Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

April 28, 2016

Chamaecyparis pisifera, Vintage Gold

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 3:39 pm

One of the finest conifers introduced to the Twin City landscape garden market is Chamaecyparis pisifera, Vintage Gold.     Its advertised form is global, reaching about three feet in height.

A human generation or two ago the only golden foliaged conifers seen on anyone’s grounds,  private or public,  were  dying arborvitaes.   Dying junipers usually chose brown before yellow as their passage to death color.

Chamaecyparis pisifera, King’s Gold is a flimsier, fluffier  foliaged cousin.   It used to be called “Sun Gold” until a decade or so ago.  No matter, its is or roughly is the same plant.  It also is advertised as a global form which reaches four or five feet in height.  I am guessing I have about a half dozen of these somewhere on my grounds already reaching twelve or more feet high.       I have to prune and prune often to maintain  any maximum height of seven feet or less.   I think I have only  two such  globals left due to neglect as well as choice rather than any health problems.

All of these advertised statistics are nonsense.   Chamaecyparis pisifera is a conifer TREE!     I have two  on my grounds planted thirty plus years ago now  both over twenty feet tall.  Beautiful things!!!    That their  name has Sungold or King’s Gold attached to it,  infers that this marketed plant is a selection of the original tree.

Vintage Gold Chamaecyparis is likely to be a more robust fattish brilliant yellow conifer of an Arborvitae look.   On my grounds all three retain their brilliant yellow foliage throughout the winter…..A couple of my Sun-King’s Gold types slide back to green until late February.     I don’t think they are “reliably” hardy in horticultural zone 3….but  it is worth the experiment especially if you plant your  King’s Gold or Vintage protected from winter winds.

(Don’t forget to sign up for our ‘landscape garden classes’ advertised here a few days ago….call 612-919-5300 for more information.)

April 25, 2016

We at Masterpiece are Planning a Series of Classes….’THE ART OF LANDSCAPE GARDENING’…beginning May 7! Please Join us.

Filed under: The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 4:59 pm

Landscape gardening is supposed to be  an art form……the most cherished of all art forms……for in nearly every human culture known, Paradise is a Landscape Garden!

In the ideal,  landscape gardening is to the eye what Beethoven is to the ear.   Unfortunately in today’s American culture, neither are practiced, neither seen nor heard.    At best we live in the noisy  aural world of Prince where the body is stimulated not the mind and soul.

Class 1   9:30 am Saturday, May 7:  “LEARNING TRICKS OF THE TRADE”      Can the human being  create for the eye  what the beauty of  Beethoven or Brahms,  Tchaikovsky, Handel, Verdi, and such   have done  for the ear?

The eye is easier to fool than the ear!!   The class session will be held at my home landscape garden in Minnetonka….address available below.

The magnificence of glorious classical and religious music never came from a college  lecture.   It came from a human  soul, ear, and training requiring an enormous amount of  skill, native and learned,  and hard work conquering  various musical instruments to create beauty to inspire self and  those who might be around to lift the listeners’  soul.   It died as an art form almost a century ago.

Learning the tricks of the landscape garden trade  ideally requires knowledge of plants, plant habits and characteristics and  plant placement in the landscape garden to cause  beauty with the primary goal in mind,  to inspire both you and  the  soul and mood  of the visitor.   Pianos, horns, and violins are not needed.  Imagining balance, color, contrast, height, width,  focus, fragrance, framing, privacy, repetition,  scale, shapes,  sizes, texture, shadows are.

Gardens in America have long thought to be flower beds and vegetable gardens.   The landscape garden whether on the home or business grounds has been nearly universally ignored.

Garden life limited to hostas, lawn,  spiraeas along the house front foundation  and a maple in the middle of the front yard, if well maintained can be attractive.  It is usually not very  high on the inspiration scale of most landscape gardens.

Class 2   9:30 am Saturday, May 21:   The Art of Planting in the Landscape Garden.       Why plant?  What to plant?  Where to Plant?  How to Plant?  How to maintain the plant and  the landscape garden?…..will be reviewed and demonstrated at my home in Minnetonka.

Class 3   9:30 am Saturday, June 4:  The Art of Pruning and Positioning Plants in the Landscape Garden.   When, where, time,  and how to prune  to control size, shape, repair and maintain plant health and  direct the eye.   Review of tools and equipment will be demonstrated.   Class will be held at the Pat Kessler grounds

Class 4   8:30 am Saturday, June 11:    Garden tour of  a  ‘handful’ of  local  Landscape Gardens.   Until further notice  Landscape Garden participants will gather at my home grounds, 14624 Woodhill Terrace in Minnetonka MN.   The tour should last around 3 hours.)

The fee for those signing up for all four sessions is $100 per person, paid in advance of the first class.   Fee for the tour only is $35……for each class separately is  $30 per session.

For reservations, questions, or further information please call  Glenn Ray of Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd.  at 612-919-5300.




April 19, 2016

There is No Life Without Decay

Every year more and more Americans live and work indoors.   Every year more and more Americans know more nothing about their outdoors  where they live.

I was lucky being born 82 years ago.   I was raised in the city, in a house on a ninety by forty-five foot lot taught to know the outdoors, both at home and at school.  It was in first grade before World War II when  I was first forced to collect tree leaves so I could identify these living outdoor  things, both the small and the massive.   Everyone in the neighborhood had gardens for both flower and food.   No one sweated guilt  about growing  things  organic or inorganic.   It was in the garden where ones  grass clippings went.  There were no noises coming from the gardened grounds in those days.   Things were done by thought, hand, and back, not motors.

For the past forty two years I have lived in suburbia.   Lawns are in, and with some messy exceptions, they are well taken care of.    The same Annabelle Hydrangeas planted  sixty years  ago when this community was built are still growing seven or eight in a row as a hedge between lots.   Most of the originally planted  Blue Colorado Spruce, all sixty feet plus of them, are sickly…. 75% of their foliage dead, but no one looks skyward.     Green Ash cultivars and Silver Maples  were popular and cheap then…..$5 a tree , so became choice for shade and are still alive.     Many are a mess in their old age…..tree trimming isn’t free.

City folk aren’t very religious anymore about the spiritual.   But many are told to  believe in the spirit of things Organic, as if  Organic  is the new god for  modern American better  being.

Knowing by lack of  practice,  nothing about outdoor plant life, they are fully willing to pay higher prices for edibles called  “Organic”, for government and its university city folk  feel it more godly if they   program their public  to believe an ‘organic’ banana is better  by taste and moral  goodness of chemistry than a banana without the benefits of  ‘organic’  title.   The poor banana, whether organic or not, is the same banana when eaten  whether the consumer pays more for it or not.

However, ‘organic’ does mean something in the garden.   Whether a blade of grass, a petunia petal, and oak tree or a dog, you or me we pass through our  paths of decay  from life to abet other life .  Things “organic” were once living things bearing ‘organs’ of sorts which made things, units,  living.   Life matter  is God’s gift of  recycling, the give and take of once living matter from the dead to the living.


For years and years since the 1970s, a foot or so  of  top soil was removed from probably the majority of lots where homes and business buildings were built in suburbia.  House building was financially a  risky business.  Since lawn was the human habit of  vegetative ‘life’ where living,  suburban or city, top soil  depth wasn’t needed to help it’s green color remain green during the growing season.   Lawn  needs a pinch of soil,  nitrogen and watering.    The subsoil, rock, stone outcrop, clay, gray, tan  clay with stone, stone pressed with gray, tan clay remained so dense  underneath this ‘pinch’, most  rainwater ran off  looking for the nearest sewers.

Autumn leaves nearly everywhere in suburbia, even where there is plenty of space on the homeowners’ property  for recycling this magnificent organic stuff  necessary for the betterment of living matter,   are bagged up and hauled off.     Ninety per cent of living leaf matter is water.    Decay needs water for decay….for a pile of decaying leaf matter or any other matter once living,  is loaded with elements required for things  living.   Without decay, remember, there is no life as we know life.

Autumn leaves with moisture regularly provided is one of the better ‘mulches’ used to keep weed seeds from sprouting all garden season long.   A mulch better for soil improvement can be made by chopping up  leaves and small branchlets to hasten plant decay and quicker release of nutrients available for plant life…..Remember also, that any  mulch factory creating decay needs ‘fuel’, to energize its power to decay and release its own elements for living plant use as well.

Simply add a touch  of Nitrogen to your outdoor perennial world  once in awhile along with weekly watering, your  plant world, especially  your shrubs and smaller sized trees will  respond beautifully.

If your lawn is ‘everything’ on the grounds where you live, couldn’t you take a first step to contour a ridge somewhere where a handful of shrubs, especially evergreens, can grow….where you can recycle your own autumn leaf  ‘waste’  from whose ever trees covering your lawn.   If you have the spiritual urge to do so, but not the experience or time, give us at Masterpiece Landscaping a call at 952-933-5777 a call.




April 17, 2016

What Does Your Garden Show This April?

We in the Twin Cities, Minnesota area this garden season thus far, are living our usual  early May in middle April this year of our Lord, 2016.

We have had a mild and short winter season.

Being a landscape gardener,  I have been rooting for a tad of global warming here in our Minnesota for the past sixty years….and  my plea was  almost answered until  a few years ago of rough winter.

The best garden climate of all for those of us who like a winter break,  is horticultural zone number 5…..the Japanese, Central Chinese, and English garden paradises….the world of azaleas and rhododendrons of all shapes, sizes and colors, but more, the world where hundreds of varieties of Japanese Maples can be grown without the worry of winter kill.

I estimate my garden’s horticultural zone is 4.6…..slightly colder  than a decade ago when I was, with great fever and energy, trying out a number of ‘hardier’ cutleaf Japanese Maples to serve beauty on my grounds.   Each trial would last for  a handful of years, and then an old fashioned Minnesota winter  would arrive  either killing  or forever scarring  my performers.   Most woody plants can live half-dead in our northern gardens.   Occasionally such half-deads show character, and with a bit of pruning can SHOW OFF with great character…..with pruning to feature both the living and the dead of its parts.

I finally got tired of resurrecting these beauties every year I added on to my time landscape gardening.

When I was a teenager,  Pachysandra terminalis was not at all hardy in the Twin Cities…..nor was it available.   Easterners then knew something about  gardens  then.   Today’s urban  majority  in America have no clue how to ‘grow’ a tomato or Swiss Stone Pine.  They don’t even know what a fir is for  they live  and work their lives inside something or another.

Pachysandra is an evergreen* ground cover  which prefers areas away from direct sun to remain ‘forever’ healthy.   Its leaves are broad and shiny, rich-appearing, so very rich in showing off its proud green no matter what  season.   If it is treated well in its location, Pachysandra loves life and spreads and spreads beautifully until something or someone defines its borders.   I have many, many swarms of Pachysandra terminalis on my beautiful landscape grounds.

They are pleasantly in bloom now and have been since past Thursday in the sunnier areas under deciduous woodies which are not yet in the mood of swelling their buds for this Spring’s display of leaves.

I shall list here a number of non woody perennials covering the 90% of my grounds void of lawn grass which have begun their bloom this past week….

The Dutch Bulbs:   Tulips, Hyacinths, and Narcissus are referred to as the major Dutch bulbs…..because their bulbs are larger than the ‘minor’ Dutch bulbs.   All of my Red Riding Hood tulips, foliage and flower,  have been eaten by rabbits, so that’s a downer.  Narcissus, that is the world of daffodils, are immune to animal eatings, and like tulips come in early, mid and late Spring bloom schedules depending on the bulb selection.   They come in yellow and white bloom color.

Hyacinths are fragrant, wonderfully, powerfully fragrant, to all humans under age eighty….Most humans of that age have to imagine the beauty of the fragrance.  I write from personal experience.   Dutch bulbs lose their foliage by mid Summer.

Among the minor bulbs on my grounds,  I report the following which  are presently in bloom…..Pushkinia which spreads well, Snow Drops…which have been in their white bloom for over a month even surviving the 25 degree temperature we had one evening a few weeks ago, Chionodoxa,  Scilla….(Blue Squill) also in bloom for over three weeks in the sunny areas and now opening its most beautiful blue color in Nature in the shadier areas….I think I must have  a million now in bloom somewhere or another on my grounds.

My Eranthis did not show up  this Spring.  Crocus did, but in very small numbers.   Rabbits love Crocus.   Expect   losses of over 50% annually to rabbits  where ever Crocus are planted.

Some evergreen groundcovers encouraged by weather and sun, are also beginning their bloom.   Common Vinca, or Periwinkle, with its blue flowers, and Arabis caucasica, white rockcress,  with white blooms the whitest in Nature, and even the pink flowering Lamiums are enjoying their sun baths earlier this season….and longer, for these perennials perform their best  and show much longer than when  any 80 degree temperatures arrive to dry them out.

One of my favorite perennials of all in our Northland is Bloodroot.   I have about  a dozen clumps  somewhere on my grounds all arriving from God knows where for I never planted a one of them….bird poop probably.   The white of their bloom rivals White Rockcress….but neater, more precise looking rather than mass.

NOTE:   To an experienced landscape gardener a WEED has only one definition:  A PLANT OUT OF PLACE!

Any bird who needs to poop Bloodroot in my landscaped grounds, is forever welcomed!  Although its bloom time is limited to a couple weeks, depending on the heat of the temperature and moisture available….it prefers afternoon shade, Bloodroot also shows off lovely distinct and clean  foliage throughout the rest of the growing season.

My grounds are also presently overwhelmed with over a  hundred Mertensia…..Virginia Bluebells.    I never planted a one of them.   Some Mertensia  foliage arrives maroon before it turns green.   The clumps are beautiful when young but rather scraggly eventually by the time the blue of the bloom appears.     Like the Dutch bulbs, whether major or minor, Virginia Bluebells’ foliage disappears  by July.

My favorite of these God given beauties of the non-bulb world  which have invaded my home’s landscape world is a Corydalis……now in its sixth  year of appearance upon my grounds. Each plant rises no taller than five inches with the most beautiful delicate cutleaf foliage eventually carrying  dusty pink blooms.   When in full bloom, the dusty pink dominates.

If these plants number a few dozen, they would be praised by gal gardeners  for being cute.   Their seed must be spread by wind, even the slightest, most gentle  breeze,  for since their first appearance there must now be tens of thousands of these delicate things showing off their exquisite form and color so thickly they appear as a beautiful rug for three weeks……and then retire from view  till next year when,  if  it is indeed their habit, there will be thousands more added  where there is no lawn grass to interfere.

*Not all evergreens are conifers…..Not all conifers are evergreen…..a law of vegetative life a ‘budding’  landscape gardener should memorize.

April 7, 2016

“Whither Goest Thine Eye?”……(with your landscape in mind)

Whether one lives in the woods, in suburbia, the city with “a yard” or on the 24th floor of some structure, most of us have two eyes which help lead us on our path from birth “to dusty death” as Shakespeare described the end for some.

Our eyes  absorb things ugly and things of beauty.   What the eye absorbs usually becomes  habit forming.    Our todays are not carbon copies of yesterdays personally, collectively, and morally.   So, who are we today….from the view of the author of this ‘note’ crowding in on his 82nd birthday?

Beauty is far less cherished today than yesterday’s yesterdays.   The human animal is no longer  surrounded by  cause for beauty as an expression in life to uplift one’s soul.    If something is beautiful, it means something is LESS beautiful, therefore causing discomfort, sorrow,  despair and jealousy for  the ‘victims’.   Therefore, in today’s  America it is better NOT to have “SOUL”….so all of us can feel ‘equal’…….

Today in our ‘cultural’ year 2016, NONE  of our artistic expressions including the art of landscape gardening, are focused upon creating beauty.    Nearly all ‘professionally’ are products of  our America’s departments of  “ART” where university bureaucrats preach the pictures, forms, and politics of their day.

Things beautiful were “forever”  created by the human male animal…..whether in old China, old Europe, Old Amazon territory, in ‘barbaric’ Vikingland, or the Easter Islands.   It is in the human male animal DNA to roam, explore, defend, build, protect, be curious, be industrious, to invent, to paint, sculpt, landscape,  from his genetic material driving him to produce comfort, health, and beauty for his mate and off spring.  It has been the human male animal’s DNA in his Nature, the  God-given drive to survive,  which has driven the world until the arrival of today’s politically, sexually  “remodeled”  western institutions where FEELINGS  now replace LEARNINGS.

I was in first grade a couple of years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.   My teacher’s name was Florence Ray…a tall beautiful woman,  but no relation to my family.   Although I lived in the city, St. Paul, Minnesota, knowing the outdoors was considered very important in the learning world of the  day.   So was classical music and  some kind of introduction to beautiful literature, paintings, sculpture, and the appropriate  placement of words whenever such words were needed.  (Swearing  in public whether on the street,  at home, or in school, did not occur.   People then  were churched to feel ugly whenever  performing the ugly and  to believe a price would be paid for selling or acting out the ugly.)

It was in first grade I first received classroom instructions to collect tree leaves for identification. I learned what a conifer was.     It was then I  discovered perennials “Obedience”, “Bleeding Heart”, “Peonies”,  and  biennials – annuals;   “Evening primrose “,  “4 O’Clocks”,  Hesperus, “Petunias, Marigolds, and shrub roses, Pfitzer junipers, and Bridal wreath Spiraea.   The following year I fell into “paradise in exile”, when it became my responsibility to have ‘sole’ as well as “soul”  care for  a double empty lot -sized Victory Garden across our alley.   “I” grew and maintained nearly every kitchen vegetable you could name….even okra.   Digging by hand  for potato tubers made me feel  like digging for gold.

I even learned to dive bomb the potato beetles as I plucked them off leaves  and smushed them by hand.  It was world war time, remember.   I was pretending to aid the war effort.   I also knew exactly where tomatoes came from…for there were very few super markets in those days.

I wonder how many households today include children.  I wonder how many of the households who do have children, bother to teach the young what I was taught about the outdoors  by setting examples   exploiting their home grounds to become a teaching “room” for discovering beauty of the landscape garden.    I wonder how many households of people who pay taxes for the grounds they occupy  yearn to enter the outdoors for the beauty it offers the eye, mind, and soul of anyone who enters it.

Landscape gardening, in the ideal, is supposed to be a visual  art form to inspire all who enter.  It should be to the eye, what Beethoven’s adagios are for the ear… help you,  for a moment or several ,  enter some place special to escape the outside day, and discover beauty over which you have a piece of control.

If  you have  interest in becoming acquainted with creating   garden “pictures” such as those I have written above…….please give us at Masterpiece Landscaping  a call at 952-933-5777,  for an evaluation of your home or business grounds, and the means to introduce a touch of paradise  for your being or, and the essentials regarding how to care for it.

Some things are simply  more beautiful than others…..with reasons too many to describe or even know.   However there are some ‘rules’ many of which are vital in creating the visually spectacular or quiet.   “Tricks of the trade”, we at Masterpiece call them.     Beethoven’s adagios were no bought!   They came from a human brain led to by the ear,  knowledge, and experience  of his day.

On the front page entry to  this website you will find a series of pictures, nearly 100, of various settings we have created for clients.   Not all of them are of equal beauty.   Beauty in our business relies primarily on space available, choice of material,   maintenance,  and a  location based upon controlling what the eye should see from primary, secondary and so on, settings.     As you view the settings,  ‘grade’ the beauty  of the picture….and then, far more importantly,  determine by language why it is more or less beautiful than another.