Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

August 13, 2010

What Catalogs Don’t Tell Us About Mature Conifer Plant Sizes

Filed under: About Masterpiece,garden maintenance,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 5:06 pm

I am looking at a nursery wholesale catalog….a guide which carries a paragraph or less to inform the unknowing a bit about the nature of the plant.  Information located there is made available by a number of sources.  It could be from the original plant propagator, a plant salesman, or a university professor in the horticultural department.

In the landscape architect’s world knowing names of individual plants is seldom important, except perhaps for billing.  Plants are know as “green statements”, or color statements……a tall statement…..or something ‘broad’.  

I happen to like arborvitaes and have often claimed to classes which I have taught, that it is the plant genus the Minnesota landscape garden could not do without.  

There are dozens of cultivars and varieties of arborvitae….(Thuja).

In my wholesale catalog I notice that the height of the Degroot’s arborvitae, one of my favorite evergreen uprights,  is stated at six feet with a width of two feet.  Height 6′, width  2’…..and that is it. 

I am looking at one of my many Degroot’s arborvitaes in my own landscape garden, one about twelve years in my possession which was about 3 feet tall when I planted it.  I am also reminded of the three or four magnificent specimens Masterpiece planted at a Riviera Road property in Sartell, Minnesota in the mid 1990s, all of them two and a half feet wide but now over twenty feet tall.

There seems to be some problem in communication here.

Why the discrepancy?

One, and a good answer, may be that no one really knows how tall a Degroot’s arborvitae might reach under ideal circumstances.   There are so many new conifer cultivars now on the market, no one has yet seen some of them as mature specimens.   

Chamaecyparis are relatively new to the Minnesota landscape plant market.   The most popular one is sold as “King’s Gold” or “Sun Gold” which closely resembles an arborvitae.   They are sold as shrubs.   

 I open my wholesale catalog to the “Chamaecyparis, King’s Gold”  page, and I am informed that the plant upright size is one to two feet and its width is 3 feet.   No further information is offered.   The purchaser, whether home owner or professional landscaper, or someone somewhere in between might not know that if a King’s Gold Chamaecyparis were left alone to grow well on a favorable site, it would become a fifteen to twenty foot tall, conifer tree with drooping foliage about eight to nine feet wide.

It is sold as a shrub for a number of reasons…..One can sell twenty shrubs of a cultivar to every tree form of that cultivar, and Chamaecyparis are slow growing.  Even though it is genetically destined to become a small tree, regular pruning can keep its size to around six or seven feet in height. 

Another example of misinformation or lack of information  usually goes with selling the Japanese Yew.   There is a spreader variety…..labeled “Taunton”, and an upright  called “Capitata”.   If neither are ever pruned, and  allowed to grow to maturity under good conditions, both will become huge…..if twenty five feet wide and twenty five feet tall would count as huge. 

The Taunton Yew is one of the most common conifers used in  foundation plantings.   One of its best features is that it not only tolerates shade including deep  shade, it flourishes in shade.  

On one property of a regular client of ours in a space of about 30 square feet in the front area of this beautiful house, there were planted 16 Taunton Yews by the Landscape Architect.   In time one plant could have covered the entire space.  To be understanding of the Architect or Landscaper, most homeowners don’t have the patience to wait fifteen years for the full character this wonderful conifer could develop. 

One of my favorite landscape trees for the Twin City scene is the Sunkist Arborvitae or  its identical twin called Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae.  Both are ‘scheduled’ to reach 8 feet tall and three feet wide.  Since that is all the information catalogs offer, one assumes that that is its mature size.

It is a wrong assumption.    Three of the Sunkists on my own grounds are all over fifteen feet tall and the king of the hill in the front garden is over eight feet wide.   I prefer them to have foliage to the ground so you can see theydo take up some space which the catalogs did not include.

I have good soil and an effective irrigation system.  Both add tremendously to the healthful growth of the vast majority of trees if not all. 

If reliable watering is not available for arborvitaes, they will not reach such heights.  Generally, many of the junipers hardy in our area are more tolerant of some drought and somewhat poorer soil.  But when on good soil, fertilized and watered properly, many, both upright and spreaders are shocking (and very beautiful) in the size they  can reach. 

My favorite upright Juniper is the Hetz Columnar.  Height size is listed in catalogs as fifteen to twenty feet.  If  planted in good loamy soil and  its location is in full sun and is regularly watered, Hetz Columnar can reach double that listed height in  ten to twelve years.

A beautiful spreading juniper is Hughes.  It is marked as six feet wide and only a foot tall, which makes it  seem like a modest ground cover…..for full sun as the catalog informs its reader.  Most, if left to grow unencumbered in to space, will surpass fifteen feet in diameter and reach only two feet in height in its normal life span. 

We seldom see these beautiful conifers in their full size.  In the future perhaps those who write statistics for catalogs will  provide more accurate  information about the  adult  sizes of these woody plants, so the consumer or the consumer’s representative can make better choices for the home grounds.

August 6, 2010

Korean Angelica (Angelica gigas)

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 11:22 pm

Last year I had a grounds crowded with Korean Angelica.  I wasn’t pleased with the location of the various populations.   I have grown Gigas now for about 8 years.  We are  at a point where I limit the number of those permitted to mature to about 400.  Well, 200 plus, anyway.  I have removed over 300 not counting the seedlings which keep popping up all summer.   Fortunately, they are easy to cull or transplant.

Then, because Gigas  (Korean Angelica) is a biennial, I permit a number of first year plants to fill their space with a pleasant, but modest form this year, to show their magnificent presence and displays next year.

And what a display they are this season!   They began to open their seedheads (floral displays) about a week and a half ago.   With each tier of flowerheads still opening,  the maroon of the ‘bloom’ is beginning to dominate.  They are the most striking herbaceous plant in the gardens. 

Some plants are over nine feet tall.   The first opening  flowerheads begin to lose color after about seven to ten days as the seeds are developing.  The foliage is strong and beautifully formed with leaves and their stems  often over two feet in length.  

In one area of floral  display, the strong-stemmed gigas keep a dozen or so garden phlox beautifully erect.  There is no room to fall faint.

The seeds mature quickly and can be sewn in the fall as well as in the spring.  I often pull out the dried up plant and with sturdy central cane and all, I walk around the grounds where I want the plant to dominate shaking seeds from the plant like salt from a salt shaker.   The seeds are large enough to be individually counted. 

There is one color, maroon, the plant has to offer.  The manner of floral display is also striking.  Around the third week in July one of the new branch leaf growths will appear to contort and curl, and rise somewhat vertically.  The growth swells until the maroon begins to be exposed.

I liken the plant form to a huge very striking candlebrum with eight or so arms showing of the maroon collections.  Some central stems are thicker and stronger than a corn stalk. 

Korean Angelica will grow happily in deep shade as well as full sun.   It prefers to be regularly watered.   I have grown plants in a size one pots.  There they  grow to only two feet, but nearly all will present a bloom or two despite the restrained root space.  My nine foot tall specimens are reliably watered every other day for 15 minutes, and are very impressive in stature as well as bloom. 

I use a balanced granulated fertilizer each spring.

August 2, 2010

The Disappearance of Beauty and the Landscape Garden

Filed under: The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 5:07 pm

Our company, Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd., was invited to participate in a Garden Party last Thursday.  It was a fund raiser for the Friends of Roseville Parks held at the lovely grounds of Tom and Mona Dougherty.  Over 300 people attended. 

There were many programs offered to provide entertainment and learnings to the attendees.  I and Mike Berg of our Masterpiece staff were among the speakers.

I wanted to emphasize the importance of beauty as the fundamental goal in the development of the landscape garden.  Beauty and beautiful are words seldom used in the garden world these days.  I happened to notice while at the offices of the Horticultural Society in Roseville a few weeks ago, that of 80 or more topics offered by folks signed up for the Society’s speaker’s list, NOT A ONE MENTIONED THE WORD OR ANY RELATIVE OF THE WORD, ‘BEAUTY’.   Not a one mentioned landscaping as an art form.  

I mentioned in my presentation that beauty is no longer  respected in art,  any art.  It apparently is out of date.   Where is beauty expressed  in any of the more common art forms…music?  theater?  painting?  poetry?  literature?

In landscaping and gardening usually the instrutments of the trade don’t let us down.   The flowers themselves are colorful, trees might be shapely and not dying, shrubs occasionally are seen not hacked back to control their size, and evergreens when healthy are still beautiful, especially in winter.

But beyond the instruments themselves, little attention is paid to achieve beauty  in the home grounds…..and the flowers, shrubs, trees, and all of the evergreens, these instruments of beauty become neglected and begin to deteriorate.   Others  grow beyond the spaces allotted.  

Gardens, like people, gain character with age.    A bit of knowledge can help good character.

By ‘garden’  we usually refer to a space of ground where flowers are grown for display.   We usually don’t think of foundation plantings as gardens, but as a display of plants to cover the foundation of the house whether that foundation needs cover or not.

Most home owners don’t know if their foundations need cover.   Most landscape designers don’t either….foundation plantings are a habit….it’s a given.

Almost all landscaping itself,  as practiced for generations, is a display of lawn, and a display or two of other plant material.   And, in my 60 years of being aware of home landscaping, there can be no doubt that many of  these displays are  more attractive that they used to be.

There are more materiasl from which to choose.  Until recently there has been a bit more money available to spend on decorating the home grounds with various displays of plants.

Little of this has to do with a lancscape garden.   A landscape garden is to be entered.  Yes, it is a piece of land, but that piece of land is to be developed not to display plants as displays, but mimic nature and  idealize  nature as the human eye and mind dictate. 

Privacy, or at least the illusion of privacy, is vital. 

How does a home owner develop such grounds?

The landscape garden requires space, but it can be created in the “front yard” or the back, or both, of almost every 45′ by 100′ of a typical rectangular Twin City home lot.

Would you buy a house in which every room is a kitchen…..or the rooms are all livingrooms?

Why do we landscape our “yards” into two rooms at most…..the front yard and the back yard?

Foundation plantings out front, a  spiraea or three or five, some hostas, a lot of river rock, and a linden tree or a dying Colorado spruce  in the middle of the front ‘yard’.   In grounds where  plantaholics live, every space is filled with plants.  That is what space is for….to fill with plants.  More plants will be bought and placed whereever there might be an opening.

Occasionally, some beauty might break out, but the best one can usually achieve is to be noted as a person who is a plantaholic.

I have coined a phrase which tells all there is to know about the rule of achieving beauty in the art of landscaping……”What do you plant where, and why did you do it?”   Three questions as one…..but the most important question is “Why did you do it?”

However practical it may be to answer the question, “Why did you place that particular plant at that particular location?” with “Because that was the only space available”, you may find comfort in being among the 98%  who will answer the same, but you’ll never get anywhere as a plantaholic except collect plants.

“Because I like it there!” is not a satisfactory answer either, unless  you   explain why.  When you can explain rationally why you like something beautiful, you have taken  the most important step in becoming a successful landscape garden artist. 

Gals, this might be difficult to do, but give it a serious try.

Give us a call at Masterpiece Landscaping  for more information about establishing landscape gardens on your home or business grounds.   We offer garden tours and addresses of beautiful gardens which contain beautiful displays, but in a ‘cathedral’ of a landscape garden.