly concerned with water conservation will find this book helpful. Mr. Thompson points out that, even though it was not specifically devised to address problems of water shortages, matrix planting has much in common with water conservation. He reminds the reader that traditional, generous irrigation encourages unbalanced growth of those plants best able to take advantage of additional water. Matrix planting of self sustainable gardens reduces the amount of water required for a garden’s survival.

Mr. Thompson is a scientist. As a  botanist, he headed the Physiology Department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, where he initiated research of seed germination, seedling nutrition and the long term conservation of plant genetic resources. His book targets the scholarly, erudite gardener who appreciates a traditional style of garden writing almost as much as the science of gardening itself. In that regard, this publication is not a how-to manual, even though step by step instructions are given. This is a book for reference and consultation whenever sustainable gardens need to be considered. 

                                            

Monday
Feb212011

Tales From the Garden: Father and Son

When they were first married, Barbara and John planted a garden, at a time of life when they were younger and stronger than they are now. Recently, their flowerbeds were destroyed when they contracted to re surface the front walkway and stairs. Since they could no longer repair the beds themselves, they contacted me to re landscape.

A few weeks after the job was completed, Barbara called to report that her gardener had shaved off the leaves of some newly planted hostas, when he ran the lawn mower too close to the garden beds. She inquired if I would come by to take a look. The next day, when I arrived, Barbara was out. I spoke with her son and gave him instructions for the gardener who would have to exercise diligence when mowing. For the parents, I left a message suggesting they place a row of rocks in front of the hostas to protect them from the mower. That advice would have enhanced the appearance of their garden because the textural and color contrast between hosta foliage and grey rock is dramatic.

Towards the end of the season, I returned to inspect my handiwork and met Barbara outdoors. I related to her how pleasant it was to have spoken with her son; he is a warm and friendly guy and I enjoyed my conversation with him. That is when she segwayed into this vignette:-

Her son had recently graduated from a local university with a degree in Engineering and found work with a high tech company. The office of the firm is situated 3 minutes away from the family home, as the birds fly, but it is a 10 minute drive by car. This being his first job, the son could not yet afford to buy a car. Public transportation in the neighborhood was circuitous and didn't make sense. Consequently, Barbara agreed to drive him to work each morning. One day, Barbara was unavailable and asked John to do the morning drive. That night, when he came home for dinner, John announced to Barbara that she was not to take their son to work anymore. He insisted on doing it himself.

Ever since their son was a teenager, he had led a private life inside his bedroom. Because he was an only child, this situation disappointed the parents, but they respected the needs of their adolescent son. Now that he was working, they would probably see him even less. John discovered that the ten minute drive in the morning allowed father and son to spend quality time together, even when they drove in silence. It meant so much to him, to have his young adult son ride next to him in the front seat of the car, that John decided he needed to have this experience every day.