Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

September 21, 2009

Much About Mulch!

Filed under: mediums in OUR artform — glenn @ 5:48 pm

Why mulch?

About fifty years ago most suburban homeowners asked, “Why landscape my yard?  I like lawn.”  Trees and shrubs seemed in the way keeping neighbor from neighbor.  Fences were unfriendly.  These were the days of the spreading lawns; the openness of meadow where lots of kids could play with moms nearby.  No one talked much about mulch.

In many quarters today, moms and children have disappeared.  Fences are erected.  Garden rooms have replaced the meadow in some places.  In others foundation landscaping planted 50 years ago still struggles.  Here,  homeowners seem bothered that there is an outdoors at all.  Even in the city the grounds around a house remains a “yard”.  A place for kids, but there are no children.  Dogs bark.

Whereever today’s metropolitan house is set, however, there is likely to be found “mulch”.

Without ever having taken a scientific survey,  my eyes and work over the past 35 years have told me the mulch most frequently used somewhere around  that metropolitan house was stone…..either river rock or chipped limestone dumped over a spread of black plastic.    “No maintenance” demanded the homeowner.  “Low maintenance” pleads the more realistic 2009 Twin Cities’ homeowner.  “Stone mulch!”  answered the obedient landscaper.

And so, the home yard around the house  was covered with stone.

We, at Masterpiece, much appreciate this small measure of improvement in popular homeowner attitude toward “stone” and  “yard”….We are against both, for  we prefer the term “grounds”.  “Beautifying the Home Grounds” is so much more winsome in our world of landscape art than, “Beautifying the Home Yard”….don’t you agree?   And we prefer organic mulches.

Although we will gladly work the home yard, a homeowner should always be aware, our ultimate goal is to make the “grounds” beautiful, no matter how small or how ugly the home yard.

Until recently organic mulch was not much mulled over.  Commercial and government buildings alike…even  religious institutions led the way uglifying the beautiful verdant Earth with moonlike settings of crushed limestone or river rock around the structures they planned and built.   Beauty was never a consideration, so crushed limestone and river rock became the standard for home and commercial mulch “beauty”.  If one sees this moonscape here and everywhere, well, it must be beautiful, for the “experts” tell us so……and indeed, they did.

“Landscaping” classes at our  local State university and Vo-tech institutions told us so, recommending  stone mulchs, regardless how ugly, and taught the required calculations of the tonnages needed for the dumpings.  Beauty in the grounds always was an irritation, anyway!  Wasn’t it supposed to be in the “eye of the beholder”?  “Why can’t people “‘behold’  chipped stone and river rock everywhere?”  it might have been argued.

For the homeowner who would prefer not to make the Earth’s surface more ugly and lifeless, let us consider mulches other than the “stoned”.  Most have become available only recently.

In the modern homeowners’ vernacular mulch means a layer of some matter  laid over the ground to prevent the growth of weeds.

Usually there are two stated purposes beyond weed control  for using organic mulch as a soil covering around plants:   to conserve moisture and  prevent erosion.   If organic mulches are applied rather regularly around plants, they add organic matter to the area.  Moisture  and nutrients are rendered more available to plants on a more regular basis.

There are mulch chips, shredded mulch, and double shredded mulch; pine needle mulch, pine bark mulch  and pine chip mulch.  Add to this list,  hardwood bark, shredded hardwood bark, and hardwood chips, straw mulch, oak leaf mulch, cedar mulch, cypress mulch….even newspaper mulch.

Some mulches are dyed…..brown, tan, black or garrish….the look of something sold as “red”.   Some folks like garish.

Most homeowners concerned about landscaping as an art form generally prefer ones eye to flow from plant to plant rather from mulch to mulch, but there might be an exception.  What  if the garden is only of mulches?  Then one could  go wild using chipped white rock, blue trap rock, lava rock, pink quartz or recycled auto and truck tires as well as all those mulches already named.

Organic mulches will eventually break down and become “soil”.    The area  will need replacement mulch….so therein lies the complaint from the homeowner demanding low maintenance.

Only in the dead environment is there no maintenance.  But then, no one would be around to  enjoy the beauty of the landscapes we at Masterpiece  created.

September 15, 2009

Should One Tiptoe Through The Tulips?

Filed under: Bulbs — glenn @ 9:58 am

No.  Neither necessary or adviseable.  If you are a devoted landscape gardener, and you live in Minnesota, and I were in charge of your psychological well being, I would advise planting not tulips, but another “Dutch” bulb, the narcissus.  “Daffodil”  is the “street” name for these bulbs.

Are the bulbs in the world of the daffodil more beautiful than tulips?

Not in my view.  Nor likely in the view of the Dutch according to history.  Tulips offer a much, much broader rainbow of colors….blue is missing, but that is a difficult color to display with any genus of garden plants.   Most tulips have a very pleasant up close scent.  Others have very attractive foliage.

There is a tremendous difference, however, between growing narcissus  in ones landscape which raises the narcissus far above any other “Dutch” bulb in its value to make it more soothing to the gardener’s sense of well being.  A fact to remember:

Narcissus, i.e. daffodils are totally immune as food to any and all of your landscape garden visitors called RODENTS.

Usually when this fact is fully digested, the value of white and yellow in the spring garden suddenly dramatically increases.  As long as these bulbs are not planted  in peaty or other soils high in organic content, and they can get enough sun to a space not overly wired by elm or maple roots, most narcissus can last in their space for decades.

Some of the newer hybrids of tulips, no matter how beautiful they may be, often live for only a few seasons.  That may be true of some narcissus, but I have not yet noticed this.

Some narcissus are  strongly fragrant, some very tiny.

For those enjoying the beauty of well placed boulders in their landscape garden, home owners should, as a rule, plant dwarfish Dutch bulbs among the boulders in order to exaggerate the mass of the boulder rather that dwarf it.

Note:  Dutch bulbs are called “Dutch”, neither because they are tough on spending money, nor because they “pay” equally for the evening “out”, as in the expression, “going Dutch”.  Or even because they are native to Holland.

They are called “Dutch” because, when “independent” Holland was rising as a sea power exploring the world new to the human experience during the 17th century, it went beserk over the beauty of the tulip.  Fortunes rose and fell speculating on the value of the tulip bulb.  Narcissus were less valued.

Perhaps the Dutch had fewer menacing rodents in their landscapes.

September 9, 2009

What Is The Longest Landscape Season In Minnesota?

Filed under: winter landscapes — glenn @ 7:47 pm

Winter!  Yes, you guessed it…..or did you?   Some people forget that Winter is a landscape season.

Most Minnesotans divorce themselves from landscaping the home grounds for Winter.  What is there to do but shovel snow?  Garden fever begins sometime in February, but it  is a low grade  fever caused by impatience and garden magazines beginning to be noticed on various store shelves.   Then the garden catalogues arrive causing real angst.

Most Minnesotans pay no attention to how ugly their home landscaping is in Winter.  For many,  ugly landscaping is a 365 day per year experience both for homeowner and neighbors.  I know we are not supposed to judge. We are supposed  to make everyone feel like a champion, so let us just say that some home landscapes are not as joyful as others.

When I visited San Pedro Sula, Honduras recently, a city struggling to rise above  poverty with people of very modest means working to keep their home spaces clean and neat, I marveled at the efforts of folks maintaining their small spaces with shrubs and flowers.   The act itself says so much about the people who perform it.

Winter is the longest landscape season in Minnesota.  It lasts as long as all of the other seasons combined.    The Spring landscape begins roughly around May 1st in the Twin Cities lasting for about one month when foliage is no longer new.  Summer lasts until mid September, when the sumac begins to redden.  Autumn,  the season of the Fall of leaves, lasts until about November1.

How long is the winter landscape in Twin Cities, Minnesota, then….November 1 through April 30?  Well, let’s add it all up…about 180 days give or take a week or so.

Why do so many Minnesotans prefer to live in landscape misery for one half of each year of their lives living in the northland?

I think there are two main reasons.  One, it is difficult to plan ahead in general.  One must garden for winter beauty during another season  of the year, and  Two, not enough value is placed on coniferous evergreens in the northern garden. Gardens are too often limited to areas with colorful flowers.  Women traditionally  like these flowers and are usually confined to thinking flower gardens as their world.

But flower gardens don’t show much in Winter.  They are usually covered with the same depth of snow everything else is.  Deciduous shrubs, if there are any, look pretty dead without their leaves.  Elms lining city streets used to be an attraction in winter especially when they were well pruned, but they’re all gone now, replaced by a lot of mishmash.

Have you rated your own grounds on their Winter beauty, yet?  How many times a week do you walk through your Winter garden?  Have you ever noticed the beautiful Theodor Wirth park area in Minneapolis in Winter?  Are you lucky enough to live in or visit beautiful Duluth in Winter?  Or travel the highway near Taylor Falls or around Hackensack on your way to Bemidji?

No  garden of any other season  is more beautiful than a beautiful winter landscape garden!

Central to that beauty in Minnesota is the evergreen conifer.  When we at Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd.  evaluate landscape settings for our clients, we begin planning by establishing the design for winter setting.

No tree or shrub which is beautiful in Winter is ugly in other seasons of the year.  But there are many woody plants which may be beautiful in Spring, Summer, and Fall, but are truly repulsive to look at in Winter.  Remember, flowers, no matter how treasured in Spring or Summer, are almost always vacant in winter.

When are you going to begin your Winter Garden improvements?  How about starting as soon as possible?          Call us at Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd., at 952 933 5777.

September 8, 2009

Boulders in the Minnesota Landscape Garden

Filed under: boulders and stone,mediums in OUR artform — glenn @ 10:57 pm

Here in Minnesota boulders happen.  They were carved out from bedrock by glaciers and then dumped willy-nilly as the glaciers receded.  For decades farmers gathered the gatherable to get them out of the way of plowed fields.  Some still do.  Now, they  sell them.

Some boulders are more beautiful than others.  Some are larger, others more square than oblong.  Some are granite, others limestone.

Things “boulderlike” have become very popular in landscapes.  In the old iron mines up north, rock  outcrops are quarried and the products marketed….selling them to builders and landscapers.

For years the Minnesota landscape people have built boulder walls which resemble egg piles.  Roundish things often the same size piled and pushed by bobcat tightly one onto another  creating an enormous eye sore for you and future generations to view.

Not long ago the industry produced indescribably ugly reddish brown volcanic lava slag chunks and sold them as ground cover material to homeowners to “beautify the home garden”, hoping to stay up-to- date with their garden “arts”.  Minnesota homeowners still have tons of limestone chips or river rock dumped around their homes believing that making their ground look more like  moonscape enhances earth’s beauty.

I have lived at my property for 35 years.  There were no boulders, and, lucky for me, no river rock or limestone “mulch” which I would have had to remove when I moved there.  There was lawn, a tree or two, and more lawn.  And there were interesting gentle slopes and slight differences of elevation in the 1/2 acre space.  I like boulders naturally placed in the landscape.  Quarried rock can be beautifully arranged there as well.  But it does require more training  and skill to create naturalistic settings than placing garden items living or man made simply where space allows.

One sentence incorporating three questions is all that is needed to understand the rules of both plant arrangement and the placement of boulders:  “WHAT ARE YOU PLACING WHERE AND WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?

“Therein lies the rub!”

No special vocabulary is needed to answer these three questions.  What is required is an eye, a feel, and experience.  Please visit our masterpiecelandscape.com Website lineup of landscape pictures.  Of course I am biased but the guys who run Masterpiece Landscaping are very, very good at positioning the right plants, and the right stonework into the right places and combinations in the landscape.  But, see for yourself after you finish reading this article.

What can boulders in the garden do for you?

My general answer may be, perhaps nothing.  Some very astute gardeners deeply into landscape beautfy prefer a more formal, more gentle Earth setting.  One without boulders tends to quiet and soften a view with the living not the cold, brutal hardscape.  A rocky garden is less civilized and a less tranquill space than a rockless setting.  It suggests the wild rather than the cultivated.

In Minnesota, especially around the city of Duluth, some of the most beautiful rock anywhere can be seen.  Drop by the Lester Park area on the east side. Go to the streams rushing from the uplands onto the grand lake, Superior.  Boulders, rock standings, some bigger than a house expand ones imagination.

If in your landscape you wish to create or imply a stream, your work could not be believable without rock or boulders.  They make the water move laterally one way or another.  They create the width or narrowness of the believable stream.

Plants grow, but boulders do not.  This should always be remembered when determining plant-boulder space relationships.  Here we can have a problem with large plant forms near any boulders.  To repeat, plants grow, but boulders do not.

Boulders are expensive when set properly.  Frugal and stingy gardeners don’t “plant” boulders.  The stone itself may cost only $400 per ton, but how are you going to get the monstrosity home?  And then up a hill or around to the back grounds, and then how is it going to be set?  That is the art of it, isn’t it?    It takes time, skill, equipment and labor.

I am sorry to say that some “landscapers” simply dump boulders onto a spot.  The “dumper” claims when looking at what was dumped, that nature made it dump that way.  The next time you notice  boulders set in a landscape,  judge for youself the ones you think were dumped versus the ones you believe were set with beauty in mind.

Remember too, there always is a chance, maybe one in ten thousand, the boulder was dumped beautifully, so keep your betting money in your pocket.

Study those boulders you believe were set with beauty in mind and compare them with the dumps.  Then explain with a meaningful vocabulary what you believe the difference is.

Alot of politicians these days are trying to sell equality.  Landscapers and gardeners should remind them that that which is equally large, is equally small.

Sand, masses of sand are particles roughly of equal size.  Boulders in arrangements of equal sizes are usually boring and in all ways uninteresting….pressing on the monotonous.  Manufactured boulders are repulsive to look at.

A flat piece of land is usually associated with a more formal garden.  It is the environment most associated with gal gardeners.  In general, they prefer flowers, the more the better.  To them garden means flowers.  Not that they were born fixed in this belief.  There are many practical, reasonable reasons for this…You think of some.

I have noticed a wonderful trend over the past ten years or so, however.  Lots of our best clients, (sorry guys, most of them are women….guys are needed to help pay the bills), absolutely love boulder settings.  Not all of them are in the suburbs either.

Some of the most beautiful grounds of all, in my prejudiced view, where boulders are central to the feel of the verdant landscape, are in small city lots, one in dinkytown and another in St. Louis Park.

There are many asides to boulders in the garden.  Daylilies often are made more beautiful not far from one or some.  Creeping evergreens, expecially Japgarden Junipers next to, around, creeping onto or away from boulders, never fail from causing a sigh of approval   when seen.

Another mentionable, one tends to lose far fewer  pruning shears, trowels, cultivators, hand tools of all kinds in gardens where  there are boulders around,  especially those not dumped.   That is, if one trains to set them as tables where these tools can be safely if temporarily positioned when the gardener moves on to another task.

Then there is the sitting boulder.  In the dinky town garden the front area was landscaped with sitable boulders for a seating of six to eight.  The lady client had a book club of six to eight regular members and looked forward to an occasional outdoor setting.   No garden furniture needed to be moved into position.

Boulders offer more to a successful landscape than what I have mentioned here.  I wouldn’t want to reveal  all we know about their uses in these blog articles.  Otherwise, there might not be a need for you readers to call us to help keep us in business.