Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

September 26, 2012

Harmony in the Landscape Garden with some Autumn Beauties

As we enter the last month of the non-winter garden season here in our Northland, I regularly stroll my garden paths to evaluate the various arrangement of plants regarding their health, appearance, and harmony with their neighbors.

Do they fill their space as beautifully among their neighboring notes for the eyes, as Beethoven adagios do for the ears?

What ‘note’ is each plant playing. What music for your ‘eyes’ are you composing, and why.

Remember my basic 3 questions in one which should be answered before a garden planting is made anywhere on your grounds:


To answer one should study all of the important angles from which that planting will be seen. Harmony is achieved when plantings are beautiful from every position they are viewed.

Some settings will be more beautiful than others in a well planted grounds.

I also take note of the plants which are truly gem on my grounds. Some are the species or cultivar in general, others are individuals which display exquisite character, by accident or by intention.

I’ll name a few of my favorite perennials which keep popping up in my mind for beauties of the ‘show’.

Fireworks Solidago…..This relatively new goldenrod is among the few ‘best’ herbaceous perennials on my grounds. I have six or seven clumps, some in full sun, others in deep shade, yet all are ‘explosive’ in their bright yellow bloom for about a week now….earlier and sturdier if in full sun; foliage darker green if full shade.

Hot Lips Chelone…..This turtlehead is about finishing its display in most sections of my grounds. It requires regular watering to avoid desication and early death, but spreads proudly as a clump when properly watered. Not fussy about sun. Lips are just as hot a pink whether in sun or shade. Three feet or more tall in good loamy soil. Blooms are beautiful background to Fireworks Solidage.

Autumn Fire Sedum……This is the best of the pinky stonecrops for its does seem to stand more sturdily under rain or wind than Autumn Joy. Sometimes its bloom are a sharper pink that its autumn fire rust, especially when grown in all day full sun.

I happen to need ‘Evening Primrose’, Oenothera fruticosa, in my garden. If there is a ‘perennial’ that appears to be happy in its garden place, whether shade or sun, sand or clay, this bright yellow flowering spreader with reddish maroon autumn foliage is the one. It isn’t truly a perennial, but don’t worry about it, this ‘Evening Primrose” doesn’t know it. It likes living apparently as much as I do. If it is modestly cared for in it garden site, it will live a lot longer than I or you, dear reader, will. Are you jealous, too?

Purple Dome Aster…….The penetratingly bright purple of this bushy aster will attract any and all functioning human eyes around. It is the color I like so much. The foliage is okay until a mildew hits it, but it is easily controlled. Somewhere in my neighborhood many years ago this month, I saw a beautiful gray wooden pioneer’s fence about fifty feet in length hedged with Purple Dome along its entire line fronting a quarter acre of a pure green carpet of lawn.

The acreage since has been chopped up and sold as residential lots.

Although I probably grow about 50 different varieties of hostas, I am not a hosta man. But hostas are terrific plants to imply a variety of harmonies. As specimens I will note the following “BEST” in my view, of course.

El Nino, Great Expectations, Royal Standard, June, and Krosse Regal would lead my list. (Go ahead and plant each and find out why! You’ll have to wait a few years if what you have purchased sits in a size one pot.)

Remember plants and gardens, like people, gain character with age.

Intersectional peonies are spectacular peonies……that is about all that can be said regardless of color…..for color of flower seems to come in ‘better’ or ‘best’, only. Plus, don’t forget their major feature……the blooms don’t collapse at first drizzle of rain. Also, these intersectionals are reliably hardy in our TC neck of the American woods, as long as some political nut doesn’t create global freezing in the next year or century.

Two other perennials are forever keepers in my grounds while I am still alive…..Helleborus, the Lenten Rose, and Japanese Anemone…..(Anemone robustissima). I don’t know why regarding both…..but I am hooked.

A bit of Latin here will help certain gardeners who have a sense of curiosity, for the name of this Japanese Anemone throughout the world is Anemone robustissima…….which means it is the anemone which is “robust”……The ‘issima’ in Latin means….’the very, very most’.

Well, you put the name, the Latin one, into meaningful English and what do you get?…….Answer: the very, very most robust anemone plant……What do you think robust refers to? Guess , or plant it to find out.

I like the plant very much especially when I plant ahead and place an attractive black metal trellis in the middle of the clump standing erect in anticipation of the tall countless pink blooms when in show off season, which is now and lasts for six weeks.

Helleborus blooms around the week after April fool’s day. We couldn’t grow this Lenten Rose 40 years ago in the Twin Cities because of global freezing killing it at every try. I am not in favor of global freezing returning to my Minnetonka any time soon. How could anyone be so dumb and/or cruel as to wish for its return?

Don’t Forget to Water Valued Trees a bit Extra this Autumn

Autumn is running almost two weeks early this year. It is also likely that this Autumn will be more dull in color. Many falling leaves will have shown no color but dried up brown…..for the very reason that the summer was dried up and hot for our northern clime.

The treeless line, that is the rainfall line indicating less than 15 inches of annual precipitation, runs just west of the Twin Cities at a slanting line to Fargo, North Dakota. Forests, neither deciduous nor coniferous occur on the drier soils of the prairies and deserts. Water matters.

Water also matters on you own home grounds. Unless you have very sandy soil, I would give your higher valued trees and large shrubs two or threes ‘drinks’ of water of an hour long before the heavy frost.

For sandy soil grounds owners water regularly at the ten to fifteen minutes, every other day schedule

For those of us who have installed a grounds irrigation system, a typical routine of watering is set at fifteen to twenty minutes every other day. In normal years when there are rather regular periods of several hours of gentle rain throughout the growing season, one doesn’t need to be concerned about garden plantings as they harden off for winter.

This summer has been a record breaking exception, however. Even in my heavily and regurlarly mulched gardened grounds with alternate days irrigation, the soil is very, very dry at the one foot depth.

September 13, 2012

Autumn “Falling” Early This Year in our Neighborhood

About three weeks ago two 80 plus feet high cottonwoods began shedding their leaves cluttering up many of my garden paths and favorite plants. There is no apparent need for this shedding because these water hoggers have grown up over the past 50 years immediately beside an acre sized pond including a large part for which I pay property taxes.

Too, I have noticed the shedding of white pine needles which started about two weeks ago. Nothing major, just a continuous dropping quantity dependent upon the amount of wind stirring.

Also about a month ago I noticed that a very expensive dwarf yellow tipped white pine cultivar looked a bit more yellow all over than it should. It had always been happy during its ten years in my grounds. Was I imagining the color?

Yesterday I pulled out its totally dead form. The roots had dried up. In the meantime I have been dragging hoses around hither and thither to tend to countless other growings which looked suddenly stressed…….some, such as the barberries, significantly stressed.

They had already been shedding their leaves inside the plants……the older generations of them.

And my Angelica gigas, those growing in full sun and even those in part shade have dried up most of their once beautiful foliage……a fist since I introduced them to my grounds about ten years ago.

I hate garden hoses. They kill perennials, break branches of beautifully pruned conifers, and cause me to live a shorter life in general.

I haven’t used garden hoses in such a manner since most of my grounds went irrigation watered. What was going wrong.

Although this 2012 spring and summer have been a favorite of my lifetime, there has been almost no rain, but a lot…..a real lot of hot weather…….just about the temperatures I like to enjoy when working my grounds…, pruning and planting, some digging and a lot of laying out mulch.

The length of the growing season…..starting March 15th in my grounds this year….unheard of, but welcomed, has been joined by exceptional drought and high temperatures all seasons long.

For the first time in the 20 years of my irrigation system soothing my plantings, the heat and dryness was too punishing for many of my smaller deciduous shrubs to endure…..especially those which might have been planted in the past three or four years.

The available ground moisture simply became shallower and shallower. My watering was not frequent enough and/or deep enough to please the suffering plants.

A few defoliated. Hydrangeas sulk day after day often even if you water well.

We had a ‘dusting’ of rain yesterday… amount likely no more than I delivery of water from my irrigation lines…..It is the down under that is exceedingly dry. If you doubt this, take out your strongest spade shovel and test you own gardened soil enviroment. Where will you discover available moisture…..even after yesterday’s off and on all day shower?

I am guessing that this coming winter we will be dumped on by tons of heavy wet snow…. Let us hope we get a dry delivery deep and early to protect our valued vegetations as much as possible.

In the meantime…..although I do not have a laboratory filled with researchers, nor computers connect with weather experts throughout the world, nor an annual record for the past 39 garden season I have lived at this site, it is only a guess based on my outdoors life here in my part of Minnesota.

Yesterday’s drizzle was relieving to our major sized deciduous trees…..the ones like the cottonwood, elm, maple and river birch which will grab every droplet around usually on a first come, first served basis. Their roots are wide and deep.

Except for most of our junipers our conifer trees and shrubs in general have very shallow roots and the largest of this clan will be stressed to the extreme. Regular watering has been very very beneficial. If you have maintained your watering at least twice a week for twenty minutes a zone, you shouldn’t have to worry about the older plantings.

It is the smaller shrubs, both conifer and broadleaf, that might be in trouble. Some broadleafs such as some hydrangeas, will drop their leaves, preferring dormancy and the prospect of a more moist spring next year.

To be safe take time to water all areas for about an hour at each location three or four times before snowfall as a precautionary measure to supply water to a greater depth that the first inch of the usual available water supply.