Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

May 28, 2013

Rain, Rain, and More Rain….but Beautiful, if Brief, Landscape Gardens

Spring arrived for a day or two several weeks ago and apparently didn’t like the setting. It yielded to cold and rain, rain, and more cold…..and made the color gray exceedingly dull, the only color in town.

Unless, that is, you have a bunch of healthy conifers decorating the world around your residence. Add a number of flowering shrubs and trees and you have indeed become blessed this Spring.

And then, there are the ground covers, the garden lawn being about the only one Twin Citians recognize.

Without a doubt, a well cared for lawn is an attraction during the wet season. Its green is greener with regular waterings. Lawn grasses grow faster when it is wet and cool. Weed dandelions close up flowering giving the illusion that even the worst maintained of lawns might be admired by the uniformity of color.

But lawn isn’t the only ground cover in town. For decades river rock and chipped limestone have been added “to cover the ground” by the coarse, lazy, and thoughtless, those having no regard for beauty, plants, and Mother Earth.

More recently wood chip mulches are bought or bagged up for general use to cover the ground. Even ‘chipped’ old rubber tires have been used as a cover to ‘keep out the weeds’.

We, at Masterpiece prefer the following:

By far the most attractive blooming ground covers in our area, the creeping plants which often happily and beautifully ‘cover’ the ground are Ajugas, Creeping Phlox, Lily of the Valley, Sweet Woodruff, Lamiastrum, many Lamiums, Pachysandra, Moneywort, several Sedums, Thyme, Vinca, and White Rockcress.

Then one must add the creeper conifers: The junipers, Calgary Carpet, JapGarden, Hughes, Daub’s Frosted, Goldstrike, Blue Chip and Blue Prince, Prince of Wales, Wilton Carpet, even Buffalo, Broadmore and Emerald Spreader Yew.

None of these woodies can be walked upon as if they were lawn. Only the Thymes among the non-woody can pretend to be lawnlike in this regard, especially when added to planting spaces amid rocks and walkways.

This rainy, cool, and cold Spring has produced the ugliest weather, halting and delaying nearly every bloomin’ Spring bloomer for weeks. No longer able to hold back Mother Nature these garden plants came to stage their color all at the same time….including all of the spring ground covers, most of the spring bulbs…with all of the conifers, creepers and otherwise, producing their ‘budding’ new growth more prominently than in their dry pasts.

Remember too, that well planned and cultivated landscape gardens, like people, gain character with age.

May 20, 2013

Thank you, Readers, for you Comments about our Comments about Boulders in the Landscape Garden

Filed under: boulders and stone,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 9:46 pm

It’s coming on four years since we at Masterpiece published the article on boulders in the Minnesota landscape garden which has turned out to be our most popular. Thank you for you comments. They still are collecting.

However, we wrote then about boulders in the garden toward the end of the season, September 8, 2009, to be exact. I offer the reprint below in hopes it might still be useful reading for those contemplating there might be boulders in your home landscape garden future….perhaps even this year:


“Here in Minnesota boulders happen. They were carved out from bedrock by glaciers and then dumped willy-nilly as the glaciers receded. For decades farmers gathered the gatherable to get them out of the way of plowed fields. Some still do. Now, they sell them.

Some boulders are more beautiful than others. Some are larger, others more square than oblong. Some are granite, others limestone.

Things “boulderlike” have become very popular in landscapes. In the old iron mines up north, rock outcrops are quarried and the products marketed….selling them to builders and landscapers.

For years the Minnesota landscape people have built boulder walls which resemble egg piles. Roundish things often the same size piled and pushed by bobcat tightly one onto another creating an enormous eye sore for you and future generations to view.

Not long ago the industry produced indescribably ugly reddish brown volcanic lava slag chunks and sold them as ground cover material to homeowners to “beautify the home garden”, hoping to stay up-to- date with their garden “arts”. Minnesota homeowners still have tons of limestone chips or river rock dumped around their homes believing that making their ground look more like moonscape enhances earth’s beauty.

I have lived at my property for 35 years. There were no boulders, and, lucky for me, no river rock or limestone “mulch” which I would have had to remove when I moved there. There was lawn, a tree or two, and more lawn. And there were interesting gentle slopes and slight differences of elevation in the 1/2 acre space. I like boulders naturally placed in the landscape. Quarried rock can be beautifully arranged there as well. But it does require more training and skill to create naturalistic settings than placing garden items living or man made simply where space allows.

One sentence incorporating three questions is all that is needed to understand the rules of both plant arrangement and the placement of boulders: “WHAT ARE YOU PLACING WHERE AND WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?

“Therein lies the rub!”

No special vocabulary is needed to answer these three questions. What is required is an eye, a feel, and experience. Please visit our Website lineup of landscape pictures. Of course I am biased but the guys who run Masterpiece Landscaping are very, very good at positioning the right plants, and the right stonework into the right places and combinations in the landscape. But, see for yourself after you finish reading this article.

What can boulders in the garden do for you?

My general answer may be, perhaps nothing. Some very astute gardeners deeply into landscape beautfy prefer a more formal, more gentle Earth setting. One without boulders tends to quiet and soften a view with the living not the cold, brutal hardscape. A rocky garden is less civilized and a less tranquill space than a rockless setting. It suggests the wild rather than the cultivated.

In Minnesota, especially around the city of Duluth, some of the most beautiful rock anywhere can be seen. Drop by the Lester Park area on the east side. Go to the streams rushing from the uplands onto the grand lake, Superior. Boulders, rock standings, some bigger than a house expand ones imagination.

If in your landscape you wish to create or imply a stream, your work could not be believable without rock or boulders. They make the water move laterally one way or another. They create the width or narrowness of the believable stream.

Plants grow, but boulders do not. This should always be remembered when determining plant-boulder space relationships. Here we can have a problem with large plant forms near any boulders. To repeat, plants grow, but boulders do not.

Boulders are expensive when set properly. Frugal and stingy gardeners don’t “plant” boulders. The stone itself may cost only $400 per ton, but how are you going to get the monstrosity home? And then up a hill or around to the back grounds, and then how is it going to be set? That is the art of it, isn’t it? It takes time, skill, equipment and labor.

I am sorry to say that some ”landscapers” simply dump boulders onto a spot. The “dumper” claims when looking at what was dumped, that nature made it dump that way. The next time you notice boulders set in a landscape, judge for youself the ones you think were dumped versus the ones you believe were set with beauty in mind.

Remember too, there always is a chance, maybe one in ten thousand, the boulder was dumped beautifully, so keep your betting money in your pocket.

Study those boulders you believe were set with beauty in mind and compare them with the dumps. Then explain with a meaningful vocabulary what you believe the difference is.

Alot of politicians these days are trying to sell equality. Landscapers and gardeners should remind them that that which is equally large, is equally small.

Sand, masses of sand are particles roughly of equal size. Boulders in arrangements of equal sizes are usually boring and in all ways uninteresting….pressing on the monotonous. Manufactured boulders are repulsive to look at.

A flat piece of land is usually associated with a more formal garden. It is the environment most associated with gal gardeners. In general, they prefer flowers, the more the better. To them garden means flowers. Not that they were born fixed in this belief. There are many practical, reasonable reasons for this…You think of some.

I have noticed a wonderful trend over the past ten years or so, however. Lots of our best clients, (sorry guys, most of them are women….guys are needed to help pay the bills), absolutely love boulder settings. Not all of them are in the suburbs either.

Some of the most beautiful grounds of all, in my prejudiced view, where boulders are central to the feel of the verdant landscape, are in small city lots, one in dinkytown and another in St. Louis Park.

There are many asides to boulders in the garden. Daylilies often are made more beautiful not far from one or some. Creeping evergreens, expecially Japgarden Junipers next to, around, creeping onto or away from boulders, never fail from causing a sigh of approval when seen.

Another mentionable, one tends to lose far fewer pruning shears, trowels, cultivators, hand tools of all kinds in gardens where there are boulders around, especially those not dumped. That is, if one trains to set them as tables where these tools can be safely if temporarily positioned when the gardener moves on to another task.

Then there is the sitting boulder. In the dinky town garden the front area was landscaped with sitable boulders for a seating of six to eight. The lady client had a book club of six to eight regular members and looked forward to an occasional outdoor setting. No garden furniture needed to be moved into position.

Boulders offer more to a successful landscape than what I have mentioned here. I wouldn’t want to reveal all we know about their uses in these blog articles. Otherwise, there might not be a need for you readers to call us to help keep us in business.”

May 19, 2013

SPRING 2013: The Most Colorful Landscape Garden in Decades and Decades

We write mostly about Minnesota…Twin City area landscape gardening issues. With this in mind, I hear countless complaints about this Spring, Spring 2013 is a lousy one.

I am one of these complainers….Cold, rainy, cloudy, windy, snowy for the first six weeks, more rain, more and more rain. Here it is only 30 days until the days become shorter…and shorter….and shorter.

I am extra depressed already…..but then, before the rains, the heavy ones today, Sunday, May 19, 2013, I became convinced I have never seen my own landscape garden more spectaular….unbelieveably spectacular, the color, floral show piece of its existence.

It is true that a landscape garden regularly worked, thoughtfully maintained, corrected, added to, subtracted from, IMPROVES every year….and I have pictures to prove this in my own experience.

If we are serious about practicing landscape gardening thoughtfully, every year our standards become higher, more severe. Our artwork becomes better and better. The once pleasant dogwood or spiraea is now noticed as ugly, or no longer harmonious in our “composition”….and after all, if we are striving to create settings for our eyes at any level of Beethoven’s adagios for our ears, harmony, beautiful harmony is the ultimate in the art of landscape garden. (I have cultivars of both dogwood and spiraea in my own garden paradise, but not in the numbers and cultivars of those forty years ago).

My May 19, 2013 landscape garden is by far the most colorful in the 39 history of my stivings. Why not guess why?…..besides mentioning the maturing of the woody plants…for landscape gardens, like people, gain character with age.

Well, if your geography around our Twin Cities is similar to mine….and it generally should be, we haven’t had much of a Spring at all until a day or two ago with its warmth and moisture. Last year’s Spring began on March 15 and dragged out for six to eight weeks. There was a long, delayed and a much appreciated extended floral display over the two months…..extended more than overlapping.

Two days ago not only were my early tulips blooming, so are my midseason and late tulips. Some of the Siberian squill are still in their royal blues, but let’s add everything that I have for Spring bloom is now in Spring bloom….All at once!

PJM Rhododendron….all of its twelve by twelve feet is at peak bloom as are all ten Fragrant Viburnums, the forsythias are still in their yellow display, the fothergillas, all eight Redbuds, the Elizabeth Magnolia, Toka and Waneta plums…and if you don’t think that these redbuds top everything else in bloom, you’ve missed your best spring-bloomer of them all! Rockcresses, Lenten Rose, Euphorbias, Japanese Poppies, dwarf Frittilarias, the pulmonarias, Bleeding Hearts, Lamium and Vinca, the fern fronds, and all of the dozens and dozens of conifers are in bud as if in bloom. Add to this array the yellows, limes, aquas, greens dark, greens green and light of the conifer world, you have the makings of a masterpiece without even trying. All squeezed into this week….and with rain with or without heat, all of the color will be gone by Friday.

Oh, however, what a show this landscape garden displayed today….and will again tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain.

My old-time huge white flowering crabapple is not moved by cold or heat, rain or drought, cloud or sun….It has its own calendar and will open its mass of white on May 22 whether anyone likes it or not. Mother Nature doesn’t seem to fool the larger trees very often.

Call Masterpiece Landscape, Ltd. at 952-933-5777 to schedule visits to view these grounds. Keep Planting and Pruning. Every year your own masterpiece will get better and better, if you constantly answer the question(s)….WHAT are you placing WHERE, and WHY are you doing this? The more honestly, accurately, that is, answer these questions, you will become a better landscape garden artist every year, year after year.

May 10, 2013

The Significance of May 10 in the Twin City, Minnesota Area

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate — glenn @ 11:04 pm

There have been many complaints about this year’s Spring in Minnesota. Where’s the heat? Where has the Sun been? Why all this Snow in late April and May?

Well, it’s either too little CO2 if you accept modern mythology regarding Global Warming……now changed to “Climate Change” to cover all fronts political and climatological.

We have had a throw back to my childhood decade….when these ‘colds’ in April and May were quite the habit…..and a very unpleasant one when you delivered newspapers in St. Paul during oh, so many, miserable blizzards, both morning and after school when winter was more tundra-like than now.

Nevertheless for decades May 10 has been a significant date for landscapers, farmers, gardeners, and other outdoor types…..May 10 is the average frost-free date for our Twin City area.

Despite our cold outdoors this year, the coming week’s forecast is for evening temperatures to remain above 40 degrees Fahrenheit…….and so it is highly likely there will be no further Spring frost, much less a killing frost (temperatures below 29 degrees Fahrenheit for most ‘tender’ plants.

My Siberian Squill, which now likely reaches a population of a million or more on my grounds have been in bloom for nearly a month. They are now beginning to decline on the front, the East side of my grounds. Unfortunately, half of this month of scilla bloom has been under snow…..which kept its fresh magnificent rich blue bloom out of human site for half of its bloom on the eastern exposure. Scilla bloom elsewhere didn’t have such a warm, cozy, and frost free area as the sunny east side to display its beautiful blue to hasten its Spring display.

They are in peak color now.

October 10 is the last average frost free date in Autumn……usually a cold, clear night, often depressing to the landscape gardener and such folks who like the gopher outdoors.