Need Help?

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

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

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

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in Linda Chalker-Scott (2)


There are no Rules in Cool School of Gardening

I was scrolling through a fellow gardener’s blog when I came upon a photo of her front yard. Protruding out of the lawn were several rocks and I admired how much they added character to the landscape. Another colleague noticed the same photo and was unimpressed. Her opinion was that the rocks had to be removed. It was then that I realized I was participating in a clash between old school and cool school.

There are rules and habits that some traditional gardeners follow that will cause younger, busy people to turn away from horticulture. Old school gardeners tend to venerate old masters whose experience and advice they admire. Cool school gardeners consider these sages to be stale and anachronistic. Another source of concern is the newbie gardener who has managed to memorize all there is to know about gardening from a recently read book, even if that book is outdated. Sometimes garden books become outdated; a few by virtue of their style of writing and a few by the laborious methods that they recommend to busy, impatient readers.

Advancing technologies increasingly shape the kind of world we live in. As a result, we have experienced significant changes in lifestyles, values, priorities, and the way we transmit and collect useful information. Nature, of course, does not change but the manner and perspective that we bring to dealing with nature does. Some of us have little time to garden or to research botanical information due to many obligations we cultivate at home, in community and in the workplace. Because all converge to place severe demands on time available, a short cut to accomplishing anything is often appreciated.

In the last fifteen years, we have experienced an exponential growth in the numbers of people who have discovered the pleasures of gardening. Among the new adherents are independent thinkers who are unencumbered by other peoples’ rules. They bring to their new-found passion either irreverence for tradition or a desire for the immediacy usually found in technology. These new gardeners reflect the fact  that North America is a continent of innovative people. Many look for newer, more efficient ways to accomplish traditional goals. This population worships the future, more than it venerates the past. Its members are legitimate representatives of a forward-looking society. That perspective has allowed some of them to conclude, about gardening, that there are few absolute truths and hardly any sacred rules. Welcome to the new, cool school of gardening.

 Here are a few aspects of the changing attitudes about gardening:-

  • Tom Fischer, horticulturalist, garden writer and publishing editor has this to say about color in the garden: anyone who claims that there is a theoretically correct way to approach color is full of hooey…..  the biggest fiction of all is the color wheel, that tired, utterly artificial arrangement that gets trotted out in book after book to “prove” various assertions about which colors “go” together.
  • Horticulturalist, educator and author, Linda Chalker-Scott has warned that some types of compost teas, thought to improve the health of plants, might be breeding grounds for e coli bacteria and salmonella. This author has been busting myths about many more widely held but erroneous horticultural lore.
  • Some gardeners ignore the zones of hardiness printed on plant tags.
  • Gardeners have begun experimenting with natural looks for their properties by allowing lawns, once though to be essential, to be converted into meadowland that they imagine, rightly or wrongly, the original settlers found in North America many years ago.
  • Some adventurous gardeners ignore the type of soil in their gardens; they plant whatever they please and are prepared to live with the consequences.
  • Carefree gardeners allow nature alone to irrigate their established flowerbed, regardless of the kind of perennials they’ve planted.
  • The eminent American garden writer, Stephanie Cohen, has boldly declared that the original, authentic English garden has no home in North America. Finally somebody has said it emphatically! Here is her opinion as quoted by Sally Cunnigham in the Garden Rant blog titled “Dishing With The Diva” on June 22, 2010:- On English gardens and English garden books: "The light is different, the soil is different, the climate is different…. People read these books, they see a picture, decide that’s what they want, and then drive everybody crazy. Buy a book written by and for Americans. We have heat, humidity—our sun, come summer, is so strong that some of the plants they talk about would crisp in one minute."
  • Tilling poor soil in order to amend it is now considered back breaking work. Instead, we are encouraged to layer additional nutrients onto the original soil using the “lasagna” method.
  • Some gardeners no longer cut down their perennials in autumn, preferring instead to allow the dried plant stalks to provide textural winter interest and food for birds.
  • Some homeowners prefer to leave natural occurring rocks protruding from their lawns in order to preserve a wild look.
  • Impatient gardeners are discovering that it is more efficient and exciting to invest in mature plants, that deliver instant pleasure, than to watch and wait as a seedling plant matures.

The way to a beautiful garden may be a never-ending journey but the path we choose is a personal one. Some of my fellow bloggers prefer to perpetuate traditional gardening techniques either because they experience a kind of spirituality in the older, patient methods or because they are more comfortable with the true and tried. On the other hand, some newer weekend botanists, harried by their lifestyle, look for quick fixes in order to create instant flowerbeds. Both approaches bring their respective adherents enormous pleasure. That is why gardeners should never be admonished for the choices they make. For this blogger to write such words is a veritable reversal of position. I am the one who warned his readers to consider the neighbors by never gardening in poor taste. Now I consider it more important to respect colleagues who choose to garden without restrictions. In a society, unfettered by social convention, we garden as we please.


The Informed Gardener Blooms Again: Book Review for

The Informed Gardener Blooms Again,                     Linda Chalker-Scott,  University of Washington Press 

Those of us who have learned to garden from the experience of others, have also been the recipients of gardening advice delivered in an oral tradition. If that guidance came from a university-educated horticulturalist, probably the knowledge transmitted is accurate. However, a lot of information, handed down from one gardening generation to another, is folklore that does not stand up to empirical scrutiny.

As a counterbalance to misinformation, we can rely upon the dedication to truth demonstrated by an author who dismisses out rightly the myths that influence our gardening behavior. Linda Chalker-Scott is an Extension Urban Horticulturalist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University. She is the editor and co-author of Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens, Washington State editor of MasterGardener Magazine, author of the online column Horticultural Myths and has a blog,

The author began her plant science career as a theoretical, laboratory-based plant physiologist and evolved into a practical, landscape-oriented urban horticulturalist. Her goal has been to transform relevant scientific information into readily understandable and applicable garden practices. This is her second book in making the science of gardening and landscaping accessible to the non-academic gardening community. The first book, similarly titled The Informed Gardener, was published in 2008.

Readers will be shocked to discover that some of what we hold to be true is either inaccurate or false. Hence, the titles of the chapters in this book begin with the phrase “The Myth of…”.  Each chapter contains an exposition of the myth the author has undertaken to crush, followed by the scientific information available to contradict the myth. This is, in turn, is followed by an exquisitely concise summary of the argument, i.e. what we need to know. Finally, the author includes a reference to scientific papers that support the facts.

One example of a defeated myth hits home. A respectable TV home improvement series, featured an episode on foundation landscaping with rose bushes. The renovator informed the viewing audience of the importance of using Epsom salts to create healthy roses. Not only did I follow that advice but I also passed along that information to all of my clients. The author reports that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that Epsom salts make roses grow bushier or more floriferous. Epsom salts, another name for magnesium sulphate, is as good as any other source of magnesium in treating a plant that suffers from leaf chlorosis. Such plants, because they are stressed, are unable to uptake other beneficial nutrients. Relieving the magnesium deficiency will improve chlorophyll production as well as nutrient uptake. However, feeding Epsom salts to plants that do not need magnesium will not make them healthier because plants only uptake the amount of magnesium that they need.

Some of the other topics covered in this book include the danger to humans who brew and apply compost tea because it may contain e-coli bacteria. Other myths dispelled cover garden-related issues such as companion planting, foliar feeding, and the myth of predicted growth that appears on plant labels. Another myth deals with drought tolerant plants used to create xeriscapes. The well-intentioned gardener will plant such perennials with the expectation that they will survive with little rainfall. However, during rainfall, drought tolerant plants absorb more precious water than other plants.

There are more widely held myths dispelled in this publication. I urge the serious gardener to read The Informed Gardener Blooms Again, and its companion The Informed Gardener. At best, we will become better-informed gardeners. At least, we will save a few hundred dollars a season, otherwise spent on nutrients that our gardens do not need. Special mention goes to Ashley Saleeba for the gem-like design of this publication and for the ingenious adaptation of artwork by Sarah Dixon on the book’s cover.