Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

August 25, 2009

Visiting the Minnesota Landscape Garden

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 8:59 am

Visiting a landscape garden in Minnesota is not at all like going to a museum or art institute.  In our northern community seasons move quickly.  Today’s garden will never again be seen.  Color, size and form relationships are constantly changing.  Today’s shadows are new.  Colors may fade by tomorrow.

Usually the museum shows its wares in the same places yesterday, today, and tomorrow…somewhat more similar to a landscape garden in California. 

One of the most beautiful landscape gardens I have ever seen is the Botannical garden  in Edinburgh, Scotland.    Heather and evergreen conifers…that was about it for plant selection.   Not much seemed to change from season to season on a cloudy day despite its enticing beauty.  But when the sun did shine the shadows it cast were  strikingly different winter from summer.

When talking “Landscape gardening in Minnesota” to local garden groups, listeners seemed to think a one time visit to  a beautiful grounds  divulged the whole landscape picture.  “Oh yes, I visited that garden a couple of years ago,”  as if things had been fixed in cement.  If she had returned to the same scene only two weeks later, or in August rather than May, there could have been and entirely different sight.

When visiting smaller grounds we have landscaped  years ago, it is relatively easy to determine  when in the Minnesota growing season we had originally done the work.   Are there more hydrangeas than azaleas,  hotlips turtlehead  rather that Bergenia?   Redbuds and Magnolias used to be sold out at the wholesalers by the end of June, so we planted Pagoda dogwoods in late summer where a smaller tree was needed.

In my own landscape garden the high seasons of beauty are early May, late May through mid June, again in mid July until a few years ago, but  more recently has become early August, then again early to Mid October.   The winter garden is spectacular the entire 5 months of  real winter if I can keep the deer out.

August 24, 2009

Words, Landscaping, and Living in “Paradise”

Filed under: The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 9:15 am

In every topic of life there are potential problems with language.  I am a language aware person.  One of my favorite courses of study ever was trying to learn Latin in High School.  I learned to love words, their mysteries and meanings.

In landscape gardening we have troubles with the word “garden” and all its relatives.

“Landscape” gardening has meaning, but I am not certain very many Americans know how to define it.  Let’s try, “The art of Beautifying the grounds.”  This won’t work because there are so many con-artists in modern life throwing garbage all over the earth and call it “art”.  We live in modern times where in American life words don’t necessarily have to have meaning.  They are to be used in any way one has a feeling to use them.  Aren’t we Americans a free peoples?

So, “the art of Beautifying the grounds’ won’t work for people who really want to communicate knowledge…another rare thing in modern times.

How about, “the art of Beautifying the grounds with plants”?  Oh, I have always liked that art, “Beautifying the grounds with plants”, even when I was performing it long before I understood what it meant.  That is, what I was doing when playing in the sandbox as a child using arborvitae twigs as my trees.

At Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd.  we love what we do, but we don’t landscape in sandboxes, so something has to be added to the word “landscaping” and that is “garden”.

A garden may be a vegetable garden, a flower garden, a rose garden, and even a beer garden.

In its broadest terms expressed as an art, “a landscape ‘garden”‘ is a piece of land made beautiful by a clever arrangement of plants”.  I am proud to ‘blog’ that  we at Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd. created this definition.

In one sentence,  “What plants do you put where and why did you do it”  we have described our challenge.

If you and I were to go on tour to study 21st century expressions of  the art of landscape “gardening” of our Twin City home and business grounds, I think we would turn to drink if “beauty” had any meaning at all. We would be depressed if we had a vocabulary to describe its violations as an expression of art.

At home grounds of structures built as houses over the past 40 years, the grounds “decorated” were planned as  after thoughts by the builder who had no money left for the art (or no art) of landscaping, and had no idea beyond University master plan one or University master plan two, guides to cover the Earth,which to this day still govern the habits of home owners when reviewing the look of their home grounds.

So many of our Masterpiece Landscaping Ltd. clients have become our regular, well, friends.  I live in a “landscape paradise”.  Wouldn’t you have a special place in your schedule for landscapers who created a “Paradise” in the grounds where you live?

Call us at 952-933-5777.   We shall show you what we mean by the Art of Landscaping and creating ones landcape “Paradise”.

August 21, 2009

Weeding in the Rain

Filed under: garden maintenance — glenn @ 9:47 am

A weed is a plant out of place.  Goldenrod is not a weed, unless it is out of place.  Elms, maples, basswoods, and Ohio buckeyes can be beautiful trees, but they are major weeds in the garden as seedlings because they are out of place.

Many oak seedlings in my garden are not necessarily out of place.  I often let them grow for several to many years, especially if they are white oak seedlings…in my view the most beautiful large deciduous shade tree in Minnesota.  Over the years I can always decide if and when these “oaklings” become weeds.

I enjoy weeding.  It is harder every year to manipulate the body in as many directions as it used to be, but I try.  Weeding causes the weeder to view garden plants up close.  One can better see individual plants amid  neighbors.

The best time to weed is after a three day rain such as we have experienced in the Twin City area this week.  The ground is deeply moistened…dandelions don’t have a chance.  Yesterday, I weeded alone at a client’s grounds made beautiful by the homeowner’s  arrangement of evergreens, but plagued with weeds big and small, volunteers and those  planted by mistake.

Some plants are by habit called weeds.  Others are wonderfully weedy, but not really a weed,  for they almost are never out of place.  They just spread and occasionally must be, well, contained.   A good example is evening primrose.  My Minnesota garden would never be without evening primrose, “Oenothera fruticosa.”

Evening primrose likes garden life, so it enjoys enlarging its space.  It will grow and bloom in nearly any manner of light, soil, and average moisture without any interference from the gardener.  One will always know where the plant is, for it hides nothing underground as does  horrible weeds such as Creeping bellflower or Quackgrasses.  When one sees evidence of their presence in the garden, it should be understood the real evil is already running all over underground looking for other perennials to hook up with.   The results are not at all pretty.

Yesterday, with the moistened Earth, I pulled over two dozen huge, deep rooted, mature dandelions and got every one of them, root and all.  What pleasure.  (Such joy must be similar to the enjoyment our local feral cat feels after cleaning our gardens of chipmunks, and rabbits, except, unlike some “nature” people, I don’t eat dandelions.)

I control weeds in my small lawn area with fertilizer plus type grass “food” applications.  Otherwise, I have not used other plant killers in my landscaped garden.  I do alot of pulling while I enjoy my stroll along the  garden paths.

August 19, 2009

Grooming The Landscape Garden

Filed under: Pruning — glenn @ 5:25 pm

The landscape gardener is constantly evaluating the state of the gardened grounds.

During these weeks of  tired summer there generally is more color throughout the grounds than at other seasnons.   Herbaceous plants are bigger, paths become narrower, and there is no space left for the chrysanthemums you were planning on buying to shore up the autumn look.

This is a good time for grooming the garden.  Tools are needed.  Quality tools, not those cheaply made types.  Hand pruners, lopper, hedge shears, small garden saw, large garden saw, garden spade  make up the classic collection.  Flat spade might also be used if edging had not been done earlier in the season.  Leaf rakes and snow shovels are seasonal implements which might involve some grooming.

I rarely wander through my garden without my hand pruners.  My eyes automatically draw me to the disorderly and if it is prunable, almost without a thought my mental machine has removed the offending form.  I call this grooming.   The hand pruners is the most important tool for grooming garden plants.

Removing all or some of  the flower stalks from my huge hostas, (some stalks quite ugly even when in bloom) can be done at the same time one strolls through the garden admiring its beauty.

If one can stroll through ones grounds at any season and not notice beauty, dear fellow Americans….there is something very wrong with arrangements made on your grounds!Home is not quite home as it should be.  (Time to call us at Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd..952-933-5777 !)

If your home is like mine, every year expanding government is expanding taxes on my landscape garden where my house is located.  Government does not often tax garden beauty, yet, so I want the best visual and spiritual return for my tax dollar as I walk up and down the paths of my paradise.

Major reforming of more mature woody plants should almost always be done in early spring.  This activity is not to be considered grooming.  It often involves  major surgery.  Garden saws, pole saws, loppers, spade shovels, are among the tools more commonly used for this kind of heavy duty grooming.  An axe might be needed in a final analysis, especially if all else goes wrong.  We can review the surgery in another blog entry.

As one passes the Winged Euonymus or the Pagoda Dogwood in the August garden, one might notice sprigs arising from an otherwise clean and attractive bark.  Or certain branchings don’t look right.  Here, the garden loppers come into use.  Eventually your trained eye will have your  pruners removing these objects of discontent without the thought ever bothering the mind.  This is a good stage of landscape garden education for these little grooming acts can be done almost subconsciously.  They will not interfere with the sweet elixir of  pleasure caused  by the beauty of your landscape as you stroll, almost in a trance, admiring all of the pictures you and Nature have created……

……..that is, if your plants have been cleverly chosen, have been placed in their proper locations, and you know why you have done what you have done.  Once your artistry has reached the combination of all three of these skills, you have passed the elementary school of fortunate luck.

One of the unfortunate causes for  atrocious home grounds landscape gardening  in general,  is that even in the most disorderly designs there might be  a degree of attraction  if  just one “something” in the grounds is in bloom.   Ugliness in the landscape is often very public.  One has to enter a theater to see a bad movie, play, or opera, and usually has to even buy a ticket to get in.  One can easily avoid reading corrupt newspapers or a mess of a book or staring at blank or otherwise stupid canvases called modern art.

It is very difficult however to avoid mishandled landscape gardens created or not created in the name of art.  A broken urn behind three petunias and a marigold, bed springs placed delicately as if growing beside a small spring, a Baby’s Breath covered with Creeping Charlie behind a bicycle tire with  a sign leaning on it announcing  “LOVE”  …… all of this rich meaning in the front yard and unscreened.  Yet, it  will be seen by every innocent  who had the misfortune to  take a wrong turn and had to see it whether he or she wanted to or not.

In another neighborhood, such as the Whitney Museum , given a twist of a title such as “American Injustice”, a New Yorker  might be thrilled to pay $107 plus sales and entertainment tax for a ticket and feel modern and correct doing so.  Yet, another may not and could easily avoid doing so by remaining outdoors.

In closing this blog article I must add a couple other instruments useful when grooming the landscape garden….FINGERS, especially the thumb and its index neighbor.  Supple knees and a good back able to endure stretching are good accompaniments.

One bends at the knees reaches for a “weed”, defined as a plant out of place, hopefully a pullable one, and pulls it.

Most landscape gardeners do enjoy this ritual. I do.  One feels so clean after a period of such an intimate exercise,  especially when the disorder comes out of its habitat root and all.  Oh, the pleasure of it all.

August 11, 2009

To Prune or Not to Prune?

Filed under: Pruning — glenn @ 6:11 pm

To prune or not to prune during late summer? Not in September, landscape gardeners. …not unless you have no choice or the pruning will be very light.  We are refering to woody plants, of course.

As a generalization, the best time to prune  your woody plants is in early spring……with the exceptions:  1) certain deciduous plants whose blooms you value and want to show off during the coming season,  and 2) certain evergreen conifers such as pine, fir,  and spruce.   Plants in both of these categories should not be pruned in late summer or fall.

Pruning out broken limbs, die back, or very light corrective pruning  usually can be done at any time of the year.

Some deciduous shrubs can be pruned to the very ground in late fall and produce beautifully the next spring.  The smokebushes, (Cotinus) hardy usually in the Twin City area is an example.  Black Lace Elderberry is another.

Most arborvitae, juniper, hemlock and yew can be trimmed or gently reshaped in late summer or autumn.  Radical pruning is not recommended.

Those flowering deciduous shrubs whose blossoms you cherish, should be pruned immediately after their peak blooming season.  French lilacs, then,  would be pruned sometime around June 15th, a bit later for the late blooming varieties such as Donald Wyman or Minuet.  VanHouttei Spiraea, often called northern bridal wreath spiraea,  blooms around Memorial Day in the Twin City area, and should be pruned at the same time as the French lilacs.  Most of the rest of the spiraeas develop their flower buds during the same time  as their new spring foliage, called “new wood”.  French lilacs developed their flowering buds the previous late summer and fall  along with last years foliage, which wood would be called “old wood”.

Acid in the Landscape Garden

Filed under: Plant health — glenn @ 9:09 am

By August landscape gardeners may begin to notice certain woody plants….both evergreen and deciduous… have developed a yellow look.  Yes, the foliage is decidedly not the green true to the plant’s healthier past.  What’s going on?

Unless the plant is in death mood, by which one might already notice leaf drop, what is going on ….is,  the plant is going chlorotic, meaning turning yellow due to chlorosis, the inability of the plant to take in certain nutrients.  The soil has become less acid.  The plant, one might say…or blog…is starving.

Plants typically affected are magnolias, azaleas, larch, Scot’s pine, white pine,  oak…and many, many more acid soil loving plants.  This disorder is more common on grounds with irrigation systems.  Treated city water is  alkaline.  Over a long period of time artificial watering of ones garden can exacerbate the problem.

In addition some local soils are less acid than others.  One does not have to run off to get a soil sample, only to know how to correct a local problem in the garden.

There are three soil acidifiers on the market, aluminum sulphate, ammonium sulphate, and garden sulphur.  All are somewhat different remedies to the same problem.

Ammonium sulphate is a fertilizer as well as a soil acidifier.  Ammonium tells us it provides nitrogen.   It should not be used, therefore, if one does not want to add nitrogen to a plant’s soil environment, such as in August or September when, especially young plants, might be stimulated to delay hardening off, that is, acclimating for the coming harsh season.  Landscape gardeners and others call that season, “winter”, and like our plant relatives sense it as our bleak season.

Aluminum sulphate is a granulated acidifier, usually added to a certain amount of water, and is made almost available “medicine” for the suffering plant to ingest.  If you are growing sweet corn in your landscape garden…an interesting artistic maneuver, to be sure, chlorotic plants might show color improvement in a few days.

Garden sulphur, like aluminum sulphate, is not a fertilizer.  Its effect to the soil environment is the same as aluminum sulphate, except it takes alot longer to be used by plants.  Garden sulpher is to be sprinkled onto the soil around the suffering plants and worked into the soil.  Water the area after application and then be patient.

August is a good time to cure chlorosis problems in your landscape garden.  Mature plants  may need many, many treatments.

August 7, 2009

The Winter Burn on Conifers Mystery

Filed under: Plant health — glenn @ 1:47 pm

One of the great mysteries of landscaping in Minnesota is knowing all of the elements involved which cause so-called “winter burn” on our garden coniferous evergreens.  We do know exposure to the winter sun especially in mid to late winter, the location and genus of the “victim” are all contributing factors.

We also noted that the winter of 2008-2009 was one of the worst winters for winter burn.  We noted that some yews in full sun facing south or southwest in full exposure, in front of a stucco structure showed not a millimeter of any winterburn.  We also observed many Taunton spreader yews allegedly resistant to winter burn in full shade covered with brownout  byApril first.

We concluded that there are a variety of factors which cause winter injury to  susceptible evergreen conifers, not least of which is late summer watering and plant exposure to winter wind.

With autumn soon upon us, we will be confronted with “to water? or not to water? from mid October into November until snowfall.

I never had winterburn on any evergreen for 35 years on my grounds until the winter of 2007-2008.  I owned about 25 yews displayed one place or another in my landscape. My irrigation system is usually turned off around October 24th.  I was alarmed for yews when well grown and groomed are elegant shrubs or trees.  Most are located under some canopy of deciduous tree, just shady enough, I felt, to warrant confidence my plants were safe from winterburn…as they appeared to be for 33 years.

Last autumn as an experiment, I decided to stop irrigating the garden three weeks earlier, thinking I had allowed these yews to go into winter without sufficiently acclimating to the harsher temperatures and the winter environment in general.  I lost nearly 200 years of yew plant growth on my property, including a tree 25 feet tall.  Many lost were located in deep shade.

There have been some professional studies regarding winter burn on conifers in general, but information from them has been contradictory.  Some encourage watering regularly until snowfall.  Others recommend easing off on watering gradually in order “to toughen” the plants up.

On one point studies recommend…do not, as a rule, fertilize coniferous evergreens after  August 1.  Encouraging new growth on the plants delays “hardening” them off for the cold season.

Many “Fish” in the Minnesota Evergreen Pond

Filed under: Plant health — glenn @ 11:07 am

The garden season this year, 2009, in the Twin Cities metropolitan area has been one of the driest and coolest in recorded history.  As a generalization we can predict that signs of autumn will arrive earlier and the coming winter will be earlier,  longer, and probably snowier.

The observing home owner will notice that foliage toward the  interior of  pines, arborvitae, junipers, especially and in general, of all evergreen conifers in our climate will begin to turn yellow.  Folks become alarmed thinking some disease has infested their evergreens.

In fact, however, there is nothing to worry about, for nature is doing nature’s thing.  These evergreen conifers are simply shedding the oldest needles of their crop as they do every autumn.  It is as predictable as a sugar maple or any other deciduous shade tree shedding all of its leaves at the end of each growing season.  We usually expect this ritual of nature in October, after all, that’s why we own leaf rakes.

Most Minnesota home owners call all coniferous evergreens “pines”.  My pine this and my pine is doing that…..even though the evergreen tree might not be a pine at all, but an arborvitae, or a spruce, a chamaecyparis, or yew, here a juniper or there a fir or hemlock.   Not all Minnesota evergreens are equal!

There are many “fish” in the Minnesota evergreen pond.  Most are easily distinguished one from another.

We at Masterpiece Landscaping  would like to invite interested home owners to learn more about these “pines” and their care, by offering a two hour session at our gardened grounds in Minnetonka tentatively scheduled for Saturday, August 29, at 9:30 AM.  Attendance limited to 20.  Call us at 952 933 5777 for further information.  There will be no admission charge.