Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

May 21, 2012

Developing a Landscape Garden….

That age old saying, “One is closest to God in the garden” does not refer to a vegetable garden or flower bed…..or a home orchard.   It refers to a landscape garden.

What is a landscape garden, then?…….to be basic, it is a piece of land that is landscaped.    It is a piece of land to be entered as one enters a cathedral or a cemetery park, classically to  inspire the visitor  by the most revered art form in all of  the human experience.

Paradise in nearly every non polar culture has been imagined as a garden of perfection, exquisite beauty, quietude, thought, memory and inspiration…….a landscape garden.

I often announce that the landscape garden is to the eye what Beethoven is to the ear……where harmony is to dominate despite moving from notes of incredible combination and accent from melody to melody, beat to beat, texture to texture, rhythm to rhythm, color to color, space to spacelessness, glorious form and unforgettable fragrance.

As our ancestors must have known  what we, as deprived moderns do not…..Evil cannot be designed as a classic garden feature but can be easily created in man’s other art forms….especially music. 

Fragrance can, however.

We Americans do live in a time where beauty is eliminated from our vocabulary.     Our dogmatic flavor of our  day of political correctness is the insistence  there is no God, that good and bad are matters of opinion, that everyone must be made equal……that  if something is deemed beautiful,  something else  is therefore less beautiful…..perhaps even ugly…..and feelings will be hurt.   Such  a thought that something is beautiful might be deemed a thought crime at your local university.

A couple of years ago I stopped by the offices of our  state Horitucultural Society, and orgnization I managed for about thirteen years.    It is run  by women now.    I was interested in adding my name to their speakers’ lists and was handed a listing of over 100 topics.

Not a one of those more than 100 topics included any word related to the word ‘beautiful’.

Not a one…….Rain Gardens  and  Using Minnesota Native Plants are tops.  leading the parade of listings without beauty.

What art form hasn’t modern governments corrupted?   Painting, sculpture, literature, music, poetry?  all of which universities control, by the way.

Well break away from that by-the-way. … Become free and begin thinking about where you live and what you see.

The art of landscape gardening is a visual art form.  So is magic.    Experts in both attempt to control what  the eye is to see and what the eye is not to see.  What is implied and what is not implied.  

When I was Executive Secretary of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society a number of garden clubs,  mostly gals, would visit my landscape garden in Minnetonka.

The entry points to and through the landscape garden were clearly established.   Women are creatures persuaded by color…..guys by shape.    Knowing this I was able to  dictate the direction the gals would follow.    A landscape garden  usually consists of rooms and often hallways connecting  one room to another.   

No matter how beautiful a plant form might be, color dictated the direction of the path the gals would follow.   When the path entered a room,  if colorful plants, usually the flowering ones,  were placed to the left, the ladies would turn left.       

To begin ones lessons in Landscape Garden 101. one must understand you are entering the world of God’s plants.    Universities now might have you concerned about planting only “Native” plants, that is only those ‘born’  in  your county, your  state or your country.   If you are so racist, you can still learn the art form of landscape gardening, but your tasks to achieve beauty, as it is in the human world, will be very much limited.

Three  quick memorizations are required before we proceed.   1…a Weed is a plant out of place;  2…..the Landscape Garden is a result of ‘What do you put Where…..and Why did you do it?’…..three questions in one……and the most important of them is the WHY.

Another, the third, ….’there are Many Roads to Beauty’, but countless more to create and sustain ugliness.

Maybe there should be a forth:   “Landscape Gardens, like people, gain character with age.”

Where do you enter your estate…..that is,  the grounds to the place where you reside?    In more modern upper crust America, it has come to be  through the garage with no  one every knowing what the grounds look like. 

So let’s start again…..What is the setting of the grounds where you reside and ‘govern’  where you see or walk through most often?   Are every one of your windows a picture looking out onto  a beautiful setting?   Maybe that is where you might start your landscape play by designing from a window.

Remember, a  landscape garden is a plot  of ground made beautiful by the arrangement and careful cultivation of plants.   Landscaping ones home grounds is the means by which most Minnesotans become acquainted with at least the fringes of the art of landscape gardening.   When we dream of home, it is a house in a setting, a setting among lovely trees and shrubs civilized with a carpet of lawn and an arrangement of beautiful flowers.

What you have just read  is where I recommend begin your thinking.   It is where I started…..and I live in a paradise.

Decide, perhaps,  on the space which is the  most ugly on your grounds….or the space,  the improvement of which, would mean the most on the road to make your home grounds beautiful.

Where to begin?      Remove the  lawn or the otherwise ‘in the way’ of creating your masterpeice landscape.   It doesn’t have to be a massive project.   One of the most beautiful areas on my own home grounds is  a twenty by eight foot hallway going from my front grounds to the largest of my garden rooms on the property.   It needs to be seen to be appreaciated.   I am drawn to my hallways and rooms many times each day, each week, each month including winter, the longest landscape season in our Northland.

Look and study the canvas you have now created.  You need no new vocabulary to explain what you see, what you would like to see, or what you will see.    You will think every day words……the only new vocabulary will be the names of the plants.   NOT ALL EVERGREEN CONIFERS ARE CALLED PINES!     Only a few are.

Think forms first and then color.

Another warning……listen, but only with care,  to the advice of your local Master Gardener.   These well meaning people  know nearly nothing about the landscape garden, but are heavy on Rain Gardens and growing Native Plants in their agendas.   They are university folks filled with enthusiasm to dictate rules.

Once your sod is removed stand in a position there  where you will be most frequently viewing the rest of your grounds.  Is the painting you view worthy?  What do you wish to frame?    What might not be  worthy of framing?

What is sacred and will not be removed  under any circumstance?    …………Well, one sacred item will  be the house itself, if it stands before you.   If it is at your back, the sacred  might be a white oak or spectacular Sunkist Arborvitae or a redbud……or maybe a fifty year old “overgrown”  neglected juniper that might be shaped as the Japanese might form.

If you alrady have some sod removed  do cover it with some kind of ground cover….mulch if you cannot think of anything else.    Use a mulch which will NOT attract the eye.    If you do nothing Nature will decide what your landscape plants will become……including maple, elm, ash, box elder or mulberry trees.

Try not to buy your plants just to buy plants.   It  can become  very expensive and wasteful and lead to profound discourgement.    They are living things which need special care if sitting in a pot all week long.

Some of the ground covers which will  keep Nature’s choice to a minimum in the lawn cleared area are Pachysandra, Ajuga,  Sweet Woodruff, Lamium,  Vinca,  and a number of sedums including  Sedum acre and kamchaticum.   NEVER purchase perennial Snow on the Mountain (Aegopodium) or Bishop’s Weed, for it becomes  a weed perpetually out of place.   

If you buy about five of each of the above mentioned units in the removed lawn space,  and water regularly and the soil is tolerable to life,  by the end of the summer  a 150 square foot space could be  substantially “ground covered”.

Then, too, purchase  easy-to-grow attractive perennials, Euphorbia polychroma, bloodroot,  cordylaria,  and Celadine Poppy and wild ginger and mayapple, plants  which spread rapidly by runners or seed while you are deciding what woody plants might be worthy of  adding.

And then remember another vital rule for beginning landscape garden practice:  When in doubt about positioning, GROUP.

Do expect to spend some time removing plants out-of-place volunteering in the open spaces among those you have actually planted.    Might be a good idea to buy a few bags of mulch to control them.    My I suggest Scott’s Dark Brown Forest Mulch.

Creating landscape gardens for HOME GROUNDS is our specialty at Masterpiece.    If all of the above is too complex or time consuming for your busy schedule, be sure to call us at  952-933-5777 and let us PITCH IN.

P.S.   How does your landscape garden set for next winter?    Call us if you need improvements.

May 19, 2012

Landscape Gardens’ Open House and Plant Sale May 25-27!

Filed under: perennials — glenn @ 6:36 pm
THURSDAY MAY 24 at 11am to 5pm     
 FRIDAY MAY 25 at 11am to 5pm

at Sonny Schneiderhan’s garden 
1219 8th St SE
Minneapolis, MN (just 4 blks north of Dinkytown U of M Campus

 SATURDAY MAY 26 at 11am to 5pm
at Glenn Ray’s garden
14624 Woodhill Terrace
Minnetonka, MN
(just west of intersection of 494 and Hwy 7)


Some of the plants available have been listed in a previous blog article.

May 9, 2012

Make a Visit to Masterpiece’s Landscape Garden

Filed under: About Masterpiece,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 10:24 pm

We at Masterpiece invite individual gardeners  or your garden group to visit our landscape garden here in Minnetonka.  

Call us at Masterpiece, 952-933-5777  to  make your appointment for a guided tour.

May 3, 2012


Filed under: perennials,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 10:41 pm


Garden tour and perennials for sale from two classic landscape gardens featured in the St Paul Pioneer Press, Mpls Star/Trib and Upper Midwest Garden magazines.

You will see the plants available for sale in their idealized settings.

Perennials include:
SUN & SHADE GROUND COVERS (Canadian and European ginger, Iris cristata, Lysimachia’aurea’, Sedum ‘communis’, sweet woodruff, Sedum Kamchaticum. Lamium, Vinca Minor (periwinkle), violets, assorted hen & chicks)
WOODLAND PLANTS (Brunnera, Celadine(wood) poppy, Jack-in-the pulpit,Jacob’s ladder, maiden hair fern, Mayapple, sensitive fern,  interrupted fern, Virginia Bluebells, corydalis (yellow and lavender)
SPECIALTY PERENNIALS (Angelica ‘gigas’; Aquilegia spp, Aruncus (dwarf goatsbeard, Euphorbia polychroma, Japanese painted fern, hosta, Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’, bleeding heart, Astilbe ‘visions’, Stonecrop ‘Autumn Joy’,
 CONIFERSEEDLINGS (arborviatae, spruce, balsam fir), &  to name a few and more…magnolia & lilac seedlings.

Also: IRON GARDEN ORNAMENTS, GREEN ESTEEM peony hoops, & a few houseplants (large yucca tree and haworthia)

Thursday 5/24 and Friday 5/25 the sale will be in SE Mpls by the U of M campus
in MARCY HOLMES NEIGHBORHOOD & Saturday will be in Minnetonka.

THURSDAY MAY 24 at 11am to 5pm     
 FRIDAY MAY 25 at 11am to 5pm

at Sonny Schneiderhan’s garden 
1219 8th St SE
Minneapolis, MN (just 4 blks north of Dinkytown U of M Campus

 SATURDAY MAY 26 at 11am to 5pm
at Glenn Ray’s garden
14624 Woodhill Terrace
Minnetonka, MN
(just west of intersection of 494 and Hwy 7)



Thank you from Sonny and Glenn!

Pruning the Conifers…..

The following observations are made for the general not the specific regarding pruning conifers.

It is far better for the growth and health of conebearing  plants if pruning is accomplished in our Northland community before the first  of June of each year.   

Some conifers are fussier than others about pruning.

GENERALLY, then, you might   find it easier to remember  the pruning requirements of both groups by calling the candle producers  the ‘fussy’     and  those which  do not produce candles, the not fussy.

The candle producers are fussy because they prefer to have only their candles to be pruned, and don’t approve of being pruned after the first of June in our horticultural zone of 4 something when their candles are no longer soft to your  touch.

Pine, Fir, Douglas fir, Spruce belong to this group.

Those conifers which do not produce candles but ‘buds’ instead can be given hair cuts at any time…….Major pruning, however, is  to be done before  mid June, usually the earlier the better.  

This group includes junipers, yews, arborvitae, larch, Chamaecyparis,  Microbiota and hemlock.

The most important question one must ask onself as pruner…..

Why are you pruning?

Answers could include to:  Maintain a certain size or certain shape of the plant, Maintain good plant health by removing a dead or sickly  branch or a branch rubbing another causing a wound,  Develop character or artistic purpose for the tree or shrub, or  Prune to produce harmony or other intended purpose   with its  plant neighbors.

Do not forget that  a landscape garden  is a piece of land to enter.  It is primarily a visual art form, in the  ideal to be  made beautiful for all  the human senses, not least among them memory   and thought.   

In the ideal nearly every home with home grounds should exude beauty in the landscape garden manner……but nearly none do.    

Some things in the human experience are far more beautiful than others.   In our cultural climate, however, we are pretending that beauty doesn’t  exist.   It is only a matter of opinion…..the nonsense that beauty is “only in the eye of the beholder”, which is a great untruth.

I taught a class called “Landscaping the Minnesota Home Grounds” through the University of Minnesota Extension Service for years.   I often would “test” students, all adults by age and in those days quality and behavior to prove the point.  

Twenty items, forty slides.     “Which is more beautiful, picture slide A or picture slide B, and why?”,  I would ask, and then show them competing pictures, 20 in all.    Of course, I’d throw in a few that would be too close to call and therefore offer discussion……why is this more beautiful than that?

It was fun to do……Folks were quite  honest in those days.    They seemed to be more interested in discovering rather than browbeating other with  narrow. self-interested thoughts.

Beauty in the garden is difficult to describe and often sufficient no matter how nonexistent the design..   Flowers and shrubs may be beautifully maintained as individual specimens requiring skill and knowledge, but they may not be beautiful in their arrangements either  one to another and ultimately to you the artist or the visitor. 

When taking your first steps to develop your landscape garden learnings,  “What to place Where and Why did you do that?” are the three questions to drive your decisions.    The Art of Pruning can wait, but learn the reasons for pruning as soon as you can….and practice often so you can begin to develop confidence.