Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

December 30, 2010

Your House in the Landscape…….

Filed under: The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 6:14 pm

The word suburb was not invented in 1950.  It was used in landscaping a century earlier, but meant something different…..It referred to a part of a city’s ‘vacant’ environs which hadn’t yet been platted.  This was true also in 1950.  The population in both centuries was exploding.  Homes had to be built.  It was the American dream that rich and poor, and everything in between would live in  a better society if every American family had its  own “God’s little acre”.

With home ownership would come the responsibility of proper management, the opportunity for artistic individuality, not necessarily of style of house, but of style of grounds.   Trees, almost always elms planted  along the streetside of Midwestern towns and cities would prove the neighborhood was civilized and not a haphazard  farmshack  or forest hovel.  American Christian neighborliness was to be a community experience with home grounds privacy.

Moreover the automobile had not yet arrived.

In 1950 American were moving to a new suburb…..a community away politically and sometimes even geographically far enough away from the central city where people could be FREE of the city…….a city where frontsides had to be nearly always the same…..where walkways were fixed and steps controlled by the city usually to satisfy labor union requirements but passed off as safety features…..where alleys were congested.

In 1950 Americans were having a lot of little Americans.  For 20 years the society was under stress from the Great Depression and then World War II.   Few homes could be built.   Who had the money or felt the security necessary to make moves for ones family?  Homes simply were not being built during those decades.   No one could pay for them.

With the end of the war Americans began to accumulate a few dollars rebuilding the war torn parts of the world.  The population was buying cars and refrigerators again.  I remember when my parents bought our first refrigerator, in about 1947 or 48….a Norge to replace our icebox….about the same time we got our first television set, a Philco eleven inch black and white set…brand new.  My Dad bought his first ‘fancier’ car….one above the mass produced variety….a second hand  DeSoto…. replacing the  second-hand 1941 Plymouth four-door he had bought in early 1942. 

The bulging population was being moved to the first ring suburbs…..St. Louis Park, Roseville, Mounds View, New Brighton, Richfield, Edina,  most of which were still designed according to city platting.  Same steps, same alleys, sames sidewalks, same lot sizes with a few one car attached garages facing the street.   Eventually, occasionally, there appeared a variety of lot size and shape.   Some ponds saved others drained.  Some neighborhoods were designed to fit the grounds and space allotted, others were not.

In some locations homes became bigger on lots which were smaller……’Castles on a postage stamp lot.”

And finally, once beautiful acreages of older estate homes were bought up and divided into city sized lots for more houses on smaller lots…..and then the colllapse of the  housing industry.

What does all of this have to do with Landscaping your home?  

Landscaping the home grounds is at its very best, an art form.   Ones grounds  is more than a canvas upon which to paint  beauty.  It is  three dimensional.   It is to be entered.  In most situations it is an outdoor additional ‘room’ or a number  of rooms to offer variety to family  homelife.

The modern American moves often, not only from house to house, but from city to city and state to state.  Houses are bought and sold much more frequently than generations ago.

Central to the home grounds is the house itself.   Almost invariably, then, central to the art of landscaping the home grounds is the house itself.

When the population was more romantic about owning homes, the house and lot had greater appeal…..even if lots were small.   If one planted a maple in ‘the back yard’, it was likely the homeowner would live long enough living in the same residence to enjoy its  growth and ‘benefits’ for decades.    Despite the mistakes which were constantly made regarding choice of tree, there was pride expressed  when the homeowner could say, “I had that planted”….or “I planted that in 1960”.)

Once the house and garage have been built on the property, the biggest mistakes  the home owner can make on the home grounds has  to do with planting a tree or trees…..Planting the wrong tree and Planting a tree in the wrong place.  

Wrong trees almost always were elms, silver maples, sugar maples, weeping willows, green ash and honey locusts because they would grow far too large for the space provided.  This was especially the case when ranch houses and ramblers were the offered  style of house architecture.  In no time the once modest-sized, britle-wooded silver maple became 50 feet on dangerous branchings of britle wood, hovering high above a structure more pancake in appearance than rambler.

Wrong locations may also include planting fruit-bearing trees where they will  branch over driveways or well-used walkways….or large shade producing evergreens on the south side of  driveways or parking areas where in winter the sun is shaded from melting the ice over the pavement.

Wrong choices may also include fruit trees or nut trees which attract varmints…..undesireables.  Ohio Buckeye, any of the oaks and apples.  And remember that some trees are far weedier than others with the definition of weed confined to mean, “a plant out of place”.

So often trees are so revered they are planted whether the tree is a value to anything or not.  

It is my view that in the majority of home grounds were trees have grown to maturity, most are an artistic detraction to the house which they should be embellishing.

Homeowners usually do not remove trees from their property unless they are uprooted by nature.  It took me five years to build enough determination  to  remove  my  70 foot tall, 60 year-old elm, a survival of the Dutch elm disease epidemic from my front garden November a year ago.

Removing such large trees is an expense as well.   But for most homeowners, removal of trees is simply a no no.

Trees are to be planted in locations where there is good reason to plant them.   Such reason can be romantic…..I happen to value white pines enormously.   I love their smell, sound stature, greenery and touch.   I just love owning them….My favorite tree genus for our Twin City, Minnesota is  Thuja….for it produces the widest selections for evergreen conifer choice.  

I also have to own a white oak. 

I am totally taken by glorious landscape beauty……the beauty of a specimen tree or shrub is striking, eye catching, but beyond all I like walking through a magnificent landscape garden…..the  Earth setting  mankind has always deemed closest to God.

In the ideal, it is the house which is the main structure this beautiful  landscape should be embellishing.