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

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Entries in Landscaping (25)


Pushing the Boundaries of Modern Garden Design; a book review for

Best Garden Design; Practical Inspirations from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show  Chris Young,  Firefly Books

A fascinating aspect about cultural norms is that when they are brought to North America, by immigrants, they tend to reseed themselves and propagate unchanged. This phenomenon has been reported by countless second generation Americans who visit the old country of their grandparents only to discover that it has evolved into a new country, unrecognizable to those who packed up and left from there years before. The remaining inhabitants eventually modernized their way of life, while the émigrés, who settled in America, remained stuck in an old fashioned mind set. today, North Americans continue to embrace the romantic English Garden while many British designers have moved forward. Encouraged by expositions and competitions, they work at the forefront of modernity and are light years ahead of mainstream tastes in America. One of the best examples of this advanced style of garden design may be seen in the submissions to the Royal Horticultural Society, Chelsea Flower Show, where new horticultural and design ideas are presented. Every year, at the end of May, on 11 acres of the grounds of the Royal Hospital in London, The Royal Horticultural Society hosts a forward looking flower show that leaves most visitors breathless. after year, mind boggling, innovative ideas are presented. The audacious use of ultra modern design elements, including the use of aluminum, oxidized steel, glass, or garden rubbish, is outrageously courageous. small show gardens at Chelsea are about equal in size to small urban gardens, measuring 16 x 22 feet, while larger show gardens may reach 30 x 70 feet. Regardless of their dimensions, they are, in fact, temporary stage sets created intentionally to wow the visitor, to showcase the talent of the designers, and to market innovative garden materials. Chelsea show includes all nine styles of gardening. They can be Romantic, Minimalist, Mediterranean, Arabic, Classical, Narrative, Wildlife, Formal, or Magical/Mad. In this book, Mr. Young has compiled an overview of the more interesting installations from the years 2005 to 2009.  Instead of dealing with them chronologically, or by style, he has cleverly grouped them by subject. That way, garden designers looking for inspiration or affirmation about specific design elements, all of which are practical, can use this publication for reference. design topics surveyed and summarized in dedicated chapters are Entrances/ Pathways/ Boundaries, Planting, Outdoor Living, Water, Materials, Sustainability, Productive Gardens, Lighting, and Garden Art. book is richly illustrated with an unusually large number of color photos containing so much detail and beautiful garden shots that, in another era, it might have been produced as a coffee table book.

There are two recurring themes that run through this publication, although they are never mentioned, specifically. They are submitted through the images. One is that small gardens can be spectacularly designed. All it takes is a talented, original thinker who recognizes that traditional conventions are dispensable. The second theme, blatant but silent, is the idea that a lawn is not a requirement. In most of the gardens portrayed, grass is used as trim. Any reader who cannot imagine that a back yard garden can be serviceable and beautiful without a lawn ought to study this book. It is a revelation!

In youth, when we discovered life and the world for the very first time, everything we experienced was exciting and vibrant. Older people, on the contrary, looked upon the younger generation and smiled condescendingly because they had already seen it all before. Well, I am now the older generation and with the help of this book, it has been an exciting experience to discover avant-garde, cutting edge landscaping. I have just seen garden design again for the very first time.



Garden Design and Personal Artistic Expression

A horticultural society has invited me to speak on garden design next week. With most of my notes stored in Word, I thought it would be wise to review them, just in case some important thoughts, still hibernating in my brain, need to be awakened. As I read through the stored ideas, I came across details about garden design that I was certain would not sit well with some of my garden blogging colleagues. It is the subject of personal style.

My front lawn perennial garden makes some of my neighbors swoon. It also makes some of them cringe because perennial gardens are inherently messy. The contradictory reactions surprised me because I was certain that I had followed some of the basic principles of garden design. I used repetition and rhythm to arrange plants and colors; I mixed the textures, shapes and heights and ensured that attractive flower combinations would be in bloom all season long. Sprinkled in among the plants are some miniature evergreens and ornamental shrubs that act as a foil to make the flower pop. During the winter, they offer visual interest while the perennials are dormant. The color scheme is pastel dominant because the grey stone exterior of my home is a perfect background for this family of colors. I have only once broken the rule of mixing colors and intensities. I planted a bold scarlet red oriental poppy Turkenlouis because I think it is awesome. Fortunately, it blooms early enough not to interfere with the overall color scheme.

The incentive to pay attention to all of these details is rooted in my desire to create a garden that will bring pleasure to anyone who visits my home. Not all of my colleagues share that value. Many have related how proud they are that their garden is a reflection of personal taste, style, and idiosyncrasies. What others think is of no concern to them. I must assume that they live in neighborhoods where individuality is respected or in areas where the gardens around the home are sufficiently distanced from others, so that there is no opportunity to be judged. I have the greatest respect for independent minded people that stand proud for what they believe in. I too stand proud for my beliefs, but in the garden, I care very much how my compositions make other people feel.

I admire the gardeners who consider the landscape that surrounds their homes to be expressions of their individuality. I recognize that they are excited by the spontaneity created by their personal style even when the gardens appear to be chaotic or too bold for others. It is fascinating to learn that if their flowerbeds have a positive effect on others; it is considered an unexpected bonus, never an intended goal. Individuality plays an important role in the evolution of our rich North American societies. Follow the news in all media, and it feels as if we are celebrating personal uniqueness almost on a daily basis. No other place on earth offers such opportunities for this liberty.

However, an exception to this liberty must occur if one earns a living by landscaping other people’s properties. In that case, ones private garden may be needed to showcase ones talents. Then, the overall appearance of the garden must appeal to a wider population, if it is to help generate business. Under such circumstances, the garden professional has no choice but to tone down personal taste to emphasize universally accepted standards of beauty. Even I am compelled to suspend working on a client’s property and take precious time to tweak my own garden, before a future client drives by my home to see an example of my work.

Another exception to independant style gardening sometimes occurs in densely populated neighborhoods where neat front yards define the character of a community. An otherwise free sprited  homeowner may reluctantly agree to landscape in a style that respects local standards, if only to help maintain property values in the neighborhood. That is hard to do. It requires gardeners with no ego, or those who understand that there is a time and place for personal principles and ideals. Hopefully, they will compensate for their compromises in the privacy of their own back yards.

We cannot garden as we please if we are committed to impressing or pleasing others, especially those whose tastes, as yet, we do not know. We must also respect good garden design if we want to utilize our landscape to its best advantage. It has to satisfy all of our needs for outdoor living, personal refuge, and aesthetic standards. On some level, garden design is akin to wish fulfillment.

Beautiful gardens and flower beds do not occur by themselves; there can be no haphazard or defiant installation of patios, paths and plants. Nature is not that talented to correct our whims or our mistakes. It is a widely held belief that gardens can be beautiful simply because flowers are pretty and that by adding more plants, the garden will be even more beautiful. I disagree.

For a garden or a flower bed to be successful, it must be well thought out, well planned, and well designed. All that advance work must be completed before the tip of the shovel hits the earth for the first time. During the installation of a garden, there will always be unexpected surprises, requiring on the spot changes and snap decisions. A good master plan, i.e. a well designed garden, makes unforeseen obstacles easier to overcome.

Some individualists might be unhappy to defer to good design principles. They should not be. For within the guidelines of good design, independent minded gardeners can still put their personal mark on their garden when they select and arrange their plants. There is always room for personal expression. Ask any successful artist, and they will confirm, that no matter how avant-garde or esoteric the style of their paintings, they all began their careers by first studying the rudiments of design, before they put paint brush to canvas.


On Daylight as an Element of Garden Design 

Paul Ridley is a garden designer and photographer from Oxford, UK, who blogs intermittently at Paul Ridley Design. Last week, he posted a link to an “illuminating” lecture that he wrote for a site belonging to The Landscape and Horticulture Association of the UK. The topic he chose for that posting is about the role that daylight plays in the overall design of a garden. The photographs included to illustrate his lesson are simply awesome. One of them, the inspiring image above, has been lifted from the article to tempt and encourage readers to link there.


Understanding Garden Design: a book review for

Understanding Garden Design: The Complete Handbook for Aspiring Designers, Vanessa Gardner Nagel, APLD, Timber Press,                 

In spite of the rise in the number of independent-minded gardeners, who care little what others think, most people expect that their garden will not only make themselves happy but will also please their visitors. To accomplish these goals, fundamental principles of design must be respected. These principles are not based upon social or aesthetic convention, as so many free-thinking gardeners believe. When planning any garden, the author suggests that people ought to understand why a landscape needs to be designed, in the first place.

In this publication, the reader will learn that design principles reflect the need to engage the brain in a pleasurable sensory experience that allows one to perceive a garden as beautiful and fulfilling. Furthermore, when a landscape layout meets people’s physical and psychological needs, it helps them to function better. Sometimes it encourages an interaction with nature.

According to the author, the intelligent use of space is another benefit of proper garden design. Regardless of its size, a garden may serve very special purposes for a home owner and unless such needs are satisfied, the garden cannot be deemed to be a success. To achieve that level of satisfaction, Ms. Nagel suggests that advance planning is required before the first line of the garden can be drawn. Listed in that preparation are considerations for a play area for children, pets, outdoor work, the drying of laundry, storage, growing food, traffic patterns, entertainment, and a place to be alone.

Dealing with the topic of beauty in the garden, the author introduces the reader to basic design principles and suggests that, when they are incorporated into the planning, they are responsible for creating an aesthetically pleasing landscape. These basics are color, line, shape, form, space, proportion, mass, focal point, repetition and rhythm, movement, sequence, texture, variety, contrast, balance and unity. All of these concepts are elaborated upon in sufficient detail to enhance the reader’s knowledge of them.

Each of the twelve chapters of this book deals chronologically with the process of creating a successful garden. The first chapter is the eye opener. It establishes the framework for accomplishing one’s goal both philosophically and realistically. First, it discusses the rationale for a well designed garden and touches on issues such as hobby, health, and personal expression. Then, it alerts the aspiring designer to preliminary projects that must be undertaken before the first shovel is dug. These include, the gathering of data about the physical property, making preliminary decisions, measuring and photographing the site, drawing base plans, developing a concept on the plan, reviewing and deciding upon plants and hardscape materials, assembling costs and budget review, preparing the final master plan, and, finally, an evaluation of contractors and their qualifications. The author suggests that this advance planning, which can take up to six weeks, will allow for better decision making throughout the construction period.

Subsequent chapters elaborate upon the master plan and extend the conversation to include topics such as finishings, irrigation, lighting, and working with contractors. In the final chapter, titled “After Construction”, the author writes about completing the garden installation with garden art, furniture, containers, and outdoor entertaining. Readers will find enjoyment in the last section as it discusses such matters as creating ambience, crowd control techniques, and open garden etiquette. Here the author suggests that gardens need not be perfect or complete before visitors are invited in, as a garden in process is a learning opportunity.

Ms. Nagel reminds us that most landscaping books begin in “the middle” .i.e. with a discussion of basic design principles. The author affirms that something has to happen in the minds of gardeners before they tackle such concepts. Certain questions need to be answered first:-

Why design? What are the measurements that define the value of design? How does a landscape design benefit the homeowner?

By elaborating on these issues, prior to introducing design concepts, the author has added realism to the study of garden design. Her thoughtful guide is practical, and easy to follow. The extensive collection of photographs, selected to illustrate the text, are spot-on appropriate, surprisingly beautiful, and quite inspiring.



A Garden in Nazareth

There is a stunning spiritual garden on the grounds of the Church of St Joseph, in Nazareth, that speaks to the talents of landscape architects everywhere. The compact, soothing garden is built on a steep slope, constructed with terraces, stairs, lawn, and trees. It Is part of the church complex that is located half way up a steep hill , on a road so narrow that our touring van was too wide to navigate it. Instead, we climbed upward on foot.

The atmosphere created by the garden encouraged us to stop and rest. Those that felt so inclined used this occasion for reflection, as well. Notice in the posted images how the color and texture of the buildings’ stonework is offset by the greenery of the landscaping. Green is a rare color to find in many parts of the Middle East, especially in the heat of August. Even the smallest gardens such as this one, becomes color relief for the eyes and the soul.

It was in this town that archeologists unearthed the remains of a dwelling they are certain belonged to Joseph, because his name is inscribed on the structure. From an examination of artifacts found there, it has been confirmed that he was indeed a carpenter and that carpenters were wealthy. Lumber-worthy trees cannot grow in the Holy Land so that few men chose carpentry as a trade. Wood was expensive because it was imported from Lebanon and carpenters became wealthy as only the rich could afford their work.

Another interesting fact about Joseph, discovered by the archeologists, is that he practiced polygamy. Historical and religious records confirm that, in biblical times, it was an acceptable and legal way of life. Polygamy was eventually abandoned by those who migrated northward into the pagan Roman Empire, where this practice was illegal.

We were informed by our guide that due to prevailing customs, Mary, a close friend of Joseph, was a candidate for legally sanctioned murder because she was pregnant and unmarried. Her family and the community would have stoned her to death. For safety, it was necessary for her to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a strange town where she could survive anonymously. Because it was never safe for any woman to travel alone, Joseph offered to accompany her.

Our guide suggested that Joseph must have cared very deeply for Mary if he abandoned the apparent comforts of his home and the company of his wives to make this journey. If that opinion is correct, then one might conclude that the history of Christianity began with an act of supreme kindness and selflessness.

Family reunion time is about to begin. My children and grandchildren are coming to visit for a week and their presence will fill up my days so joyfully that posting will have to wait until the new year. Happy Holidays.