Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

June 30, 2013

How I Began Learning the Names of Northland Trees

Filed under: shrubs and trees — glenn @ 12:25 am

In elementary school and in ninth grade general science and tenth grade biology classes in the St. Paul public schools where I attended, students were ‘forced’ to develop tree leaf collections.

There was no political pressure then to worship native plants as superior to those ‘imported’ since the times of early English settlement. Ignorance of vegetation, woody or herbaceous is so vast among the general American population these days of nearly everyone under age 60, it competes with America’s vacuousness of anything historic, except the accepted political correct myths and memorizations.

I admit I was a whiz in any and all such classes at all levels of study including graduate school. I loved trees, their mystique, size, shape, smell and noise… I excelled in all leaf collections.

Even at age four or five I knew trees had names. As I recall the first tree I knew by name, was the Lombardy Poplar. I was around age five.

My Mother was into punishing me to get me our of her way during her hour by hour routines of being Super Woman on all fronts…, baking, sewing including making of my and my sister’s clothing, canning, cleaning, knitting, gardening, jigsaw and crossword puzzle fixing, learning first aid nursing during the WAR, besides working downtown St. Paul managing the women’s accessories department at a major department store…..long since voided from the public mind.

The mode of imprisonment was being sent to stand at the wall at the entryway to our small Highland Park home my dad bought new on installments for $6,200 in 1936.

Each punishment was of the same duration… hour, unless I made unusual sounds or suggestions of complaint regarding my innocence which truly was nearly always. She would add a bonus hour if I balked. I believed her, so I learned to become rather private and quiet at home. Yet, I was curious and constantly asked questions….She’d answer one or two, but more would cause punishment time again…..or I might be playing with my blocks, or later during the early years of the WAR I might be making too much noise bombing Nazi installations I had constructed for targeting, made with blocks and tinker toys with my favorite playtime dive bombers with appropriate sound effects I had learned from the movies and radio dramas to imitate.

The sound effects eventually would tend to become too loud, or Mother preferred to listen to Strauss Waltzes and Scandinavian Melodies on radio while on duty with her tasks so I went to wall detention for the inevitable hour. Mother was a Danner, German descent….with whom an hour always meant 60 minutes.

I learned early on to favor classical music. I had no choice. I discovered no one should ever go from birth to death without knowing Beethoven.

High above me on the wall where I would stand, was positioned a picture illustrating a beautiful landscape garden rather flashilly painted with a grouping of tall pyramidal leafy, not needled, trees giving background to large swaths of colorful flowers, which by age six I knew as peonies and hollyhocks, which both my Mother, her German speaking grandmother, and my Dad’s mother, grew in their city gardens. Early on, I recognized that the tall, skinny but stately trees of picture beauty looked like our next door neighbor, Mrs. Rowell’s tree framing the front of her house. I remember to this moment thinking, “I’ll have to ask Mrs. Rowell the name of her tree”….It sure looked like the trees in the painting.

That very afternoon, when freed to be outside, I went over to her house, knocked on her door, and asked her what the name of her front yard tree was…….”Lombardy Poplar”, she answered. She seemed stunned at the topic of the question and did ask the reason for my interest…..I was savvy to keep still about family matters from an early age.

I well remembered the name and thereafter called the trees of my punishment wall picture my Lombardy Poplars. A couple years later I discovered the real name of the photolike painted trees…..Lombardy Poplar.

As I grew I discovered how to read the name of the cause of this painting……R. Atkinson Fox, which was never forgotten. I often played spelling games with the name….How many words I could spell using its letters.

I learned to spell well early in life and quickly moved into crossword puzzles …..Like my Mother, I have always been busy……and have never remembered being bored.

We never hear of Lombardy….or Bolleana Poplars any more. Bolleanas were planted around Lake Calhoun during the WAR. Mother knew the names of most deciduous trees. Before the WAR we often took Sunday drives through the beautiful landscapes of the wealthy living at Lake Minnetonka…..the large estates of dozens of acres each and appropriate English style countryside landscape beauty….weeping willows, white pine, sugar maples, Norway spruce with great oceans of beautifully mowed lawn and R. Atkinson Fox painting garden plants.

I was allowed to ask five questions of “What tree is that, Mother?” during each tour.

I was lucky to have been forced to spend over a hundred of my young hours stuck standing below that R. Atkinson Fox. It now hangs admired in my bedroom as it constantly reminds me of much of my physically inactive past.

Many years later after I had just married I asked Mother where she got the picture…..which was still hanging then at their new home in Roseville and at her apartment where she lived till 84.

“I was sixteen and working as cashier at Friedman Brothers Super Market downtown St. Paul,” she answered. Mother left school at age 13 when she graduated from eighth grade and had worked at Friedman Brothers thereafter for years becoming head cashier when 17. She had lived with her parents across the Mississippi River and walked to and from downtown every work day.

“It was winter, and on the way home I saw it displayed in an art shop window, and I knew I had to own it I thought it was so beautiful.”

June 19, 2013

The Special Spring Landscape Garden, Year 2013

The landscape garden, 2013, has been the best ever this Spring……despite its short supply of dry and warm weather.

But that’s the point…. Remember that the Twin Cities is at the western edge of America’s watering zones with the vast prairies beginning just to our out of town Twin City West. The prairies are the prairies because of their lack of moisture….end of story.

The wetter East simply spread westward for Spring, 2013….along with some chill.

This Spring we have been Merry old England in Minnesota for the season….and the established plants have responded. My early peonies, such as Early Scout began blooming a month late…..and are still showing their stuff…..mixed in with the mid season and the early late season of their sort. The grounds here are beautiful now as they have been beautiful since our last snow….sometime in late April, was it?

And I don’t have that many peonies….maybe 40 or so…..But, along with all else, spring’s beauty is more beautiful than ever for the moment.

So, feel free to stop by with or without invitation and bring friends between Friday, June 22 through Sunday, June 30. You are all welcomed……Beginning July 1, please call 952-933-5777 for appointments.

Same old address, 14624 Woodhill Terrace, Minnetonka, MN….. glenn

June 16, 2013

The Public Knows Nothing about Plants Anymore

Filed under: Plant health,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 10:09 pm

I own almost 3/4 of an acre of landscape garden surrounding my rather boxy, not terribly attractive house.

It was a white painted house when my family moved in, January 1, 1974. It was seventeen below zero Fahrenheit that evening.

There is no uglier color for a house in Minnesota to be painted. Winter with its cold white, is the landscape season equal to all other seasons combined. Worse, the adjacent shutters were blue visually giving the house the warmth of an icycle for six months of each year. After a number of least expensive paintings afterward, the place was painted a dark ‘chocolate’ red about eight years ago.

Upon my purchase the original 1958 landscaping had remained in tact if not in beauty. The interior was neat and clean, but these were not outdoor oriented people who had been housed there previous to our invasion.

Almost every thing now growing in this property is either something I have planted, progeny from what I have planted and retained, and progeny of what Nature has seeded on my property which I have allowed to grow, sometimes on temporary status.

Once 80% of the home’s outdoor space was covered by lawn. I have retained a seven minute power mowing exercise lawn as a ground cover. I like a lovely lawn very much. I love horticultural garden plants more.

In 1976 I bought ten two-year seedlings of Northern White Pine, my favorite Minnesota conifer, to plant on the grounds. None were more than twelve inches from ‘head to toe’. It was the nation’s bicentennial birthday, my response in celebration.

Three died within three years….but seven remain to this day….three more than sixty feet tall.

No one takes botany learnings anymore. Public schools prefer to indoctrinate our children to march against global warming instead.

Most of our clients know something about trees and bushes, as the majority terms all bushy-looking things. Spiraea, rose, lilac, hydrangea, even azaleas are mentioned which separate them from the general public which is shamefully unaware of all shrubs…(“Oh, do bushes have names?”)

Unfortunately, almost no one in public America knows anything about conifers. Even the word conifer stymies the general public.

What is a conifer? The somewhat aware answer “an evergreen”, isn’t really so. Some conifers drop their green at the end of the growing season as if they were oak, ash, or maple.

The answer is actually simpler. A conifer is a cone-bearing tree. How simple can a definition be?

There are male cones and female cones…..and this is the crux to this particular article. One of these two was doing its duty and then some.

As I was enjoying this sunny day today working, playing, planting, cleaning, weeding, transplanting, in my landscape garden, around noon my eyes began to feel scratchy; my throat dry. I halted confused from my usual full speed ahead enjoyment improving the beauty around me…..and tried to discover what it was that seemed so weird.

I noticed an ‘aura’ of something like tiny, tiny particles of dust overwhelming my space, my grounds, yet I wasn’t certain if my eyes were becoming trouble only a month after my cataract surgeries, or what seemed surreal was perhaps real, and if so, what was going on?

Then the light through the dust was lit. My White Pine male cones had exploded their pollen in amounts I have never seen before. I often have shown mugho pine as an example of pollen excess during pollen season by slapping the branchings lightly…which always excited a ‘wow’ or two from those watching the wild powder that exploded.

The woody cones folks cherish for Christmas season decorations are female cones, those which carry the ovules….the female part of the pine able to carry to maturity the plants seeds to continue the life of the species.

In our world neighborhood larch and dawn redwood are deciduous conifers. Another name for larch is tamarack.

June 11, 2013

SPRING in our Northland….2013

Cool to cold, mid January to mid June……snow to rain, more rain, and a helluva lot more rain, mid January to mid June in the year of our Lord, 2013, Northland USA.

What has this cooling and wetting meant for those of us oriented to the beauty of life living outside brick, concrete, asphalt, and flourescent lighting?

For plants, the overwhelming number of them from an inch to 100 feet of stature, this has to be nearly the best chapter in their genetic history ever experienced.

Regular, reliable moisture…..not too little, not too much, twice a day, three times a night….more the quiet stuff rather than the huff and puff of a thunder storm, tornado, or volcano eruption or an avalanche.

Nature itself, unknown perhaps to the New Yorker cement and concrete people who might have missed Earth’s outdoor life thus far in their lives, is an eternal battle between order and disorder……harmony and disharmony.

Each environment is in a constant state of war…..or competition, if you prefer, to stay alive….to defend its form and being from the everlasting threat of invaders.

Culturally, we Northlanders along with our pals from coast to coast, live in social disharmony where beauty is disdained. If something is beautiful, it is dicated politically and educationally, in newsprint and authorship, that something is NOT beautiful. We are better people, they preach, if we make everyone and things around us equal so as not to hurt feelings.

If beauty by sight and feelings, thought and action is noticed rather than disdained or ignored, the human animal might be moved, as in the past, to do better than merely exist, but to seek understanding of beauty, if for no other reason, to be shocked by its power to make the day more beautiful no matter the opposition.

Beauty is most penetrating through sight and hearing. Beethoven should never be allowed by any literate, civilized, Godfearing society to go deaf among its peoples.

More animal in us humans is our drive to witness the beautiful. Millions, perhaps billions of dollars are spent annually by people reaching out to view beauties of nature……yet they remain ingnorant, nearly void of any hint that beauty BEGINS AT HOME, whereever home may be.

Moreover it begins with the soul of the individual, not to be memorized at school, but to be led into an experience when each individual can radiate when they begin to understand the various basic rules, steps, reasons, and results of why some things, despite political and certain religious propaganda that all things are equally beautiful.


Spring 2013 in our Minnesotaland has been unusually beautiful in nature’s plantworld. It has been spoiled by the cool, the unthreatening, the reliable, which has allowed its color, textures, stature, and fragrance to radiate and therefore inspire all who are lucky enough to notice and enjoy….especially for those skilled enough to create beauty and work in the midst of doing so for an occupation in life.

Economically?……well, Spring, 2013 hasn’t been very good for an outdoor business. It’s hard to work in the constant mud.

June 2, 2013

When is a Shade Tree Not a Shade Tree?

Filed under: Pruning,shrubs and trees,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 5:36 pm

ANSWER: When a large enough tree is trimmed to be or by nature is programmed to be pyramidal…..that is more telephone pole than umbrella in shape.

Unfortunately if there are 200 words, not including the names of plants, associated with performing landscape garden art, the typical homeowner knows about six. The worker at the local plant store knows ten.

The modern American has become too divorced from the woody plant world around them.

Most homeowners cannot explain what a conifer is. Many of those under 50 don’t know or cannot remember what deciduous means. Mentioning a bush refers to anything bushy.

What’s a shade tree? In our part of the world the usual answer is elm, maple, ash, and oak.

When most folks lived in a city, houses were built two story. Even these structures were buried by mature Silver Maples and Elms, with homeowners never realizing the peril leaning over there heads when these trees reached maturity. In those days trees to reach mammoth sizes were planted in the middle of the front yard….where there was space for it, was the stated reason.

Homeowners in our Northland call trees which hang on to their ‘needles’ all winter long ‘pine’. Whether spruce, fir, arborvitae, juniper, hemlock, or pine, all evergreens are called ‘pine’……(No one ever heard of chamaecyparis a generation ago.)

The larger forms of these ‘evergreens’, except the spruce and fir, including the unmentioned larch, which would be called pine if this group didn’t shed their needles every autumn, are actually by nature SHADE TREES, but no one, including those in the industry who should know better, calls them SHADE TREES.

Except for many of their cultivars, large spruce and fir tend to, by nature, form like a Christmas Tree…..NOT SO with pine, hemlock, juniper, and generally with arborvitae by nature, that is.

Up in northland Minnesota where son, Christian, owns a lakehouse, the American Arborvitae is rank, native along side fir, pine, birch, red maple, and aspen. Nearly every mature arborvitae is pruned to look like a shade tree. Not because these tens of thousands had some loco landscape gardener hand shear each one…….the Virginia White Tail Deer do it for mankind.

My two favorite large shade trees for landscape use or to be seen in Nature itself in our Northland, are the White Pine and the White Oak. Drop by to check out Duluth or Grand Rapids if there are doubts regarding the White Pine.

Another beautiful evergreen conifer, conifer meaning cone-producing, is probably among the most beautiful midstory conifers anywhere in the world is a Canadian Hemlock raised from youth to become a shade tree of twenty five to fifty feet at some degree of maturity.