Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

April 9, 2017

Twin City Spring…2017 in Our Northland

Filed under: Bulbs,garden seasons,Ground Covers,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 4:52 pm

It’s been very dry this Spring of our Minnesota northland.   It also has been warmer than usual, thank God!   Yes, Winter in Gopherland….which  should be called Rabbitland,  was colder and longer when I was four years old back in 1938, the first year  I discovered “garden”.

Minnesotans, at least we urban ones, had tons of close  friends and relatives who had to be visited including many owning a family farm.  I loved visiting family and friends from the very beginning.  It was a helluva lot better than watching television folks!   People especially cared  for  family, regardless how large.  No life insurance.   Death was not uncommon.    Cancer had taken two grandparents before I was born.   By 1947  an aunt, an uncle,   the two remaining grandparents, and a cousin, who died from leukemia also were gone.

We lived in the city.   Everyone we knew among family, friends, and neighbors  were Godfearing,  preferring to follow the JudeoChristian rules of goodness over marijuana, amass knowledge over  feelings, be civil rather than savage.   We knew our neighbors, about sixty or more, very, very well.

We Americans, in those days, were expected to grow up!   We were outdoor people….and lived rather closely together.   Our city lots were 45′ by 100′, which included  a single car garage in the back yard.

Everyone, every grounds had a flower garden and a vegetable garden….Apple and plum trees were extra, and we kids were known to have stolen a number of units during season.  No noises came  from motorized tools in those days.   Lawn mowers were borrowed from time to time when emergency called.   Knowing about 20  neighbors’ telephone numbers by heart was about average then until television arrived about 1947.

Raising a lovely city gardened yard was a sign folks who lived in the neighborhood were civilized and learned.   A well maintained  lawn and properly pruned spreading conifers along the front foundation of the house were proof neat neighbors lived there.  The neighborhood was clean, well manicured, and in Spring, always displayed tulips, narcissus, hyacinths, crocus, and scilla  in the side or backyard garden, if only sometimes to coax the eye away from the vegetable garden if not perfectly manicured.

Because of that past, today I still  live in paradise, but it’s a lonely place  these days.   No one seems to be aware of their nearby outdoors, here where I live and, in general throughout the metropolitan area….and generally the grounds show it.

We are having an early Spring season this 2017 year.  Last year there was a 4″ snow fall this week which slowed Spring life up for nearly a month.  The spring bulbs came and went within a week.

Already scilla, snowdrops, puschkinia, crocus, chionodoxa have opened  up for display on my grounds.  Narcissus, that is, daffodils are already displaying foliage.  They’ll begin flowering in a week.

If the weather stays cool, most of these bulbs will remain in bloom for a couple of weeks.  Remember the rabbits.   They love crocus and tulips, don’t seem to know what Puschkinia, Chionodoxa and Snowdrops are…..and hate Narcissus.

It’s the heat of the location of planting that dictates the length of bloom in general.

Bulbs aren’t the only easy to oblige Spring plants in our area.   I have hundreds of Bloodroot and Virginia Bluebells now greening up for bloom next week or so, depending on the heat of the days.

But I have never planted Bloodroot or Virginia Bluebells  on my grounds.  I am presuming  birds did.   Since most of my acre grounds is lawnless,  I now have hundreds of clumps of both….I toss these Bluebells when they invade beyond their spaces.  If they are kept hugging each other, their spring blue is truly exceptional….with no worry at all.   By early June your Bluebells will disappear from life for another year.    Last year Bloodroot was in bloom about three days in May….for it was a warm Spring and rather late.   Yesterday, I saw a clump of it in full bloom on the South side of my garage….a first, for it must have seeded itself  over the past year.  You will not find a wildflower as neat as Bloodroot.   I let it grow where ever it wants to live…..usually in some shade and often understory to  large wide spreading shrubs.

Notes:   Nearly any flowering perennial, woody or not, marked as shade-loving here in Gopherland can survive beautifully in full morning Sun.  It’s the rising  heat of the afternoon hours that usually causes trouble

The bulbs mentioned above  lose their foliage by mid-June.     They appear for sale on the market around Labor Day here in Minnesota for Fall planting.


March 20, 2017

The Rabbit Problem

Filed under: Bulbs,garden seasons,Pruning,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 10:21 pm

I have made myself wander through our gardened grounds here in Minnetonka where I have lived since January 1, 1974.   Walking through and cleaning up the grounds isn’t as easy as it used to be.  I had knee replacement surgery on my right leg late last November.   That plus my elderly condition in general has delayed service in my keeping the grounds beautiful…..

……especially when I wasn’t around to keep deer and rabbits “in their place”.  They must have thought I went somewhere South for the winter instead of being crippled indoors.

Most of you home owners cover your grounds almost entirely with grass.   My gardened grounds has to be a bit more than a half acre upon which I have only a five minute mowing patch of  lawn…..all of it quite mediocre.

I did apply Milorganite as recommended in our previous article this past February.  Most of the damage had already been done.

Rabbits love arborvitae, at least those which have foliage reaching the ground.  Yet, not all arborvitae are equally pleasing to these pesty rodents.  Those shrubby with yellowish foliage seem to be breakfast, lunch, and Sunday dinner unless protection is provided.   Don’t worry about  the tree forms once they have reached adolescence….about ten feet tall…..There after the bark is too ‘barky’ for rabbit food.   In a few years after adolescence, however, when the arborvitae tree bark is about a foot or  more in diameter at your waistline, you can expect male deer activity in October and November to shred it into ribbons with its antlers while hunting down some doe to do their nature together.

Fortunately only females jumped my fencing during my recovery……some eatings, lots of poop dropped, but no scars on any of my countless trees from antlers.

This is the best time for pruning the lower branches made nude of foliage by rabbits.  All you have to do is observe the ugly damage usually below  the first foot or three above the ground, depending upon the  snow  depth of the past winter.   Use a professional felco hand sheers for smaller woody cuts or a quality Japanese hand saw, but not the low quality stuff you usually see being sold at your local monster store.   Use your eye as your art scope ready to make your eaten shrub beautiful….not necessarily for the moment, but for its future.

Remember, the conifers Pine, Spruce, and Fir are not pruned as if they are arborvitae, chamaecyparis,   juniper or yew.   Pine, Spruce, and Fir develop candle-like foliage clusters rather than a mass of  new foliage of greenery, foliage which can easily be sheered if needed.

If you  want  to artistically , or need  to prune back any of these new  Spring-developing Pine, Spruce, or Fir candles, prune back only the fresh candles, but never previous years’  candles.   Remember that the previous year’s  foliage is not able to produce new buds on the old wood of  these particular  shrubs or trees.

Note:  My  snow drops opened bloom last Saturday.   The rabbits have probably destroyed nearly all of my Crocus…but the Chionodoxa and Narcissus will begin blooming in April.

Do not forget, all Narcissus produce a chemical which makes them uneatable for the animal world.

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.

March 24, 2016

Lilacs, El Nino, and our 2016 Minnesota Spring

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate,Bulbs,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 5:31 pm

El Nino is a Pacific Ocean current event.    The powerful primary Pacific currents normally in early winter   make their  turn North after  hitting  the American continent  somewhere around southern  Mexico.     Occasionally   they begin their northward turn much farther  to the South bringing greater warmth from equatorial  cloud and water  which has a warming effect from  western United all the way to Gopherland cakked  “El Nino”.     Winter 2016  in Minnesota is the result.

I don’t remember El Ninos during my childhood growing up in St. Paul from mid 1930s to 1956 when I joined the army.   Instead, I remember how brutal the winters were year after year until the late 1960s.  I delivered newspapers both morning and afternoon from 1946 to 1950.   Despite the annual January thaw in those days…..less annual in today’s  times,  Winter has never been as mean and cruel as those mornings I got up at 6:00 AM  to deliver 70 St. Paul Pioneer Presses before clients began their breakfasts.   Have you ever delivered newspapers at minus 32  or 28 Fahrenheit?

Today’s snowfall after weeks of mild isn’t going to cause trouble for your landscape garden treasures unless the fall of the wet snow measures over five inches and you grow  beautiful pines with spreading foliage on your property, such as White Pine, the broader the branch, the greater the damage from the weight of heavy  snow the tree cannot bear.

Some of my early Dutch Bulbs opened bloom last Monday…..Snowdrops are always the earliest….then Eranthis and Scilla (Blue Squill).   Scilla is a very, very weedy  rover by seed in the grounds.  Its blue is among most true of all beautiful blues in our geography’s gardens.     In normal Springs its leaves begin to dry up and disappear beginning  in early June, depending upon the degree of light available.

About ten years ago we in Gopherland  had an El Nino mood occur in which after a month or more of spectacular fresh very early snowless  Spring, the temperature dropped  below 25F which killed all of the glorious buds and  blooms on my  Elizabeth Magnolia and caused a slit along the south facing side of the trunk.     It has struggled for life and bloom ever since.

Lilacs are already  fat budded  this year.    So few Minnesotans these days know their outdoors, they pay no  attention to the grounds they own.    It may be that a majority of them don’t know what a lilac is…..and not all lilacs emit  the same magnificent lilac fragrance.  There are Korean lilacs, Canadian lilacs, Miss Kim lilacs,  Japanese lilacs, Preston lilacs, and French, (or Persian)  lilacs……and countless  cultivars.   It may be during this El Nino year, that our French lilacs

Which of the above lilacs emit that famous lilac fragrance?     While all of the above lilacs carry fragrance of bloom, only the Persians, Syringa vulgaris cultivars emit the true lilac perfume….among the most beautiful of color and also among the most beautiful of fragrance,  Syringa vulgaris Charles Joly.     The common Persian lilac, Syringa vulgaris,  is usually the weakest of bloom, both in color and frangrance.

The peak of the French  lilac blooming season usually occurs around mid to late May.   Despite statistics from standard shrub and tree catalogues,  most  French  lilacs are  sold as shrubs, but are in fact   small trees in size.   They  spread in the soil  by  roots.  Maximum heights range from 20 to 25 feet tall,  taller if unwanted suckers are removed from  the ground annually.

Dutch  bulbs, also known as spring bulbs need to be purchased in the fall.   Most are susceptible to rabbit breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.    The one major Dutch bulb immune to bunny trouble is anything  Narcissus by genus……daffodils in the vernacular.   Most of these are bright yellow in color.    Their foliage also dries up by mid July annually.

All of these bulbs are programmed to bloom whether in full sun or under deciduous trees.    Few look their very best when grown in deep continuous shade.   Again, don’t forget to buy these bulbs next September and October.

July 22, 2015

When Should the Ideal Landscape Garden be at its Best?

When, at what season, does, should,  your landscape garden radiate its most inspiring  beauty?

The answer is simple……Whenever you enter your Garden of Eden.

I have lived at my grounds for over 40 years, long enough to be able to do,  genetically, mentally, physically, and culturally, what I was driven to do, planting and maintaining a beautiful  landscape garden  in some form or another.

I have been very, very fortunate in life, and have many other interests to know and worry about, such as the survival of civilized, JudeoChristian principles, understandings and responsibilities in our hostile world.

I began landscape gardening when I was about four years old. I remember the first move. I was playing in my neighbor boy’s sand box, an exercise which never lured him to experience, so I had his sandbox world to myself. It was in a space far enough away from my Mother to be free, relaxed, and creative. I was born a dreamer, and probably a loner. I was born to be happy and to be happiest outdoors deeply entrenched among beautiful scenery. I have always felt blessed possessing this wonderful escape from reality……and, without knowing it while early in aging playing in that sandbox, I have been directed by the drive my entire life since.

No art form can be as inspiring to pursue than the art of  making and maintaining  not merely colorful gardens, but  beautiful scenery.

I have loved the Earth as long as I can remember…..since drawing maps from atlases or tracing them against windows since before kindergarten. I placed the world at my finger tips.

I have also discovered by now in my eighth decade of life, supplied by years of teaching professionally, the male human eye is genetically made to be quite different from the eye of the human female ……and made to be especially keen in the out-of-doors. Honest females notice the difference. They were not stirred by endless thousands of years of genetic material development programmed to be defenders, protectors, hunters ‘of the clan’, and aggressors to hunt, invent, and collect whatever needed to continue life as a species. The human male was/is born genetically curious.

We do know the human female prefers color to form. This ‘law’ of human life is especially true in the landscape garden world.

I spent fourteen years of my professional life as Executive Secretary of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society when it used to be a semi-State agency providing horticultural knowledge to our north land, Minnesota, owning a climate quite different from the big population sections of the country itself. I traveled the State three or four time every year for the Society, organized in 1866, and chapters were established in each of the states’ Congressional Districts. It was through the Minnesota State Horticultural Society that the popular Minnesota Landscape Arboretum came into being. The institution no longer exists as a state serving agency.

I was four years old when the spark of landscape-garden life entered my soul and began its control of my private time. My sister was in kindergarten as I would be the following year. I was alone at home, alone, at last…..with the exception of my Germanic mother, a devoted traditional gal-gardener in her own right. Flower gardening was the only world I ever saw her profoundly at peace at work, content with life, enjoying every moment of it as she maneuvered her annuals and perennials to satisfy her eye for making beauty.

We bonded in many ways, most of them having something to do with landscape gardening.

She loved picture puzzles….but ONLY the ones with colored pictures of beautiful landscape gardens with more than a thousand pieces so she wouldn’t become too bored too soon putting it all together. My Dad worked at his drug store all of the time; my sister played paper dolls and dolls in her bedroom. I was the only person aloud to touch Mother’s puzzle, for she was impatient for the finish. Being a boy, I saw the pieces better, quicker than she. She recognized and respected that. Although competitive, it didn’t bother her in the least for she had to perform all of the domestic duties of the day and work at Dad’s drug store part time, as well. She loved being with me as her puzzle worker partner.

By Spring 1942 there was the matter of the War. Dad, too old to serve and working 70 plus hours a week at his drug store, had been raised on a farm near Hope, North Dakota, and so, patriotically agreed to sign-up to be in charge of a Victory Garden at the three empty lots across the alley behind our house. The city would plow the space and provide seed packets for free if he would agree to plant and maintain a Victory Garden in that space for our harvest but share the larger harvest among neighbors.

Neither he, nor Mother had time for farm-life extras even for the war effort beyond Mom’s canning. It also turned out that she had a rather serious allergy to certain bee stings. So, at age 7, guess who, as a habitual rite of punishment, was ordered to plant this, hoe that, pick beetles here, stir the crows there, harvest everything hither and thither here, there, and everywhere in that garden all by myself? How could I have become so lucky to suddenly be drawn into paradise on Earth where there were no limits to a boy’s imagination and play…..especially during war time!

Canning vegetables, however, was another area of deep bonding with the lady of our house….Although Mother wouldn’t allow anyone to disturb her own flower garden, because of her allergy, she didn’t dare a chance to even enter the Victory Garden.

I became manager, laborer, and play maker at the same time. I especially liked dive bombing potato beetles.

I loved every bit of it, but at a cost. I became devious. I was smart enough to pretend the punishment being sent to the victory garden was too severe for an innocent young lad of seven, eight, and nine, to endure. I knew Mother would send me on assignment there ever more often. That garden became my personal world. I had every garden duty there, I seeded, weeded, cultivated, harvested throughout the war years until Spring, 1946. It’s where we boys played hunting Nazis among the corn stocks in the Fall and dive bombed Nazi installations (the snow forts we had built for that very purpose) in the Winter, all for the war effort, of course.

The first ten years of living here in my eventual landscape garden paradise, I maintained an eighty by thirty foot vegetable garden to make certain none of my three kids would fail to know where tomatoes and such came from. The two boys paid attention. Our daughter did not. I was never German enough to maintain a perfectly well-manicured vegetable garden, but always have been jealous of those who do…..for such settings, too, can be made lovely as well as orderly.

With all of this background programming me to become a captive of landscape garden beauty, nothing matches the following domestic experience causing the final blow.

I was raised in a small five-room bungalow, as it was then called, built and moved into by our family in 1936, then a newly settled section of St. Paul, Minnesota. At the vestibule at the front door was a wall empty of everything except for a framed picture placed at the six foot level by my Mother, a picture two feet by one and a half foot. It was the wall in which I spent countless standing hours of my life from age four to ten most often during winter or whenever Mother was in the mood to silence me. This wall is where I contemplated about life, war, and the world. For it was there I stood in punishment, almost always for disturbing Mother by asking too many questions while she desperately wanted to listen to classical music over the static from our floor radio console…..especially when she wanted to hear Handel’s Messiah during Christmas or Easter from Chicago or anything Johann Strauss at anytime.

She’d warn me every time…”Glenn Ray, if you ask me one more question, you’re going to the Wall…..Do you hear me? Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Yes, Mother”, but sooner rather than later, I’d forget. I had too many questions to ask, answers to know, too many worlds to conquer. Whether in seconds, minutes, or hours, I’d be right at her apron asking more questions.

The punishment was very German. I’d have to stand there for one hour…..that’s sixty minutes, not fifty nine or sixty one….but sixty minutes. Mother was very precise when at her best which was usually always. That ‘best’ included destroying my ability to pout about any punishment. I could never get even with her with sulky, pouty, disagreeable looks, slouches, or displaying other attitudes. She’d pick up even the slightest sulk I come up with….I tried that trick only once….that old trick kids can pull in retaliation to make adults, mostly moms feel bad. It almost worked for my buddies when they tried sulking to their moms. But my mom’s memory was as sharp and German as everything else she did. She gave me the one hundred and twenty minute standing time the one time I dared to practice my frown trying to make her feel bad.

Let’s look at that lone picture hanging at the punishment wall I was forced to stare at all those years. Even though I was born horribly dyslexic, unable to read much beyond but atlases, encyclopedias, and news article throughout my life, somewhere along the line of these punishments, most likely when I was seven, I spied R. ATKINSON FOX, written, nestled into the lower right hand corner of a “painting” of an idealized, landscape garden setting. I didn’t know what R. Atkinson Fox meant then, but my eyes had recorded it. I inherited the picture about twenty five years ago and immediately placed it at the six foot level in my bedroom. Eventually, I remembered standing after standing, hour upon hour, with nothing to do but look at this this one picture, primarily as a result of my own Mother’s drive to listen to Handel, Strauss, and Beethoven, et alia in the background without any interference beyond radio static while she was doing her home chores and enjoyments before going to work in the afternoon.

When I was five years old and attending afternoon kindergarten and my sister was in the first grade, after an hour ‘at the wall’ and already well trained at looking up to the six foot level where the landscape picture had already so commanded my eyes and thinking, I began wondering about a line of trees along the left border of the picture-painting. I already knew what hollyhocks, delphinium, and peonies were. Both Mother and Mrs. Rowell our wonderful neighbor next door, grew them in their gardens. Both had told me their names, for I wanted to know.

Once while standing below the picture perhaps at the 44th minute mark of my punishment, I thought the tree of the lineup looked a lot like the tree growing in Mrs. Rowell’s front yard, a tall skinny one. I can see myself this very moment leaving the wall and its picture precisely at the hour mark going out our back door across the lawn to Mrs. Rowell’s back door….(In those days in St. Paul neighborhoods, all children unescorted by adults visited neighbors at the back door only. Front doors were reserved for adults.)

“Mrs. Rowell…..what’s the name of the tree you have growing in your front yard?”

“Why, Glenn, it’s a Lombardy Poplar.” she replied. “Thank you” and I turned around to go back home…..but Mrs. Rowell called out, “Just a moment, Glenn. Why ever did you ask me?”

“I just wanted to know”……which has been one of the best blessed gifts of my life…..a trait I inherited from my Mother, but a trait she was too busy to handle from some offspring in her family. Mrs. Rowell hired me when I was about ten to help her arrange her perennial garden.

It was the sand box by the alley at Mrs. Rowell’s where I first began learning the art of landscape gardening. In 1939 I got a set of Tootsie-Toy cars for Christmas from my favorite uncle. These were miniature ‘replicas’ of real cars of the day. I remember a Buick and a Mercury as my favorites. They all were about three inches long and appeared very real. I needed foliage to make my streets and country road believably tree-lined. One elm leaf was longer than a single Tootsie-Toy car. So, I bit a piece off of a conifer, a pyramidal arborvitae, which had dark evergreen foliage about the proper size relative to a Tootsie-Toy car to make it look like a street tree….and eventually a couple of park trees where my city parks would be built in the sand.

At age 13, although heavily secreted from any of my friends, I was still designing streets and gardens in this same sandbox. One day an angry Mother called from our back door while I was designing at the sand box……”Glenn Ray, you’re too old to be playing in a sand box!”

I shouted back, “I’m not playing in a sand box. I’m making SCENERY!”……..but the dagger hit me hard. I swiped at the streets I had designed, collected all of my blocks, the houses and skyscrapers I had built and gardens I had arranged with petals, florets, and conifer cuttings I had used to imitate and idealize reality, and never returned to “play” in the sand. Mom was right. I was afraid my friends might find me playing landscaping in the sandbox…..I WAS too old….and yet, here I am almost 81 and have been playing the same visual art game for a living for more than half my life. What did I ever do to be so fortunate?

How beautiful is the scenery where you reside?




October 9, 2014

Frost Arrived at my Grounds This Morning, October 9, 2014

I was about to write an article at this post today that tomorrow, October 10th according to records, is the average date for the arrival of frost in these Twin City, America environs. However, when I stepped out onto my gardened grounds, I spied frost covering the here and there. This frost had not been predicted by the pundits.

In the upper regions of my bit over a half acre gardened grounds, frost arrived for awhile this morning, AM October 9th, a day early. Frost for much of vegetative life, especially the leafy parts of so much of it, is a killer in our climatic zones, as noted by the name of the season in which we live, “FALL”.

Most of today’s Americans, which of course includes our locality called Minnesota, knowledge of vegetative life out doors is non-existent. That landscape gardening to the soulful human animal is supposed to be an art form is even more deeply hidden in the recesses of contemporary human thought. It is certainly not taught at university.

When the ambient temperature drops a degree or two below 33 degrees Fahrenheit, not all nooks of ones landscape garden are equally affected. Not all perennials and annual woody and non-woody plants are equally bothered by a few degrees of the Fall’s first frost. I remember snow falling on my birthday, September 21st on two occasions during our ICE AGE ERA, 60 plus years ago; wet and heavy snows which caused bending and broken branches and flopped herbs. Yet, I even then noticed there was no ground frost for snow provided the protective touch of insulation.

Throughout the lower reaches of my gardened grounds, there was no evidence of frost anywhere. Tree and shrub foliage, I am guessing, entrapped enough yesterday’s warmth to escape leafy death by a degree or two.

Over the past fifty years the genus “Hosta” has become one of the most widely grown perennials in our area. Early on in this invasion only a handful of varieties were available.

It’s hard to kill these older varieties and cultivars of Hosta. Gardening gals loved them all. After a few years of Hosta-growing in anyone’s garden hereabouts, gals would divide the original plant into countless numbers of offspring plants….at no cost beyond their own invested time and ‘local’ energy. Guys, nearly all of whom years ago used to mow their home lawns began to notice the economy of growing Hosta as a garden member as well. Furthermore it eventually became noticed that some Hosta sitting in soil but out of ground awaiting transplant in the Fall, actually had to await until Spring to be planted due to human forgetfulness and/or heartlessness, and still survived. Not all Hostas are ‘born’ equal, however.

Some begin to yellow in foliage before the first of October in our area with or without the help of frost. Nearly all will ‘fall’ their foliage from a heavy frost…. usually anything under 30 degrees F.

Check out the hosta population in your own or your neighbors’ gardened grounds to discover what was ‘hit’ by last night’s frost in your Twin City area. If your Hosta world still appears happy, and your marigolds or other tender annuals show no signs of certain death by weather, your garden is likely to be frost free for another three weeks…..that is, until the next evening of a clear sky and its full moon with temperatures in the lower 30s or colder arrives…. It’s Nature’s habit.

May 28, 2013

Rain, Rain, and More Rain….but Beautiful, if Brief, Landscape Gardens

Spring arrived for a day or two several weeks ago and apparently didn’t like the setting. It yielded to cold and rain, rain, and more cold…..and made the color gray exceedingly dull, the only color in town.

Unless, that is, you have a bunch of healthy conifers decorating the world around your residence. Add a number of flowering shrubs and trees and you have indeed become blessed this Spring.

And then, there are the ground covers, the garden lawn being about the only one Twin Citians recognize.

Without a doubt, a well cared for lawn is an attraction during the wet season. Its green is greener with regular waterings. Lawn grasses grow faster when it is wet and cool. Weed dandelions close up flowering giving the illusion that even the worst maintained of lawns might be admired by the uniformity of color.

But lawn isn’t the only ground cover in town. For decades river rock and chipped limestone have been added “to cover the ground” by the coarse, lazy, and thoughtless, those having no regard for beauty, plants, and Mother Earth.

More recently wood chip mulches are bought or bagged up for general use to cover the ground. Even ‘chipped’ old rubber tires have been used as a cover to ‘keep out the weeds’.

We, at Masterpiece prefer the following:

By far the most attractive blooming ground covers in our area, the creeping plants which often happily and beautifully ‘cover’ the ground are Ajugas, Creeping Phlox, Lily of the Valley, Sweet Woodruff, Lamiastrum, many Lamiums, Pachysandra, Moneywort, several Sedums, Thyme, Vinca, and White Rockcress.

Then one must add the creeper conifers: The junipers, Calgary Carpet, JapGarden, Hughes, Daub’s Frosted, Goldstrike, Blue Chip and Blue Prince, Prince of Wales, Wilton Carpet, even Buffalo, Broadmore and Emerald Spreader Yew.

None of these woodies can be walked upon as if they were lawn. Only the Thymes among the non-woody can pretend to be lawnlike in this regard, especially when added to planting spaces amid rocks and walkways.

This rainy, cool, and cold Spring has produced the ugliest weather, halting and delaying nearly every bloomin’ Spring bloomer for weeks. No longer able to hold back Mother Nature these garden plants came to stage their color all at the same time….including all of the spring ground covers, most of the spring bulbs…with all of the conifers, creepers and otherwise, producing their ‘budding’ new growth more prominently than in their dry pasts.

Remember too, that well planned and cultivated landscape gardens, like people, gain character with age.

April 15, 2013

Snow and Cold getting rather Old….

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate,Bulbs,garden seasons — glenn @ 1:15 pm

This snow and cold business here in 2013 “Spring” Twin Cities is getting kind of OLD. Mother Nature seems to be taxing us for the magnificent, best of all Springs, which occurred just one year ago when Spring arrived on March 15 and ruled until the beginning of Summer in late June.

Eranthis, Snowdrops, and Siberian squill all began bloom last week in our grounds. They are still in bloom but completely unnoticed under ten inches of recent snow and ice. Last year they woke up by the 18th of March.

The major problem with spring bulbs is one must plan and plant in October….when Spring rarely comes to mind. Another problem…..rabbits eat tulips, both foliage and bulbs. Yet, tulip blooms offer the widest variety of colors probably of any plant ‘group’ around. Narcissus, that is daffodils in the vernacular, are much more permanent in the home grounds…for NONE are eaten by rodents. If you aren’t terribly fond of yellow or white blooming exclusively in the spring grounds, you needn’t bother being tempted by these rabbit and mouse proof garden additions.

Tullps are usually identified by spring season in which they bloom…early…midseason….late. If winter con tinues for another week or two, which is likely before the grounds are free of snow and ice, Spring will be abbreviated and the tulip season of bloom will become less distinct. They will still bloom in their inherent order, but there likely will be more blending of their programmed time of bloom, yielding to overlaps.

Check out the retail counters or notify us at Masterpiece now or any time of the year if you would like to express Spring more colorfully, more ‘springlike’ with bulb plantings in October….There are dozens and dozens of species and their cultivars many of

January 13, 2012

2012 – The Winter without a January

at least thus far fellow Northlanders…..

Previous to yesterday the vast majority of my grounds was bare of snow.   Where snow did exist, there was no accumulation, but only a dusting here or there in areas beyond the reach of the Sun.

As most of you readers know, I am thoroughly in favor of our Twin Cities moving into Horticultural zone 5.   In some grounds we are almost there, but msot of those grounds are in the Twin Cities themselves.

Last year we didn’t have a January either exactly.   As you remember we had the abundance of snow fall on November 13.   The ‘dump[ reached 32 inches most places on my grounds.   December came and went, dumping more ‘on the place below”.   And January came and went without any January thaw at all.  

It was good for our snow removal business for we could remove the endless number of ice dams on Twin City roofs.   Suddenly, mid February,  warm breezes, the tantalizing kind feigning Spring, ruined the money-making.   We had to wait another six weeks before the landscape gardening season began in earnest. 

Are there troubles assoicated  with a winter without a January?  

You bet there are.   Last evening the temperature hit our season low, zero degrees Fahrenheit after a month of March weather, but March weather without March snow…..the heavy wet kind. 

Some folks noticed tulip foliage already beginning to pierce the soil line on the south locations of their  house.    Although it is possible some Dutch bulbs might be already lost due to this warm and snowless winter followed by this sudden deep freeze,  it depend upon what temperatures are ‘on the horizon’. 

If there is an extended period of below zero temperatures   without any snow cover, any damage to  tulips will be nothing compared to what might happen to countless far  more valuable woody plant materials of borderline hardiness…..such as the Emperor Japanese Maples,  Forsythia blooms (although nearly all Forsythia shrubs themselves are hardy in the Twin Cities, the exposed wood of the Black Beauty Elderberry,  dieback also on many smokebushes to the ground, although their roots probably will survive.   

Young newly planted hemlocks, yews, yellow foliaged Japanese yews especially might be hard hit, depending upon the quality of the soil in which they have been  planted. 

Dwarf ginkgos might be killed.   Some of those other plants you spent $200 per unit for are also likely to be victimized.

As a rule “dwarfs’ of both deciduous and evergreen shrubs or trees are less hardy than their standard parents.   The ones most susceptible to winter kill from snowlessness are those from parents hardy only to zone 4, and most woody plants of horticultural zone 5. 

What to do to avoid the loss  of some of your favorite more sensitive plants?  

If your landscape garden or garden  border, or flower garden bear  no winter mulch added to the soil around their crowns already and you haven’t a bag or two or twenty filled with oak leaves, unchopped, you might think about applying rags or old sheets around the crowns of the plants possibly endangered.  

Tree  and  Intersectional  peonies might be susceptible to damage…..which reminds me as I write this article I have forgotten   to tend to them thus far.

So I have to run folks!  These peonies demand my attention!

May 3, 2011

A Report on Spring 2011

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate,Bulbs,Plant health — glenn @ 10:54 pm

May first is the normal time for Leonard Messel or Dr. Merrill Magnolias to begin blooming in my landscape garden.   Normal meaning over the past thirty years.   Normal meaning this year….despite the relatively miserable Spring….more accurate ……the absent Spring  thus far.

Dutch bulbs have done well.   At last my Siberian Squill have weeded enough to cover masses of space with the most beautiful blue matching any in the world.   For you beginning your landscape garden world, keep note that it does take about ten years for these masses tobecome  large enough to make a powerful floral statement….for about a week to ten days.   Those with only half day sun bloom a few days behind those in the open.  

There will be a down side when the foliage sinesces…in about two or three weeks.  Don’t fret and do not cut the foliage back after bloom.   Any of these minor….or major …..Dutch bulbs need their greenery after bloom to restore the bulb with energy to produce another display next season.  It’s a good time to fertilize with a fertilizer a bit higher ratio  in phosporous.

The yellowing Siberian Squill (also called Scilla) foliage will last about a week, often less, but will disappear without your interference.   Squill will spread throughout any area in which the soil is exposed and not under water.  

Snowdrops are earliest bulb bloomers in my grounds.   Winter aconite would show second, but not this year.   They were a no show.   I have trouble keeping them for any length of time.  Perhaps artificial watering is a problem.

Remember all Narcissus are  immune from rodent munchings.  Unfortunately the  color selection isn’t very broad.  Hyacinths with their exceptional fragrance aren’t particularly bothered by rabbits in my grounds.   Crocus and tulips are another matter.

Some years ago I was planting some crocus at a client’s garden.   I had several dozen crocus in an open box on the bed of my pick up truck, which was in sight from where I was planting crocus.  

I happened to look up just in time to see two squirrels  leaving the truck bed looking very pleased with themselve…..and I immediately guessed why.   They had ripped into the webbed bags containing the crocus.   About ten of the  fifty were gone and some remains were apparent what had happened.

Some seasons I had the viscious purple crocus bloom at the same time as the swaths of scilla…..and exceptional sight, but a few years later the crocus had disappeared.

Puschkinias bloom at the same time as Siberian Squill and Chionodoxa….and they all have been in great display during this past verycold week and are still blooming.

The evergreen groundcover, Pachysandra terminalis, is also in bloom now.   In masses one can pick up their sweet fragrance on the warmer spring days……   The dwarf Frittilarias are also blooming.

Most cookie cutter landscapes don’t use many if any of the countless new evergreen varieties on the market these day.   As their new foliar buds swell the colors, usually a lighter and sometimes a brighter shade than the more mature foliage, make them appear to be in bloom as well.

So many of this year’s more mature conifers look crappy even if they did survive without severe damage from last winter’s onslaughts.   I have lost two Hetz Junipers, one Tendergreen Juniper and one deGroot’s Arborvitae all of which were leveled by the November 13, 2010 wet and heavy 24-30 inch snowfall.   Two Woodward Arborvitaes were crushed and one mature Techny broke in half.   The storm damaged twenty or more other major plantings…..destroying an Indian Summer crapapple, ripped a major branch off an unknown named  pure white blooming cultivar…..and ravaged my White Pine.

Well, there is always tomorrow, if the sun will decide to appear…..and  my white rockcress opened up today.  What a white.   I have four or five beds of this unfailing white flowering groundcover, Arabis caucasica.   Last Spring all beds were in bloom for a day short of a month.

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