Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

September 19, 2013

Enter from Stage North……Winter and Six Months Of It

October 10th is the average date in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and environs of winter’s first frost.

My landscape gardening experience reminds me that over the past 25 years this first frost date has been delayed to around October 14th. Thank God!

Landscape Gardening is supposed to be an art form. One would never know that ‘supposed to be’ by looking at our Twin Cities’ practice of the art.

In our modern day one has to pay to see bad plays, bad dance, bad paintings, bad football, baseball, and basketball…..all very dominant in our big city community. Bad landscaping is everywhere and is free for the viewing. We drive past it every day.

It’s been about 40 years now since ‘beauty’ and its relative ‘beautiful’ have disappeared from general use verbal and written. The new religion in town dictates that if something is beautiful it automatically judges something as less beautiful, even ugly…..and we cannot have a society that makes such judgments. Everything is supposed to be made equal.

We have been told at university that ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’…..a dishonesty of the first order.

I used to teach classes “Landscaping the Minnesota Home Grounds” and “Beauty in the Bleak Season” through the Minnesota Extension Service in the early 1980s. I tested the beauty in the eye business by showing slides to the class asking the students which setting is more beautiful: slide A or slide B based upon my experience in the art of landscape gardening armed with logical and accurate reasons to compare differences.

Each class session began with twenty of such comparisons. Student…all adults….were required to place each answer on paper, so we could hold them responsible for their decisions and therefore ask why they had made their choice. (Students of any age, generally cheat if only raising a hand is required for divulging an opinion in public view. They are so worried they might choose the wrong answer and be humiliated in public for the mistake, they hesitate waiting to agree with the flow of hands raised without thinking much about actually making a choice. A little teasing from me, the teacher, would ease the students from worry. )

I also often chose pictures where decisions of beauty could be reasonably argued….leading to the opportunity for the class to use every day vocabulary to defend their view of what they saw on the slide. By learning to use our simple every day vocabulary to explain why something is beautiful or more beautiful, depends upon thinking before speaking. What is actually seen in landscape garden beauty and heard in so much of Beethoven’s glorious classical adagios that actually make our day come to a halt?

We ourselves become potentially better artists by merely recognizing the tricks of the trade which create beauty. We also become better people when we are stimulated by the beauty we hear and see.

What we see in the Twin City landscape isn’t particularly inspiring. Nature has given the population a great setting and compared to other American metropolitan areas our community is clean and has many well coiffed neighborhoods which occasionally may seem acceptable, but in reality are neatly kept rather than beautifully created for the art of landscape gardening has been dead here and generally around the country for generations. Garrishness and tackiness usually accompany wealthy areas both suburban and urban. Foundation plantings are still a habit whether needed or not. Major trees still are planted willy-nilly, whether a curse or a blessing, because it makes people, especially politicians, feel good.

Beauty within the city starts with the home and business owners. Most look at the art of landscape gardening as a duty, a chore to hide the ugly. Landscape centers who advertise landscaping learn a trade rather than an art form. The University of Minnesota is primarily to blame for the death of the art of landscape gardening by passing the industry as a trade…..and a rather low class one at that.

The longest landscape season in Minnesota is Winter which is equal in length to all the other landscape seasons combined. One would think the Twin Cities would be a mecca of winter beauty throughout these six months of visual barrenness we have become so accustomed to.

Check things out for yourself, especially you who know first hand what I am writing. Study first your own neighborhood and begin to discern what is or is not beautiful and then translate your thoughts into real words.

Begin your observations as soon as possible….as autumn begins its quick pace, for the winds of winter will soon follow.

Is your neighborhood, are your grounds pictures of exquisite landscape beauty for our world to admire?

Warning: The love to create or live within a landscape garden is addictive. It may become injurious to your wealth.

September 18, 2013

Some Woody Plants Aren’t What The Label Sizes them up To Be

Filed under: Plant health,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 11:38 pm

In general the Minnesota home owner knows little to nothing about the landscape garden world. They do not understand it as an art form. They do not know the names or the habits of the plants in the neighborhood as well as on their property. A shade tree gets big, conifers are called pines, shrubs are bushy. No one really pays much attention to names.

“I don’t like spiraeas”, a recent new client uttered in disgust while surveying her grounds’ new canvas, and ordered her MasterGardener friend, who informed her the plant was indeed an ‘undesireable’ spiraea, to rip this new member of the landscape garden out of its roost. Since I was the designer and our guys had planted around 70 pieces of woody plant material on her grounds, one of which was this spiraea called Tor, a very neat medium sized (4’ht by 3’w) deciduous shrub with countless white flowers in mid-spring and excellent fire red to purple fall color, I was curious to know the why of the angst about spiraea.

“Oh, they’re too common. One sees spiraea everywhere.”

Well, there are about 50 different kinds of spiraea that are or have been on the market here in the Twin Cities over the past ten years. Which ones have you grown and disliked? They come in all sizes except as trees, bloom well, many two times a season, and others, like Tor also have beautiful autumn foliage.”

Spiraeas as a group, are outstanding shrubs for the zone four landscape, but most not so when expected to be the main feature of attraction in the home grounds. With the exception of Vanhouttei Spiraea, which is indeed a spectacle when in full bloom around Memorial Day in our area, the genus is worthy for its color when in bloom and its resistance from insect and animal interference. Our new client was thrilled with the overall completed landscape, and since she had never heard of a Tor Spiraea, allowed the specimen to be taken from the gallows and restored to its rightful spot in which it had been originally set.

Most landscape garden plants don’t possess such well known generic, even common names, especially if they are shrubs or trees other than the elm, oak, maple, ash, cottonwood, black walnut mammoths.

I believe the main reason the home grounds throughout the midwest are so barren of beauty unless the lawn is well cared for, is because no one knows the names of plants, much less their colors, size and shape.

The unknowledgeable buyer is familiar with size…..3 feet tall is shorter than 5 feet tall and the same for width, so they look at the label.

A beautiful newbie at the landscape nursery is Sunkist (Yellow Ribbon) Arborvitae, and upright bright yellow foliaged conifer. Six to eight feet height the label tells prospective buyers…and I was one about 16 years ago. It was new on the market and perfect as a beauty and privacy in my front lawnless garden. Well, it IS a beauty, but it’s over twenty feet tall and only in junior highschool by age.

Chamaecyparis is not only a newbie for the Twin Cities over the past fifteen years, it is sold as a shrub. Its label claims six feet of growth is what is to be expected. It is advertised further as a dwarf…..which it is not. These dwarfs which on my grounds have not been pruned have already past the twelve foot mark, barely out of grade school.

There are treeforms of the same Chamaecyparis (pisifera aurea nidiformis). I planted two six by six-inch babies in the summer of 1974 and now among the most beautiful trees of our Masterpiece Garden grounds.
Unfortunately, they are not sold in the Twin Cities.

The Japanese Yew is another plant which here in the Twin Cities is not respected for its true size. Unless there is a ‘nana’ attached to the yew’s name and it is a cuspidata taxus (yew), you’ll be dealing with a plant whose native drive is to reach something like 30′ by 30′ by maturity, a maturity which might last for centuries if its space isn’t bothered.

The environment matters so much in life’s determining the size of longer lived woody plants. Certainly the nature of the species places certain limits on the eventual size of any plants, woody or herbaceous. But good soil and reliable watering with appropriate sun exposure are in command in determining size extremes.

Whoever would have counted on a size five pot Grace Smokebush to reach twenty five feet in height in THREE seasons in my grounds? The landscapers’ catalog reports maximum height at 10-12 feet.

September 14, 2013

Autumn Yellowing Conifer Panic Suggests a Good Eye

Panic in autumn regarding Minnesota conifers is a condition of the human Minnesotan who notices yellowing of foliage among conifers and begins to worry about it.

These Minnesota’s conifers don’t panic for they are doing their normal conifer thing….ridding themselves of yesteryears’ leaves, foliage, needles, whichever you wish to call their stuff turning brown in the autumn….usually the leaves older than three to five years.

Usually only the garden-aware Minnesotans pay attention to such environmental phenomena. The are more likely to notice plant habits and characteristics…..But then, even the majority of ‘gardeners’ pay too much attention to conifers, calling nearly all of the ‘pines’ where pine or not.

It is likely leaf drop, whether by conifer or deciduous broadleaf will come early this year and winter might be a bit harsher than those we’ve enjoyed the past decade or so. We have had very little rain since early July in the Twin City area.

My Swiss Stone Pines already dropped their yesteryears’ needles last month within about three days time…..indicative of drouth stress…even though I have an irrigation system operating every other day for twenty minutes per location. This is early season even for these exceptionally beautiful European import pine.

None of the other countless conifers on my grounds have yet displayed any mood to drop needles…..(‘foliage’ we would say when referring to arborvitae and chamaecyparis) but they will in two weeks or so.

Healthy conifers retain ‘leaves’ for five or more years displaying, therefore, a denser, heavier, more robust appearance. Regular, reliable watering is very important for the health and appearance of most Minnesota conifers.

Keep in mind that Gopherland garden conifers, the larch (tamarack) and dawn redwood normally drop their foliage and the end of each growing season, techinically identifying each as deciduous conifers rather than ‘evergreens’. Their bright yellow will dominate the entire tree two weeks before leaf fall is completed in mid to late October, depending upon the amount and regularity of moisture available.

Dawn redwoods don’t seem to scoff at overwatering but reject dry soil for any length of time. If this problem is not corrected Dawn redwood will soon reject you, the caretaker.

So, there, you see, is no need to worry about leaves yellowing and dropping from Minnesota’s conifers in October every year……as long as they are five or more years old.

If this year’s foliage from your evergreen conifer is yellowing or decidedly off color, the plant already might be dead.