Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

August 25, 2013

Pond Life at Glenn’s

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate,shrubs and trees — Tags: — glenn @ 2:04 pm

My landscape garden abuts a man-made pond with about 200 feet of “shoreline”. The pond was the trumpcard ensuring my drive to purchase the property late 1973. True, the house was an uninteresting box and smaller than our Minneapolis home, but I was finished with city life. Hippies with all of their ugly, had invaded our neighborhood….and I had three children to raise.

The box was at the end of a cul de sac where the kids could play without disturbance, the folks who lived their were civil, and nearly the entire grounds was in lawn where I had plenty of space to plant vegetables and expand my interests in the art of landscape gardening.

However, the moment I saw the pond, I thought selfishly as a kid, my family had to live here, pondside, come hell or high water, as they used to say back then.

I was lucky in my marriage…..I think my wife understood the matter.

The shoreline has changed remarkably in the forty years of my stewardship. Most of all, however, the 2/3rds of an acre has been changed from lawn bothered by a few oaks along a back slope to a beautiful landscape garden grounds with a seven minute mowing lawn.

I have since lost all of the original oaks to oak wilt. All but the seven minute lawn mowing lawn I personally removed…..bit by bit, summer by summer, opening new areas for landscape garden cultivation as my time and energy each season could permit. These were very difficult years for me personally. I was lucky to become drugged by the potion I loved most in life, second to my love for my children, the garden.

I have been lucky in life.

No garden can collect the variety of northland birds as can a garden built by conifers. That is a given, and I knew it since I was a kid in Miss Marie Hart’s General Science class in 1947. The songbirds are endless in their variety and numbers and so, attract raptors who look down upon the little ones for lunch from time to time. Sorry gals, hawks are beautiful too, even if they are usually hungry while hanging around in the high trees above the pond across from my gardens.

Early in my residence we used to house blackbirds, both redwing and yellowheads. They enjoyed the wastelands around the pond where homeowners used to dump their household waste among the weeds. A civilized landscape has shooed them away in favor of cardinals, song sparrows, chickadees, catbirds, wrens, goldfinches, and hummingbirds, to name the regulars. Scarlet Tanagers have thrice visited here midMay over my tenure as chief gardener.

Muskrats and rodents of great numbers of varieties live in and around the pond….and the Virginia White tail is always a potential pondside visitor, especially in winter feeding on a mature crabapple producer at the shoreline. Deer, beautiful as they are, are always a landscape problem in the western Twin City suburbs. One spring I saw a fawn being born pondside at about 5 o’clock in the morning. The doe had already dropped it still in the placenta sac as I accidently approached the scene. The doe held her ground to stare at me, so I asked her what her problem was….why hadn’t she run off?…..and then I saw the answer still in its ‘casing’ wriggling to become free.

I felt like such a heal for interrupting this miracle of birth…..and backed off hiding behind an arborvitae, ‘tree of life’.

The doe returned to her task, ate some of the excess baggage to free her produce and within five minutes this awkward weakling, exercised enough to stand steady. A little love from ma, a push with her nose, and the next minute they ran off together into the darker part of my woods.

Another visitor, however, which I’ll never forget, entered the garden grounds running furtively onto my twelve minute (at that time) stretch of cared for lawn and suddenly stopped to gaze at me.

I knew the animal the moment it stopped to size me up. The only place I had ever seen a coat as beautiful as this animal’s was at the State Fair when I was a teen…..A mink was looking me over as if I might be something chewable.

Thank God I was too tall, for it immediately looked elsewhere for something more manageable and darted down to the pond, where it stopped to survey the menu whereupon I saw the sun backlighting the animal displaying its coat even more beautifully than when featured against the lawn.

For those who might be interested in visiting “Ray’s Glen”, the home of Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd, please call 952-933-5777 to set up a time.

My “Special” Woodies

“Special” woodies to me are shrubs and trees on my grounds which are simply EXTRA special…..not necessarily my favorite woodies, the ones I couldn’t live without, but those I am extra thrilled to “own” as a part of my landscape garden life.

I could not manage this outdoor life of mine without conifers with none as a group more special than the others. Name a creepy juniper, a mature White pine or Swiss Stone pine, I find them equally beautiful in settings set to show off that beauty.

Leading my special woody list is the maple, Acer griseum…..the Paperbark Maple. What a beautiful, beautiful understory deciduous tree in shape, leaf, and bark. Michael Durr of trees for the North fame, wrote an article somewhere which caught my fancy about ten years ago. He insisted in his frank and open way that folks living in horticultural zone four were idiots for not planting the Paperbark maple, ‘officially’ classified as limited to zone five in its tolerance for the cold.

I didn’t believe him…..but then….why not try him out, sharp tongue and all? I special ordered three of them from Bachman’s our local landscape wholesaler.

I didn’t believe him when I planted them. I didn’t believe him even where I planted them….all hidden carefully from our brutal north and west winter winds; one in garden ‘center’ south side to a Canadian hemlock barely two feet taller than my experimental specimen, a second to the south of my house nestled in amongst a number of stately arborvitaes for further protection from northern winds, and the third along the east border of the landscape garden well protected again by arborvitae, so overwhelmingly, that over the years I forgot about the thing entirely, that is, until one late autumn its crown of shocking fire-red foliage stunned me to memory the moment I saw it spectacular blazing cinnamon red bark back lit in the morning sun.

Its autumn color in our neck of the American ‘woods’ isn’t always reliably red as it is in warmer zones…..only if the autumn runs well into November. All three trees are over twenty five feet tall, about twenty while in my possession. They receive reliable waterings all summer long.

Closely following the paperbark maple, and perhaps even a more spectacular tree, is the evergreen conifer, Golden Chamaecyparis pisifera nidiformis, except that it isn’t evergreen, but everyellow. At first look one knows immediately it’s beauty must be from something directly out of a Japanese garden.

Locally these Chamaecyparis are sheared and sold as shrubs…. and never really amount to anything beyond the yellow. What a shame for its normal struugle to grow offers a form unsurpassed by the human touch of pruning.

I received two gift plants as house warming presents from devoted gardener, Allie Simonds when my wife and I were lived on the first floor of her duplex a decade earlier. She had ordered them from White Flower farms in the year 1974, when we had moved to our new Minnetonka setting. The two Chamaecyparis ‘trees’ were about eight inches in height nestled in a web of peat moss held tightly together by a kind of celephane paper.

I had never heard of a Chamaecyparis and thought Allie extreme in her imagination that such a strange conifer could live in hostile Minnesota, much colder then in winter than now. I, thinking they were shrubs and not fit to live long, planted them along the narrow band of my property south of the house.

They must be among the most beautiful trees in our metropolitan area, not for my view, for I am forced to walk under them for they serve me as shade trees. It’s my neighbors to the south who see the golden glory of the Golden Chamaecyparis crowns twelve months of every year.

I planted my first Red Obelisk Beech around six years ago, again certain I knew better than the eastern landscape pros who had labeled this ‘true’ beech as hardy in Gopherland. I would give them, the gurus, a try…..and hold them responsible for my loss when it dies.

No true beech could make it through a Minnesota winter….even though my grounds twenty miles west of the twin cities proper, has maintained between a 4.3 and 4.6 horticultural zone, by my guess, over the past three decades of my residence here.

The third of a trio of these special plants living around me is the Hillside Spruce…..a foreigner frowned on by certain political purists who demand that American gardens should bear only American natives.

Hillside is a product of the European spruce beauty, the Norway spruce, hauled over to the new world to be used as wind breaks for the growing number of farmsteads in our young America. Sorry, political purists who have invaded the landscape garden business, the most beautiful, most reliable and quickest growing among our spruce is NOT a home grown one, but the foreigner European “Norway”….and among its beauties both big and small is the Hillside….my favorite as well as my ‘special’.

One brief glance at a specimen whether ten or one hundred or a thousand inches tall will startle the first time viewer. What a silhouette….stiff and rugged appearing ready for winter and summer as well as any stately upright cactus of the southwest deserts, arrogantly showing its form despite any trial it might face.

These three trees are special in my 2/3rds of an acre landscape gardened grounds.

Garden clubs are encouraged to view these grounds…..call Masterpiece Landscaping at 952-933-5777 to secure appointments.

August 13, 2013

What is Weed to You?

Filed under: garden maintenance,perennials,Wonders of Ground Covers — glenn @ 8:54 pm

In our modern America such a question might have been asked in a court room, school room, a family kitchen, office room, or laboratory.

I, thank God, arrived at a different generation with far different thoughts, beliefs and values. I was very lucky.

“Weed” when I was young was more like an order. “Time for you to go out and ‘weed’ the garden”, Mother used in verb form. The word in noun form referred to any vegetative life that was living out of place, visually speaking.

Cannabis grew as a major weed in the field across the alley from our St. Paul Highland Park area home. The War had halted further “growth” of house building in this newish neighborhood. No one around went bonkers trying to get particularly intimate with this ‘weed’. Its name was never mentioned, except as “hemp” grown as an ingredient in certain rope.

“A weed is a plant ‘out of place'” is the one and only true definition of “weed” for us who are devoted to the landscape garden arts.

Generally, the worst, that is the pestiest, weed in the “garden” is lawn grass. Try opening an area of sod by churning the grass amongst the soil to be used for space for perennials or vegetables. You’ll lose your battle in a month when the newly grown now unmowable lawn grasses make their reappearance. You’ll face the same issue planting woodies, young trees or potted shrubs at first. In six or seven years of rank uncut lawn growth commanding the zone, deep shade created by most trees and larger shrubs will come to win the skirmish and the war.

Many ‘desireable’ garden plants are weedy, that is if left up to their own genetics and personality, providing the environment is favorable and without competition from other weedies, they could go on weeding everywhere. Ground covers vinca, lamiums, pachysandra, white rockcress, houttunia, Lily of the Valley, Lamiastrum, some sedums are examples of such progressives.

Many perennials, some cherished, spread their space forever should environment conditions allow…..Anything named lysimachia, Hot lips Chelone, Tiger Lilies, Monarda and nearly all of our northern climate ferns are examples.

Other perennials once nestled in their space send out seed in uncountable numbers…..Goldsturm rudbeckia, Redbuds, Cottonwoods, Green Ash, Elm, Box Elder and other Maples…..even Arbortivaes and Japanese Yews might get into the mood if open soil exists near where their parents live.

Our landscape garden plants’ correct names are universally given in Latin. The suffix, “issima” means the very, very, very most of something…..so lets have a lesson or two…

What does Anemone robustissima mean? Anemone is a genus, that is a group of many closely related plants. The one for this lesson is named “Anemone robustissima”. Add issima to robust and you’ll discover Latin tells the truth of this anemone, it grows and grows and grows until it bumps into strong resistance, such a a brick wall.

One of my favorite trees in the garden is Aralia spinosissima or sometimes abbreviated as Aralia spinosa. Not only are its twigs, branchings and trunks spiny, this Aralia plays keep-away with spiny, very spiny double compound leaves…..it seeds and suckers everywhere.

Some creeping conifers, the junipers especially, can spread almost ad infinitum by another method…..their branchings ‘decide’ to root where they touch the soil. Some of the most beautiful of all gardens are displays of these junipers with rock and boulder. None of these junipers have ever been called a weed at least to my face.