Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

December 30, 2011

Not All Minnesota Winters are Equal

Filed under: garden seasons,The Art of Landscaping,winter landscapes — glenn @ 2:43 pm

Winter Twin Cities, Minnesota, 2011 has not yet arrived.   The joy is mixed with sorrow at Masterpiece Landscaping, at least from this writer’s perspective.

The Joy:  

For most of this past month, December, there has been little precipitation, meaning no snow.   For this past month I have been able to stroll along my garden paths and pretend I am working.  I always enjoy its beauty. 

 Yes, the ground is frozen which eliminates planting or transplanting/   That suits me fine.   I can resume the habit in due time when Spring truly returns.   Mine is predominantly a conifer landscape garden supported by perennials and ground covers.    It is most beautiful in winter for several reasons. 

Conifer landscape gardens are most beautiful at this time of the year either without snow or with a reasonable amount of snowfall…..unlike the November 13th deluge of snowfall of last year, 32 inches worth at my grounds, which buried nearly everything in sight but the mature pines and spruce.   This winter  with no snow, the browns, golds, and greens of the ground cover regions replace the white and add to the variety of textures, colors and forms created by those conifers of the higher tiers of plant growth.    One still sees the greens of the Alberta Spruce, bluish greens of the Holger’s juniper, the maroons of the Heatherbun Chamaecyparis, and golds of most of the yellow folliaged Chamaecyparis pisiferas.   My Rhinegold arborvitaes vary in color from a gold rust, to powdery green, depending upon the amount of exposure to sunlight.  The blues of the dwarf Colorado Blue spruce are bluer  thus far this winter.    Among the dominant trees, the green of the Eastern White pine is as pure a  green it always is. 

The Sunkist Arborvitaes are often moody about their color changing in winter.    This winter the one I prune to maintain as a shrub is still  as yellow as a Sunkist could ever be.   My major Sunkist, twenty five feet East of this ‘shrub’ Sunkist  is now over twenty feet tall.  It  was artistically pruned early last Spring and is still bright yellow from growth after  its last year’s hair cut.    The five or six others I’ve planted  on the property vary from yellowish to decidedly greenish.   All will yellow brightly starting about the first of March.

The most blue of my Dwarf Colorado Blue Spruce every winter is the Seven Sisters weeper.  Most of the others,  regardless of the kind of winter, turn to a gray for winter display.

The creation or preservation of plant forms  is very important in  the ideal landscape garden.   It is hard to beat the form of so many conifers, either displayed as individuals or in groupings for harmony.   A winter without much snow is an excellent time to evaluate garden harmony.   Never will there be a time in your landscape garden when  negative space will become so widespread, and if you have planned, planted  and pruned well, so appreciated.

I and our Masterpiece garden here at my home, were severely criticised during the growing seasons last year, by my colleagues, son Chris Ray and Josh Perlich.    I happened to allow one of my favorite garden flowers, Angelica gigas….normally a six to ten footer each in height multiply from its  seed production the year earlier.     Finally, after the spectacular candelabra of floral form in August and September hiding nearly every plant in sight, I began culling and began once again to appreciate the duty  of negative space separating the beauty of plant forms.

In all, I discarded around 230 “Gigas”.   A couple dozen of this biennial, attractive in foliage, flower and form, still remain in today’s winter setting displaying their seed clusters.   They are still attractive.     I shall have to do some better old fashioned hoeing next year….all garden season long, to control ‘gigas’s’  love to live and reproduce.

The Sorrow of a winter without snow.   

If  a vital part of ones income in Winter  comes from plowing snow,  what then if there is no snow?     I’ll let your imagination take  to answer the question.

December 6, 2011

Beauty in the Bleak Season

The Bleak Season at my grounds last year began  on Saturday, November 13 with a 32 inch dump of wet snow burying nearly every plant shorter than  ten  feet tall.    This  snow and a lot more following it lasted all winter long.  There was no January thaw, the first in  my memory causing drifts up to six feet making paths impassable.   The snow was so deep I couldn’t plow my body through the permasnow five feet deep where there used to be garden paths.  At one time in January while struggling along what I thought was a path, my left leg kept began to sink  into an unexpected slope causing my legs to split.   My descent was slow and gentle as if I had sunk into  bottomless quicksand.  Only my torso with its legs spread as wide one from the other as the old body would allow,  saved me from disappearing from view entirely.   My right leg stopped splitting from my left  parallel to the snowline but four feet into it.   My left leg was fixed straight into the bottomless snow dragging my body leftward and  downward.   In just a few seconds my body became imprisoned in snow as if I were in  a  full body cast waist  down.    I couldn’t move an inch in any direction.  Neither foot was holding up my body. Only snow kept me from descending deeper.   It was truly comfortable.  There was one difficulty…..except for my neck and arms, I couldn’t move a thing.   I couldn’t even use my weight to  roll downhill  to my left.   My legs were still stuck as far from one another as possible.  I laughed for a while at the picture I presented.    Soon, however, I recognized that I was in a bit of trouble.

It took me over a half an hour of digging and crawling from the snow hole I had sunk into.

One of my Woodward arborvitae globals ten by ten feet disappeared for four months only to be rediscovered in late March with a third of its foliage eaten by rodents after Vitamin C.   More damage was done in my landscape garden last winter than all of the 36 preceding winters combined.  My conifers were more mature therefore taller and some broaderand more susceptible to winter damage.    

The  Eastern White Pines planted in 1976 as 10 inch  second year seedlings are now over 50 feet tall.    I was nearly killed by one of the ten or so branches twenty five feet in length and   over six inches in diameter came crashing down as I was trying to clear snow of of the pine’s lower branches.  Its weight carried other branchings smashing to the ground as well.    There was no warning, only   four  seconds of noise as gravity grabbed its claim.  I couldn’t move.   When the snow is four to five feet deep everywhere in sight, there is little room to maneuver.    The bulk of the crashing branches  missed me by an arms length, but I was ‘pushed’ into the snow by the ‘gentle’ needles of the tree’s branchlings.

Let me warn you all.   The four seconds of that  Eastern White Pine branch plowing through the branches below taking them along to Mother Earth sounded just like a locomotive gone loco caused   a sound and heart beat I’ll never forget.

The grounds surrounding homes in our Northland are landscaped but are not landscaped gardens.  They display cookie cutter patterns usually filling spaces around the foundations of the houses and a tree in the middle of the  front yard, a conifer at one or both corners and the rest in lawn. 

Often spreader yews are place five or so in a row two feet apart somewhere along the foundation at the front of the house.   Home owners fail to realize that each of these spreader “Taunton” yews can reach  twenty feet high and twenty five feet broad in about fifteen years.  

When I was a boy, yews were rarely planted in our Twin City area.   They were not generally available at the local nurseries.   Rumors ran that they were not hardy.   In the 1960s and 70s  Bachman’s landscaping for our  Twin Cities’ front yards   was noticeably special with a worthwhile design usually  relying on Japanese yews, both spreaders and uprights.   Since then the local nursery design industry has depended on instructors trained at the University of Minnesota where they become graduates of cookie cutter designs or worse.

Visually the winter landscape dominates our grounds from November 1 to April 1 give or take a couple weeks.    We have had 10 inch snowfalls in May, folks and before the natural cyclical warming of the past half century,  snow and ice on the ground  almost always on Easter Sunday.  

Who among you would connive to make Minnesota colder every year based on fraud of  knowledge and politics?    Thank God for our little advance toward global warming.   I, and everyone in Minnesota should favor a tad more warming until we reach horticultural zone 4, St. Cloud northward and zone 5 southward to the Iowa border.   More cropland would be available for more food  production and gardeners at  Park Point along Lake Superior in Duluth,  being the warmest zone in Minnesota,  could produce quality grapes and beautiful laceleaf Japanese Maples.

Oh the envy of it all.

This Twin City winter, thus far, we have had only brushings of snow cover, perhaps three in all making my winter garden exceptionally beautiful with the fresh white covering ground and conifers.   I suppose I have several hundred feet of paths winding around my property.   When snowfall is dry and under four inches in depth, I sweep the paths so I can escape every day for a walk through its exquisite beauty. 

No garden anywhere at any time is more beautiful than a well planned and executed Northland winter landscape garden.    I prefer my grounds in Spring for the cleanliness and perfection of rebirth, its freshness,  fragrance, and color.   Best of all, I like its temperature.  

Perhaps it is the starkness of the season, the lack of variety of color, the extended length of the winter shadow, and the threat of winter itself, that adds to the beauty of the form and textures of the winter conifer garden.   And it is not without color if planned well.    Forms are better seen due to the loss of green mass which so overwhelms most settings after the second week in May.

Creative  pruning is usually seen at its best in Winter.   Sculptures whether live or manmade tend to inspire those passing  by or viewing from a window, even during winter’s   bleakest  moments.

Every one of my windows enframes a lovely  garden view from the indoors twelve months every year.   No window picture is more inspiring than those during the ‘Bleak Season”.

Winter is the time to review the condition of your home or business grounds.   If you would like to live amid more  beauty in  our Minnesota bleak season, give us a call at 952-933-5777 for an appointment. 

Landscape Gardening is classically a visual art form directing what the eye is to perceive, not merely a lineup of plants in  a row or a Silver Maple planted in the middle of the front yard designed on checkered paper.