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

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Entries in plant combinations (6)


Plants That Need Companions Can Be Lovely

The setting for this plant composition enhances the appearance of yellow forsythia. I forsook my forsythia many years ago.

In USDA Zone 4 where I garden, this shrub appears unpleasant when it flowers because it grows alone; no other tall shrub is in bloom at the same time and there is no other surrounding green vegetation to offset the seemingly harsh colors of its petals.

Consequently, this plant stands out in dramatic starkness; in my growing zone, forsythia is appreciated solely because it is the first tall shrub to bloom - not because anyone thinks it is pretty. Perhaps more homeowners here might consider it beautiful if complementary plants surrounded it, i.e., flowering shrubs of a comparable height and volume that temper the energy of forsythia’s intense coloration.

Years ago, when I first moved into my home, I found a single forsythia bush planted by a previous homeowner. It was garish-looking against the grey early-spring sky and the still-dormant, straw-colored grass. A specimen of an identical shrub, growing on my neighbor’s lawn, looked no better. In one case, backed by a sober grey stone façade, and in the other, up against a conservatively dark red brick wall, our matching shrubs looked like overly made up courtesans invading a house of worship. In time, both my neighbor and I dug up and discarded our unsightly guests.

In warmer growing zones, where other plants are in bloom at the same time as forsythia and where the colors of home exteriors allow this plant to blend in better chromatically, there is a positive appreciation for this shrub.

The photos posted here were taken on a recent spring trip to Boston, which is located in one growing zone warmer than mine, USDA Zone 5. There, I discovered forsythia blooming in concert with tall, early-flowering intense lavender-pink rhododendron-azaleas. [Yes, that is the new nomenclature] Backed by a light-coloured cream façade that subtly echoes forsythia`s yellow, the results are eye-catching.

The blending of three colors in a harmony of tone and volume creates a delightful visual experience. In addition, the shrub is set among glossy evergreen groundcover that enriches the composition. Dark green raises the number of colors in the composition to four. In such a compatible tonal environment, the yellow-flowering shrub looks beautiful.

This successful combination was achievable for several reasons. First, Boston has a longer growing season than Montreal does. As a result, the early-blooming rhodo-azaleas develop sufficiently tall and wide to balance the energy of forsythia. Secondly, many home exteriors in Boston are surfaced in pleasant light tones that enhance the shades of early-blooming plants. Thirdly, challenging conditions of heat, shade, and drought in some parts of this eastern seaboard city demand ubiquitous planting of evergreen ground cover. The color-rich lushness of these all-purpose problem-solving plants enhances the appearance of nearby shrubs and perennials.

In Montreal, USDA Zone 4, where winter often lingers too long, there are no colorfully blooming shrubs in early spring that reach the volume necessary to moderate the vivid color of forsythia. Sombre toned home exteriors also exaggerate the intensity of its yellow flowers. Furthermore, a more temperate climate allows us to cover our grounds with turf that is rarely green enough at this time of year. As a result, forsythia appears harsh when it blooms and few of my neighbors are inclined to include it in their landscape plans.

Ironically, the one flowering shrub that offends in my home city appears stunning when it blooms in a climate that is merely one growing zone warmer. This observation may be generalized as follows:-  a plant that looks pretty in a catalog, eye-catching in a nursery, or impressive in a friend's flowerbed, may not appear equally beautiful when added to one's own garden. Surroundings can enhance or diminish the beauty of any plant.


Fine Foliage for Flowerbeds and Container Gardening, a book review

Fine Foliage, Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz,       St. Lynn’s Press

Sometimes, a gardener will return from the nursery with a car full of annuals and perennials, place them in flowerbeds or containers according to the guidelines of good garden design, and yet, the resulting plant arrangements still look wanting.

Perhaps the gardener forgot about foliage. Foliage is to garden design what fashion accessories are to clothing. Without the addition of the interesting leaves of perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, annuals, and trees, a garden never seems to be complete.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comFoliage works as a facilitator. It allows otherwise unintegratable plants to combine successfully with others. It also serves as a proscenium, helping to make a perennial or a combination of perennials and shrubs appear more beautiful. Foliage may also supplies direction, volume, color, texture, visual excitement, movement, and mystery.

However, foliage has another role to play; and that is the theme of this book. When plants that are defined by their leaves rather than by their flowers or berries, are combined with other foliage plants, they provide unusual and spiritual visual drama.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comThe premise of Ms. Chapman and Ms. Salwitz’s beautiful and delightful little book is that it is possible to create successful, eye-catching plant combinations using foliage alone for flowerbed and container gardening. The publication showcases more than sixty inspired foliage-plant partnerships that illustrate this successful style of garden design, while, at the same time, revealing the authors’ immense talent in that field.

Each combination is given a two-page spread with full-color, exquisite, high quality photographs of the individual plants within. So that readers might achieve similar results in their own garden beds and containers, descriptive directions accompany each grouping. Attention is also paid to important details such as sun or shade requirements, seasons, growing zones, soil preference, plant characteristics and care.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comHowever, what sets apart this book from other garden design manuals is the focus on helping the gardener… get to “beautiful”. The authors take the time to explain why each of their sixty foliage combinations is successful. This information allows readers to gain a designer’s perspective. That outlook, in turn, will enable them to make better choices; it also encourages gardeners to take risks - all in the hope of creating unique personal landscapes and container gardens.

This richly illustrated guide is full of easy-to-use advice. Gardeners of all skill levels will be able to adapt  instructions to create elegant, stylish, flowerbeds for their gardens and breathtaking, designer-looking, containers for their patios.

Image copywrite by finefoliage.comBoth authors are hands-on gardeners. Karen Chapman is a garden coach, horticulturist, garden writer and owner of a container design company. Christina Salwitz  is a garden coach and garden writer who specializes in garden and container design. The authors live with their respective families in the Seattle area of the State of Washington, in the USA.



This Oriental Poppy is a Turkish Delight.

This image is the property of America's Wonderlands, Virtual Bouquet-Flower Pictures, and Screensavers. Copying the photo for commercial purposes is prohibited. Click on the image to link to the owners site for usage permission.

Some gardeners have no favorite colors. Any will do as long as the flower is pretty. Others, like me, are fussier, and they seek out plants that fit into their preconceived color schemes.

I used to consider red -  the color of apples, hydrants, and fire trucks -  difficult tones to include in my garden. For many years, I shunned magnificent red tulips and romantic red roses because I did not feel comfortable using them in my English-inspired flowerbeds where pastels reigned supreme. That is no longer the case. I am much more adventurous now.

Two years ago, towards the end of the planting season, when one red Oriental poppy, Papaver Orientale Turkenlouis, or Turkish Delight, remained unsold, I placed it in an empty spot in one of my flowerbeds. That was a bold decision. Never before had I planted red or scarlet flowers in my garden, nor did I remember what color plant would bloom next to it, the following season.

By planting haphazardly, with total disregard for composition, I created the unusual but rather attractive color scheme shown above and below. My personal sense of color balance would never permit me to intentionally combine pastel yellow [Siberian Iris Butter and Sugar] with red, yet here it is and it is remarkably refreshing. Like the chaos and unpredictability of nature, sometimes the unexpected and the unplanned can be as beautiful as the deliberately arranged.

Oriental poppies like Papaver O. Turkenlouis bloom in full sun, during May to June in Zones 3 to 6 and prefer a poor, dry soil. While its coarse, rugged grey-green foliage tends to grow like a miniature fountain closer to the ground, its flower stems reach 24 to 30 inches in height and support 4 to 6 inch-wide lustrous and fringed scarlet-red petals.

This feathery effect on any flower is a delight to enjoy in the garden, no matter on which plant it may be found. It is an added visual pleasure, where the eye skims the edge of the flower to experience soft texture.

When poppy blooms are spent, gardeners have two choices: either to allow bulbous black seed heads to form at the top of the stems so that plants can self-seed, or to remove the browning stems and heads with a hand prunner. In either case, after a poppy has flowered, its leaves will turn yellow as the plant reverts to dormancy. This will occur long before most summer perennials have begun to bloom.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to plant summer flowering perennials close to the poppies so that the foliage of these later-blooming plants can hide the yellowing of the poppy leaves and fill in the empty space created by the eventual and total disintegration of the slowly shriveling foliage. For some gardeners, this disappearing act necessitates recording the location of the hidden plants; it’s easy to forget they are underground when digging the flowerbed in mid-summer. By autumn, new foliage will have popped out if the ground, thus creating fresh markers for the gardener.

Oriental poppies do not like being transplanted. These perennials grows deep and when lifted, their foliage crowns risk being separated from most of their fleshy roots. Propagation is more successful with the shallow planting of root cuttings that is best done during the summer.

A cautionary word: - If budget permits, plant more than one of this Oriental poppy. In the spring, when it is in bloom, gardeners are so bowled over by the synergistic combination of sensual fringes and intense scarlet-red that they regret having planted only one and not several.

A grove of this dramatic perennial may also be created, over the course of several years, by allowing Oriental poppies to self-seed. Novice gardeners should bear in mind that mulching near and around this plant will prevent this from happening.


The "Gardens of the Bank of Springfield" is a Masterpiece 

(c) Adam Woodruff + Associates Adam Woodruff is an award winning garden designer whose landscaping for the Gardens of the Bank of Springfield, Missouri has been recognized by the Perennial Plant Association, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and featured in Horticulture Magazine.

His remarkable comfort in designing with perennial plants is evident in the eye-catching photos taken of his creation. These images tell us that he is more than a garden and landscape designer. Adam Woodruff is a talented artist who uses colorful plant combinations as his medium. There is originality and vibrancy to his work and the powerfulness of his execution is rarely seen elsewhere.

The image posted above is one of ten sumptuous photographs. They illustrate an article he wrote that was reblogged on April 20, 2012 by Designers on Design, titled Commercial Seasonal Display, Part 1. Although they were intended both for commercial publicity and professional colleagues, the collection of images posted there will amaze and deeply touch all perennial garden lovers. 

In his bio, Mr. Woodruff pays homage to his mentors, Piet Oudilf and Roy Diblik. However, after seeing pictures of his work, I think we should be paying homage to Adam Woodruff himself. Isn’t it admirable when students take what they have learned from talented masters and use it to reach heights that surpass their mentors?

Unusually imaginative planting schemes give his gardens their originality. Using the term garden artisans to describe himself and his associates, the work produced by the team of Adam Woodruff + Associates is pleasurable and engaging. By combining herbaceous plants with woody ones, the resulting landscapes provide visual interest for all seasons.

A hearty Thank You to the team at Designers on Design for raising our awareness of an American treasure.


Flowers of Volunteer Park Conservatory; a book review

Flowers of Volunteer Park Conservatory, blooming month by month. Sara L. Chapman, published by Book Publishers Network

I belong to a community of over 3,000 garden writers where members are encouraged to evaluate each other’s work, by assigning votes to pleasing blog posts. The number of visitors each one receives also determines a member’s popularity. Ever since the creation of this garden community, almost four years ago, the most popular blogs, have been those offering spectacular photographs of flowers. Every day, talented photobloggers enchant their followers with close-ups of plants, otherwise impossible to appreciate with the naked eye.

When I first glanced at the first few pages of Ms. Chapman’s book, I realized that she, too, understands the power of the flower close up; immediately, I was blown away by her work. This visually entertaining book is a photographic phenomenon. – vivid colorful close-ups of flowers and plants, each page more beautiful than the next, and each featuring a plant at its zenith.

A hidden gem of Seattle, Washington’s park system, Volunteer Park Conservatory is one of the last Victorian glass conservatories in the U.S.  This historic venue is comprised of five houses: the Palm House displaying an incredible orchid collection; the Seasonal house with an ever-changing show of flowers in spring, summer, autumn, and winter; the Cactus House containing intriguing cacti, succulents, and flowers, the Fern House with tropical and carnivorous plants; and the Bromeliad House home to pineapple plants, air plants, and other exotic flowers.

The intention of the author has been to create a miniature coffee table book to share her personal view of the flowers as they change throughout the year. This work, based upon twelve monthly visits, showcases at their peak, magnificent, rare flowers and extraordinary foliage gathered from around the world.

Throughout the year, each of the houses is in a continuous state of flux, as extraordinary specimens are put on display when they come into bloom or bear unusual fruit. The conservatory is known also for its signature blend of perfect horticultural techniques with world- class, creative plant combinations. Inserted skillfully between the showpiece plants are complimentary foliage to enhance and create a seamless display. The result is a year-round, fluid, horticultural journey through five diverse bioregions. Ms. Chapman has artfully captured it all with this publication.

This reviewer cannot emphasize enough the intense pleasure conveyed by each group of seasonal pages. The images are so powerful, that admiring more than a few at a time might be overwhelming. Like a fine brandy, the contents of this photographic essay should be sipped slowly - a little bit at a time. The quality of the illustrations is so great that a reader can feel the healing beauty of the plants simply by admiring their photographs.

Award-winning nature photographer Sara L. Chapman is also a graphic designer, photoblogger, and gardener. Like Monet, she gardens to have good photo subjects. This book, offered both in hardcover and paperback, is available from or may be purchased directly from the author at