Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

July 25, 2017

Notes to the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society Regarding Their Visit to My Minnetonka Home

Filed under: About Masterpiece,shrubs and trees,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 10:59 pm

I began serious landscaping  in 1979, starting on our own home grounds, the  fifth year living in our Minnetonka home.  Masterpiece Landscaping was born in 1989.    By then  I had planted ten second year seedlings of White Pine for the home grounds  purchased from the Minnesota Department of Resources for about $1 apiece.  They were not available at garden nurseries.  (White Pines were, are victims of the deadly  but controllable White Pine Blister Rust.)   That  was in  1976, the 200th birthday of my nation, the one in which I was born.  I reeked the  patriotism I was taught by my gifted old maid school teachers, K through eleventh grade.  I wanted to celebrate every day I worked in my garden….that is my home grounds.

Seven of the ten White Pine  survived their planting and continue living this very day.    Today, three are at or nearly at the 100 foot mark.

I had known Thuja occidentalis, the American Arborvitae, at least the pyramidal form since I was about six years old.   That was the pyramidal evergreen growing near my neighbor’s sandbox, the box at which I began my landscaping a year or two earlier, the one I learned to bite off foliage I’d use as evergreens to decorate roads and streets to drive my 1937 Mercury coupe tootsie-toy car.  My dad had a 1936 Ford four door sedan.  Naturally, I often pretended I was driving our family  of four in the Mercury coupe…also a Ford product….It never came to me that we four could never have fit in a ‘real life’ 1937 coupe of any model.

Thuja occidentalis was not sold in the retail nursery plant market in the 1970s.  I had to send away for one in Spring 1975  as it turned out, the first tree  I planted on my property.   I ordered a seedling from an old time nursery garden  plant enterprise in Mentor, Ohio….no longer in business.   I think it cost me a quarter plus 3 cents postage.

It arrived promptly….in a ten inch envelope with moist cotton enveloping its two root strands.    I was thrilled and planted it in the middle of my 90 by 30 foot vegetable garden.   Although stripped of a huge branch during a 30″ snow storm about twelve years ago, it still stands appropriately  scarred today, the wizened  ‘granddaddy’ of the countless trees I have planted in the landscape garden you Wisconsin folks will be visiting this coming Saturday.

Nearly the entire grounds had been lawn before I settled in at this frontier.   A sickly paper birch, a gangly Russian Olive,  two weedy Box Elders were the only ‘landscape’ trees on the property outside a small ‘room’ of four teenage Red Oaks and one very crooked White Oak in its southwest corner ‘ravine’.    These all died of Oak Wilt epidemic about twenty years ago which began among the oaks at a neighbor’s  grounds high above this southwest valley.

My landscape garden includes  about 200 feet of pond shore.    It was the pond as well nearly a  half acre of lawn that made me greedy about owning these grounds.    I wanted to transform the land  into an ideal garden landscape of  woody plants.   It would remind me of the power, the beauty, and the  moody  of  Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and such….the music  that excited me so  while standing in punishment  staring at that landscape garden  painting by Canadian R. Atkinson Fox  so my Mother could hear her own joys of music by  Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, and the great tragic Operas without my interruptions.

See you folks on Saturday!   Glenn H. Ray

 

July 23, 2017

Knowing, Remembering Names of Woody Plants

I knew what an elm was before I entered kindergarten.   Actually I already  knew of two ‘kinds’ (species) of elm, the Slippery and the White Elm.  The city of St. Paul planted a Slippery Elm about every 50 feet along the boulevard space adjacent to the street on the block  where we lived.

A White Elm, far more mature and  planted by Nature, was growing across the alley behind our house.  Its  leaves appeared very similar to the Slippery.  However one species  developed   very rough texture to the surface of its leaves,  the other  looked  very smooth, even sleek although they looked very much the same.  Guess which elm bore the ‘slippery’ name?

You’re right….the one with the rough surfaced leaves.

When a very young child I was  taught  that:           “God created the Heaven and the Earth…..and the Earth was without form.  Darkness was on the face of the deep.   And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters……And God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light…….And the evening and the morning were the first day……and God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear’:  and it was so.    And God said, ‘Let the Earth bring grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the Earth’: and it was so…….And the Lord planted a Garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed…..And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food;  the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil”.

Paradise was a garden, an ideal, a place of perfection and beauty without want and evil.

The above is what I was taught from the very beginning of my memory.   And there was more than this King James Bible declaration that had captured my attention throughout my life to the rule  that one is closest to God in the Garden.

I had terrible dyslexia as a kid….years before dyslexia was ‘born’.  I was a terrible reader from the very beginning of my school life.   I couldn’t read, that is see words  that others….mostly girls….could so easily see….letters making words, words making sentences.  Instead I photographed what I saw in pictures….not words.   To this day at almost 83, I am still a laborious reader.   Instead, unbeknownst to me until very late in life,  I learned ‘stuff’ by auto-memorizing  pictures…. maps, faces,  pictures,  photos, paintings, settings, gardens.   Enter the story of my life regarding the famous Canadian ‘painter’, R. Atkinson Fox.

I am four and a half years old in 1938.  I was left at home alone with Hilma, my Mother.   My sister was off to kindergarten every school day  morning, a year ahead of me.   Hilma, my intelligent, very driven, gifted  Germanic Mother  graduated formal schooling to conquer the world  when she was 13..  She adored classical music….especially Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, anything  Johann Strauss Jr, bits and pieces, here and there,  including Appalachian Spring, and the great  arias from classical opera.

She wanted to be the best.  She competed in ice skating and ball room dancing, the latter where and when she met my Dad and entered the 1920s ball room dancing competitions in St. Paul with him as her partner.   She knitted, sewed, she cooked, she baked and canned, gardened and worked away  part time late afternoons.   We needed the extra money….especially after the war broke out.

At ten o’clock five days a week Mother listened  to classical music from Chicago come hell or high water, as they used to say then.   Remember, these are radio days, 1938 on.   Then,  anything waffing into ones ear from a Chicago station during daytime in the Twin Cities and not carried locally  would be met with static….lots of it if the weather didn’t behave.

There was another irritation the poor woman had to endure besides radio static from Chicago….From age four on,  when my sister was off to school, I’d be  asking  my Mother a hundred questions per half hour (her statistics, but I’m sure she was right…..and then finally she rebels….”If you ask me one more  question, you’re going to the wall.   Do you hear me?”

I wanted to know the Why and What she was doing as well as what the world was about.  She was always so  busy, up to something interesting. I wanted to know, too.    At ten AM when it was time for classical music from Chicago, static and all,  I’d forget to stop asking….especially with my sister away at school during the ten o’clock morning hour.

So I’d get the wall….standing, looking at the wall for ONE HOUR….not fifty nine or sixty two  minutes, every time except once….when I pouted purposely trying  to make her feel bad…..I was there for two hours.  It became routine.  She learned to put me to the wall for an hour.   I learned to be at the wall for an hour nearly every work day at 10AM….for I’d forget, for I was programmed to ask questions.

The wall, just inside the front door,  was plastered.  Our  little house, a five room bungalow, was only two years old.   The wall smelled new and clean.

At about  the six-foot mark above me ,  there hung  a picture, a very pretty picture roughly 3′ wide by 2′.  In the lower left had corner was written  “R. Atkinson Fox”, the first reading I remember undertaking at age  4 and a half that year of ten o’clock punishment….leading to the following one morning when my sister was still at school in kindergarten.

It’s ten o’clock AM.  It’s Beethoven and Strauss  on radio time.   There I was well into my punishment at the wall…..tenth time by now maybe.  But it was no longer punishment.    I had already been captured by the color of this beautiful garden.  I had already recognized the hollyhocks and peonies early on in my sentencing.  Mom grew them at home.   I’d help her plant and weed.  I especially like planting tulip and daffodil  bulbs.   She made me know all the names of her favorite plantings.  “Bleeding Hearts” were exceptional.   She never argued or seemed cross while in her garden.

The day I remember so well is when I noticed in this “R. Atkinson Fox” picture painting the trees in the upper left background of the garden looked a lot like my neighbor  Mrs. Rowell’s, tree at the East corner of her house…a very narrow  upright proud looking ‘deciduous’ tree….the ones without needles I had been told.

“I wonder what its name is.  I’ll have to ask Mrs. Rowell.”

That very minute my punishment hour was up,  I ran out the back door over to Mrs. Rowell’s house.  I rang the back door bell…(Front doors were limited to grown ups in those days.)……my very first at the Rowell house.

“Why, Glenn, whatever are you doing here?” she asked so sweetly.

“Mrs. Rowell, what’s the name of that tree you have out front by your house?”

“Why, Glenn.   That’s a “Lombardy Poplar”.  Why are you asking?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Rowell.   I just wanted to know.”   By the end of the month I knew the names of most of the trees of the neighborhood including the conifers.   I was a boy.  I just  wanted to know.

I am looking forward to hosting you members of  the Wisconsin State Hardy Plant Society at my landscape garden this coming Saturday.

“One is closest to God in the Garden” is  an ancient  Chinese  adage I learned as Truth by the time I was ten.   I was so lucky as a child to have had to listen to Beethoven, the classical opera arias, Strauss waltzes, Appalachian Spring,  Wagner,  Puccini  and such at that wall listening “in blessed  silence”, yet occasionally with static,  along with  my own Mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 21, 2017

The Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society is Coming to My Garden………..

…..Saturday morning, this July 29th.   My home grounds  display of “hardy plants” will be exposed to  Wisconsin folks most of  whom  live  south and southeast of Eau Claire, therefore living  in a much warmer climate than I do….people, gardeners, tree and shrub lovers  who can show off ten times more  hardy  plants in their neighborhoods  than I can here I Minnetonka, Minnesota.

No complaints, guys and gals…merely an observation.

One of my favorite deciduous trees is Acer griseum.   Bark color and texture, autumn color, growing season color, crown shape and ‘green’ are all exceptional show offs……in your Wisconsin, Zone 5 majority hardy plant lovers’ gardens.   I ordered and planted three about fifteen years ago….wussy looking sizes sent through the mail….all three!   There were  arguments among those in the “know” whether or not the tree could survive in any Climate Zone 4.

With this awareness, I planted one in full sun to the south of my home grounds, a second in the middle, but ten foot  lower  area of the landscape yet fully exposed to  northern  winds off a large pond in the winter, and the third to the East border of the garden amongst a collection of mostly conifer trees,  yew, red pine, and hemlocks.

The Paperbark Maple in the South grew two to three feet a year.  The one to the East grew a foot a year, and the one sitting in the winter path  in the  downstairs of the half acre garden sulked from the very beginning of its placement.  Noticing its childishness, I planted a Canadian Hemlock barely ten feet to the North of  the ‘depressed’ Acer griseum a few years later.

Here is an assignment I have  for our Hardy Plant  visitors, especially  from those warmer parts of Wisconsin.  Before arriving on tour  in my Minnetonka, please, just for fun,  put into order the condition of life expressed  as you will view the condition of  these Acer griseums in my landscaped garden,  fifteen or sixteen years of maturing “life” later.  Hint!  One of them is dead.   Which one?

 

 

 

July 17, 2017

Welcome Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society!

I live in Minnetonka, Minnesota.  Soon I will be  honored to open my landscape gardened grounds here in Minnetonka  to folks from the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society busing in from Madison, Wisconsin.   I, especially  my 78 years of “landscape gardening” welcome all of you for your interest in landscape gardens of the hardy kind!

The first tree I ever knew by name was the “White Pine”.  I was four years old.   My parents had a friend who owned a cabin at Lake Alexander, Minnesota which we would visit every summer for years.   Sand was everywhere, even amongst the tallest trees I had ever seen….groves of White Pine one hundred feet tall.

In the world of labor outdoors, gardening, especially landscape gardening,  can easily become  a drug of the first order, if beauty is the primary, or worse, sole goal for the hooked attempting to create something to uplift the soul.

I was lucky.   It was without choice at age six or seven my primary play outdoors was creating believable and the beautiful landscapes in a sand box about six feet by four in size….which belonged to the neighbor next door in a very modest, pleasant pre-World War II  St. Paul, Minnesota area where lot sizes were 45 by 90 feet each with a garage and alley.

“It”, that is my landscape gardening life, all began in that 6×4 sandbox when I was 4 and a half years old.

It ended, that is my landscape gardening in the neighbor’s  sand box, some time mid summer nearly 9 years later, the summer before I was to enter freshman year at St. Paul Central High School.

I remember being very pleased with the scenery I had created….beauty at last, believability  in  proper order had been achieved that day.   I remember not moving a single tootsy-toy car from its parking spot.   My favorite was a 1939 Mercury my Uncle Frank had bought me for my birthday that year.  It was a coupe, a realistic replica of the real, only two and a half inches long.

Both my sand box boulevard trees and landscape trees were  from a pyramidal arborvitae not far from the sandbox.   I’d bite off the tips of the greenery….and in doing so endured a bitter flavor as if chewing a lemon rind.  Years later, while studying Latin in high school, I learned arbor…vitae meant “tree” of “life”…and indeed so, for the Brits during their centuries as a world naval power, used to store Arborvitae trees grown in pots on their great sail ships which sent them all around globe for business, profit and democratic civilization….which led to the birth of own country,  Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India, by the way ….(I taught ‘high school social studies’  for twelve years. I landscaped as a hobby-drug then.)

I used cigar boxes for corner shops and drug stores.   I lined my streets with ‘pruned’ arborvitae foliage…sizes and shapes formed by my teeth.    Toy building blocks were saved for modest houses like those in which I lived.    A dandelion bud both before and after bloom could be designed as shrubs.

However, that “believability” day was the last day I ever ‘touched’ that or any other sandbox.

Embarrassed by her 13 and a half year old son still monkeying around a sandbox…always alone and loving it, she opened the side outside door where she would be best heard by all  and seen by her ‘wayward’ son and shouted as loudly as possible:  “Glenn Ray, you are too old to be playing in a sand box!!!….but I shouted back, just as loud…..

“I’M NOT PLAYING IN A SANDBOX!  I’M MAKING SCENERY!”…and I knew I was right!!

Nevertheless, I understood the point she wanted ME to absorb for I knew she was right.   What if any of my buddies might ideed  see me making scenery, that is “playing” in a sandbox….something I had practiced for nearly nine years.

My Mother had won the day!

I wanted to avoid her celebrating her victory, however.  So, I covered the pain by  slyly filling a gunny sack with all of the paraphernalia required for community  landscape garden created  in that sandbox, with a laugh or two……for, after considering her claims,   I knew she was right ‘regarding the scenery’ at her distance.   My sandbox education came to its end!

 

July 7, 2017

What exactly is a weed in the Northern garden? Astilbe chinensis?

Filed under: garden seasons,perennials,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 10:16 pm

It is likely the vast  majority of the today’s American population under age 40 have no idea what a weed is beyond an old fashioned word for marijuana…..the stuff of real value among our today’s American youth from homes without fathers.

Gifted humans, the ones lucky enough  who still ‘toil’ the soil in some manner or another, know that  to an experienced gardener, a WEED, is a plant out of place….end of story!

One of the weediest plants in my own gardened grounds is the aggressive  Astilbe chinensis of all shapes and sizes.   But “weediest” has nothing to do with the word “weedy” for neither are a weed if they are not unwanted.

Even in our TwinCity Minnesota area, Astilbe chinensis regardless of  all its salesmanship ‘nicknames’ likes to live and expand its realm where lawn grasses and soillessness are not a problem.   The first named one I remember planting was “Purple Cats”….a three footer or more whose flower spikes were strikingly purple.  That occurred  around 35 years ago.  It is still happy and still bears  a beautiful cluster of purple spikes starting again this coming week.  It  commands  the same  square foot of territory where it has bloomed every year since the day I planted it.  Strong stems and winsome foliage  add to its value.   It is more beautiful the bigger its crowd.

This Astilbe chinensis “Purple Cats” has also expanded its realm as well.   It might now own about fifty square feet of floral display beginning Monday, blooming earlier in sunnier locations than those in deep shade.  Full sun is not in its comfort zone.

Have you ever noticed how beautifully ordered Nature’s landscape gardens are?   Where there is time, HARMONY among plants eventually dominates the grounds.  There is order in Nature until disorder arrives.  Those (plants) victorious in claiming their realm do  so by expanding their own territory, conquering their competitors, enemies,  by making them out-of-place causing disharmony.

“A weed is a plant out of place.”    Is there an Astilbe chinensis in your garden?    There should be!