Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

July 30, 2016

Aralia spinosa

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 12:39 am

One of my favorite woodies in my gardened grounds is Aralia spinosa….(Aralia spinosissima).   About forty years ago it arrived in my possession around mid- August,    I had a large vegetable garden and was beginning  my artistic landscaping of my  property  nearly 90% of which was covered by a mediocre lawn.

I was director of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society then.  Our office was located on the St. Paul University of Minnesota Agricultural School campus.  A devoted plantsman, Bob Estelle, although a Librarian at the University of Minnesota main campus, came rushing into my office around late August that year….upset that the University was destroying its century-old St. Paul campus landscaped garden to make room for a parking lot.   He was carrying  a rather prickly stemmed herbaceous-appearing thing with several  double compound spiky leaves squeezed into a brittle plastic green colored size two pot .

He announced the survival of this Aralia spinosissima (Aralia spinosa) was in jeopardy and was trusting me to plant it in my own garden in Minnetonka about twenty five miles to the west.  “It is a rare plant here in Minnesota!  We can’t let it disappear!”     He had apparently dug up a dozen or so ‘suckers’ and potted them to hand out to folks he could ‘trust’ to do them well.  I had to do my horticultural duty, he nagged.   He was too upset for me to let him down.   I accepted the responsibility, but once I got home I set the pot among others I needed to plant beginning the ‘bones’ of my intended landscape gardened grounds.

I knew countless Twin City  woody plants, but had never come across this almost woody thing called Aralia “the spiny” or Aralia spinosissima, “the very most spiny ever”.   Plastic plant pots were made very brittle in those days.  This one was colored very bright green.

Then it was suddenly early November and a 30 inch very wet snowfall began its dump while I was at work….unexpected.  I had to speed home to salvage all of my brussel sprouts, sweet carrots and other edibles still rich in the garden.    It was not quite dusk when I came across a pack of ten or so  unpotted plants I had intended to set into the ground and nurture that Summer, but never got around to doing it.   One was that  very Aralia spinosa still in its green pot, Bob had trusted me to take care of……  The snow was already a foot deep.   Even though the ground had not yet frozen, I was too tired to plant the darn thing.   I was also too tired to feel guilty about abusing the plant.   I had never watered the thing since the day it entered my property sitting among others similar in a far corner of the garden.

I disturbed a few inches of soil, dumped about a foot of oak leaves around and above the pot in the middle of a clump of three five year old French Lilacs I had planted…..and never thought about the plant for four or five years…..until one hot sweaty day in July when I was weeding with my shirt off, weeding  around  the grounds where my French Lilacs were growing so well.   I remember being very pleased with their good looks and growth….At about my third reach attempting  to collect some kind of plastic debris, my bare right arm was shredded as I pulled it back  having grabbed  a handful of  grassy weeds.    I looked at my upper arm where the skin was shredded as if some animal had clawed me big time.   I had never heard of any lilac being spiny, yet the  spiny woody stalk was easily five feet tall, with another two slightly shorter blending perfectly among some thicker woody stalks without spines.

Only for a moment did I try to digest that my French Lilacs had spines growing out of their stems.   Then I spied the truth  to calm my dismay……I saw a number of small pieces of brittle plastic around the ground swelling of the largest of the three spiny stems.   Moreover, my fist had wrapped around a few pieces of that same green colored plastic I dropped while  my arm was being slashed.

Thirty years later I have to admit, Aralia spinosa…..I prefer ‘Aralia spinosissima’, which is more accurately descriptive, is one of my favorite of  any of  perhaps a hundred or more woody plants I have planted or have allowed to be grown  and nurtured in my landscaped gardened grounds since.

Aralia spinosissima was its name when I first looked up the details of the stranger the day after its arrival.   Even the double compound leaves, each easily three feet long, possess spines.   It produces a large cluster of florets, one to two feet wide at the tops of the foliage (at the twenty foot level)….and is doing so as I write this biography of my “Club of Hercules” as it is romantically called.    These florets, countless in number, open up mid August and mature into berries which become very popular to robins and cedar waxwings in October when they literally  get drunk devouring them in preparation for their journeys southward for winter.

Three or four  years ago we had a winter with very, very little snow cover with temperatures down to minus 20 F….two or three times.    All of my Aralia tree trunks, about six, died to the ground.    This is the first crop of floral clusters, six in number, since that seasonal set back.   They are opening as I write this ‘report’.

I  planted starters in two other locations in my gardened landscape, done before I began to respect  their drive to expand their territories.    Fortunately, their shoots  are easy to pull out the first two years of growth…..Gloves are highly recommended.  You’ll learn why quickly!

In my Twin City metropolitan grounds, these spiny double compound leaves normally all drop within two or three days after the first killing frost.   Aralia spinosa (spinosissima)  sure looks naked and mean in Winter.

July 14, 2016

The Disappearance of the Beautiful throughout Today’s American Art

Filed under: About Masterpiece,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 9:58 pm

Some things heard and/or seen are simply more beautiful than others… the eyes and ears of the normal, that is…..Psychotics live on a different planet ‘normally’.   Beethoven’s adagios make the recordings of noise at your local super market sound like dead skunks stink.

No one listens to anything Beethoven anymore.    What is celebrated as music today  is  noise to the ear as the fragrance a well used summer  out house is to the human nostrils.   What, then, can be said about the visual arts?

Beauty used to be cherished in civilized societies…..but then again, some societies were quite civilized.

In my lifetime, before and even after the second world war, the American adult female dressed attractively whenever entering the public, whether shopping, visiting, or going to church…..usually anywhere,  everywhere,   when ‘in public’.

Nearly every home  ‘yard’ had a garden… for their color, and vegetables for their flavor.   Kholrabis were refreshing;  tomatoes flavorful.

Today greater and greater numbers of Americans have never planted a flower or  vegetable seed.   Their children, if there are any,  guess tomatoes are made at the super market.

With the disappearance of things beautiful to the eye and ear and therefore to the mind, what happens to the human soul in a world without loveliness?

Some trees, shrubs, flowers are more beautiful than others……Some normally beautiful oaks are ugly;  some Box Elders are spectacular.   In today’s limited American visual world no one seems to be aware of any difference.  Who knows one tree from another?  Who even knows what a conifer means?….much less what one  might look like or know that some creep, others are brilliant yellow, some soft to the touch, others with great form.

Some folks are too busy to go outdoors…..They go to work from kitchen to garage directly driving    their  auto  to some  business garage or tarred lot, never engaging verdant beauty, never reviewing  sun and shadow, that ‘ touch’ of sweet fragrance, the flutter and color of something beautiful they have cared for since their first  appearance on the property.

Have you ever inhaled the fragrance of a Juddii Viburnum?    You could own one!  It blooms for only a week at best, but how uplifting it is to discover,  never forgetting  it’s glory especially late in our  winters when Spring is again around he corner !

Where would you plant your Juddii?    North, south, east, or west, shade or sun, sand or clay?   What will inspire you once the bloom passes?….an azalea?  ninebark?  weigela?  a Chamaecyparis?

Has your blue spruce been dying for the past twenty five years?     Tired  pulling box elder,  buckthorn, and mulberry seedlings from your thinning lawn?

Are you  aware  how beautiful your home grounds could truly  be, especially if your goal is  to achieve beauty to inspire you and those around you?     Where would you begin?     Not all plants are equally beautiful…..Not all plants are beautiful one beside  another.

When is the last time you have visited  a beautiful, truly beautiful landscape garden, private or public?

Give us a call at Masterpiece….952-933-5777  for a look or two.   In the meantime….when you do recognize a winsome  landscape setting, try to verbalize what makes it so!!






July 4, 2016

I was born to Landscape Garden

Filed under: shrubs and trees,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 9:31 pm

No one could have loved a career more than I, Glenn Herbert Ray, now approaching his 82nd year of life.   For you readers to bear “witness”, it’s 5:30 PM this moment as I sit at  the computer after spending ten straight hours “working” my landscaped home grounds to maintain and increase its beauty.   My cartilage-less knees are killing me at this moment.  It was this pain which put an end to my  today’s ‘occupation’.   Two years ago I was still able to reach dusk before my landscaping drives arrived at their daily end.

I cannot deny landscape gardening became my only drug of choice since  early in life….and I do know when, why, and the where of it’s beginning.

My mother came from a German immigrant family.   I do know my great grandmother Kraft, wife of Gustav Kraft immigrated to Minnesota directly from the old country, but being German in the twentieth century in the United States wasn’t always a comfortable setting.  Great grandmother Kraft understood English but never was known to speak it.   She was very much into gardening, however.   Her daughter, Paulene, was my mother’s mother, who died after a nearly ten year battle with cancer before I was born.  It was a horrible death.   My grandfather, Herman Danner, was a carpenter who became a house builder in St. Paul a couple years before our American entry into the First World War.  All of his accumulated resources were spent attempting to save his wife’s life.

Incidentally, my grandfather, Frank Ray,  from my dad’s side,  was born  in Cherryfield, Maine before the American Civil War began….either in 1857 or 1858.  His family was well established and quite wealthy, I was told, the families  practiced primogeniture at that time, meaning the oldest son  would receive the family wealth following the death of the father of the family.   Grandfather Frank was fourth in line, so at seventeen decided to go West alone on horseback….to  homestead…..eventually winding up near Hope, North Dakota.   Somewhere in the corners or bowls of my house I have a post card postmarked “Chillicothe, Ohio, a picture of Grandfather Ray  himself, dated 1874 he had  sent to his mother, back in Cherryfield, Maine, which read:

“Mother.   I am fine.  Frank.”   He died of throat cancer in 1917.

One note further….Grandfather Frank met my Grandmother Anna while she and her family were attempting to cross  the Sheyenne River forty or so miles west of Fargo.   He and neighbors came to the rescue while the Williams family’s wagons got stuck in the crossing not far from Hope.     They were married a year later in Hope, lived in town not far from where Grandfather Frank had homesteaded and was farming.

My own Mother was into gardening female style.  She was a German,  overwhelmed with independence, determined to be the best in anything she ever challenged.   She was very attractive and proud of it…..very athletic and proud of it, everyone like her, and proud of it.  She  entered the competitive world at age 13, after graduating from German Lutheran School of the Emanuel on the German west side of St. Paul, Minnesota in 1919.  By age 16 she was head cashier at Friedman’s Super Market downtown St. Paul the largest in the city.

She met my dad at Ballroom Dancing competitions a year or two later and very soon competed  as partners.   He was a pharmacist and manager of the Liggett Drug store downtown St. Paul.   She was much in love with dad as she was mesmerized dancing   Johann Strauss waltzes.   Except during fishing season, they danced together about once a week for decades until the Prom Ballroom in St. Paul was demolished.

I did not choose to be drugged by the art of landscape gardening.   I believe Nature’s God made it so… was meant to be.

Moms were stay at home mothers then, fully responsible for the immediate upbringing of the little ones.   My own version preferred to be in public or at least  earning some money to help payments on  the newly built  house  purchased on Eleanor Avenue for $6, 1936.    This was Depression time folks….preWar.   Even so, gals dressed beautifully when they ‘stepped outdoors’ beyond the yard.   Guys were wearing straw hats, dress shirts and vests or something like sport jackets during their business hours.

Mother was the only one around then  who worked part time.   She worked at the downtown St. Paul Emporium department store in the women’s accessories departments…which I believed included hats.

While at home she listened to popular classical music on radio….Strauss waltzes led her list of favorites, but she was really hooked on Beethoven, but I don’t think  she knew any compositions by name beyond his Fifth Symphony….which she called “It’s the Fifth”, not “It’s Beethoven’s Fifth”.  Handel, Mozart, Polkas and Waltzes, whatever seemed  ‘classical’ in kind  especially melodic, worked.

I,  at age four,  was an interference in her paths to listen to beauty while conquering domestic life….including make our clothes.   She was very popular with every adult, very well liked and played cards, poker or five hundred like a hungry shark.

At four, I was in her way.   My sister, a year older, was easy to isolate from the regular world.   Give her a doll, or a set of paper dolls, and she was in her bedroom  for the entire season.  She was not assertive….but  rather shy, tender, preferred to read, chat with her doll families.

I was a different animal entirely….”IF YOU ASK ME ONE MORE QUESTION, YOU’LL GO TO THE WALL…..DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, GLENN HERBERT RAY? was my Mother’s pronouncement many times a day…..(I was four years old at the time.  Of course I knew what the wall was once I was there, but I’d forget I was supposed to stop asking questions.  I’d rather know answers!  I was inquisitive by birth.  I had big trouble reading anything except wartime news in newspapers, so I’d ask questions.

It’s early  May, 1938.  My sister was in morning kindergarten, leaving me alone with busy mother and  radio music.  I have no memory  of the start of my  standing at the wall…..a blank stucco wall near the front entry to our new house.

When  I did forgetfully ask one more question, I would get an hour’s punishment standing facing that very vacant wall….then Mom could do her many  tasks around the house in peace and quiet with Beethoven or something classic and  sweeter in the background.

I fully understood the system….I’d simply forget…”Mom…..What does ‘capital’ mean….like St. Paul?”  is the  only question I do remember which did perish  the peace.  I was already into collecting road maps…and still have about two hundred of them.  “To the Wall…That’s it!….I warned you, Glenn Herbert Ray!”

Each punishment facing the wall was one hour….being Germanic, her hour  went neither over or under….sixty minutes looking at the wall.   If I played any typical child  payback  games like  pouting, staring, slouching,  showing anger,  any feelings whatsoever that my deed asking the  question was innocent, not a crime, I’d have to stand for 120 minutes, not one minute more nor one minute less.

This meant I couldn’t use kiddy weapons to get back at a Mother…make her feel guilty.  Instead I become quite adult about the matter…..”Oh dear, here we are at the wall again…..I couldn’t pout….but I learned to look and listen…..eventually with pleasure.     I’d have to listen to Beethoven, Strauss Waltzes, Swan Lake highlights, even Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copeland regardless…..and it all almost immediately became a pleasure….enough a pleasure to be uplifted, wondering if the next piece would be more beautiful.

At about the six foot mark above the floor where I stood for punishment,  was a wide  horizontal picture-painting of a landscape garden filled with trees, shrubs and beautifully colored flowers.   My mother gardened flowers;  peonies, four-o’clocks, bleeding hearts, some rose shrubs,  obedience,  garden phlox all German neat and well placed.   I did come to  know the names of what she planted…by asking her….where and when she was thrilled to answer my  every question!   There were no radios for the outdoors then.

Mom knew tree names, shrubs, too….and so did I by this early May, 1938.  Mom was a terrific teacher when outdoors.

Hour after hour of punishments studying this picture hanging on the wall   a few feet over my head I already had come to recognize  peonies, hollyhocks, and soon began to study  a group of very narrow but tall trees in the background of the idealized colorful landscape garden setting.   “Those trees look like the one Mrs. Rowell has growing in her front yard next door.   I wonder what the name of that tree is?   I know it’s not an elm!”….(We had a Slippery Elm growing as a streetside tree at the front  boulevard.)

“I’ll go ask her!….And so, as soon as I was released at  the sixty minute mark, I skipped happily over to next door neighbor, Mrs. Rowell’s back door.  (Children, then, at least in St. Paul, were not allowed to go to the front door until roughly high school age, beginning ninth grade in those days.)

“Mrs. Rowell….What’s the name of your tall tree at the front corner of you house?”

“Well, Glenn, it’s called a “Lombardy Poplar”.

“Thank you!” and I turned around knowing the name of that tree ever after.    But, Mrs. Rowell didn’t let me go so early.

“Why on Earth did you ask me that question, Glenn?”   I told her  I had seen it in a picture.   It turned out the tree was indeed a Lombardy Poplar…a very popular inexpensive tree to buy at the time.

Mrs. Rowell was my first ‘client’ as a landscaper.   A few years later she began hiring me to lay out her garden shrubs and flowers in the Spring.

I was then,  and still am  very dyslexic years before that word was invented.   I knew the alphabet by heart early, but couldn’t  read  letters, and got my head snapped more than a couple of times for printing G and R backwards as I saw them….tough when ones name is Glenn Ray.   I never got it straightened out until second grade when aged  teacher, Bell Swanson, announced in front of the class…”Glenn Ray has finally decided to make his capital Gs and Rs properly…It’s about time! Isn’t it?”

“Yes, Miss Swanson”, they all agreed.   I was always considered second rate student  until third grade when my favorite teacher of all time, Mrs. Lucille Jaeger, startled me  by saying in front of the class, “I understand, Glenn Ray,  that you  draw maps at home.   Could you draw a map of the United States on the black board for the class?”

Oh what a piece of cake.  I had drawn  that at home a hundred times from the atlas Mother got me for Christmas one time….When I drew maps, I never asked her questions……It was wartime.  I even knew all of the capitals of Europe as well.   I loved maps.

I am guessing it took two minutes to draw  the US map.   I’d practice it at home testing my accuracy starting  at Angle, Minnesota, go West to and around  Puget Sound down the Pacific Coast making needed  indentations for San Francisco Bay, then south to Baja, in Mexico and easy lines to the Rio Grande, Louisiana and the Mississippi’s end to the Gulf….Florida’s easy,  then up the coast,  a bit more demanding at Chesapeake bay, then up  to  Massachusetts and  Maine.    I knew drawing  the Great Lakes well.

The class (about 38 kids) was stunned.  I thought everyone experienced at home what I did.  Didn’t they draw maps too?    Then I asked Mrs. Jaeger if she wanted me to draw  the states as well.

She told me to go ahead…..I always worked from California to  the Mississippi River….that was easy….By the time I got there, in  maybe another two minutes,  she asked the class for an applause….and sent me back to my desk.

It was before third grade when I learned to ‘read’ the signature of the painter of my landscape garden picture in the lower right hand corner of the painting,  even though I couldn’t yet read in class…..R. ATKINSON FOX….. I looked him up on the internet only about five years ago…..  Please look it up as well.   Check out some of those paintings.

My Mother had bought that R. Atkinson Fox painting when she was sixteen and working at Friedman Brothers.  She walked home carrying it with her across the Wabasha Bridge…”I thought the painting was so beautiful!”

I am forever grateful for having had to stand in front of that beautiful, idealized painting of an idealized  classic landscape garden of around the end  of the nineteenth century with nothing else bothering to think about.  I began playing landscaping in Mrs. Rowell’s son’s sand box a place he never like to play.     I had become drugged….and only discovered the presence of the  ‘malady’ about eight years ago…..yet have enjoyed it all of my life.