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.


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.

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.

May 21, 2012

Developing a Landscape Garden….

That age old saying, “One is closest to God in the garden” does not refer to a vegetable garden or flower bed…..or a home orchard.   It refers to a landscape garden.

What is a landscape garden, then?…….to be basic, it is a piece of land that is landscaped.    It is a piece of land to be entered as one enters a cathedral or a cemetery park, classically to  inspire the visitor  by the most revered art form in all of  the human experience.

Paradise in nearly every non polar culture has been imagined as a garden of perfection, exquisite beauty, quietude, thought, memory and inspiration…….a landscape garden.

I often announce that the landscape garden is to the eye what Beethoven is to the ear……where harmony is to dominate despite moving from notes of incredible combination and accent from melody to melody, beat to beat, texture to texture, rhythm to rhythm, color to color, space to spacelessness, glorious form and unforgettable fragrance.

As our ancestors must have known  what we, as deprived moderns do not…..Evil cannot be designed as a classic garden feature but can be easily created in man’s other art forms….especially music. 

Fragrance can, however.

We Americans do live in a time where beauty is eliminated from our vocabulary.     Our dogmatic flavor of our  day of political correctness is the insistence  there is no God, that good and bad are matters of opinion, that everyone must be made equal……that  if something is deemed beautiful,  something else  is therefore less beautiful…..perhaps even ugly…..and feelings will be hurt.   Such  a thought that something is beautiful might be deemed a thought crime at your local university.

A couple of years ago I stopped by the offices of our  state Horitucultural Society, and orgnization I managed for about thirteen years.    It is run  by women now.    I was interested in adding my name to their speakers’ lists and was handed a listing of over 100 topics.

Not a one of those more than 100 topics included any word related to the word ‘beautiful’.

Not a one…….Rain Gardens  and  Using Minnesota Native Plants are tops.  leading the parade of listings without beauty.

What art form hasn’t modern governments corrupted?   Painting, sculpture, literature, music, poetry?  all of which universities control, by the way.

Well break away from that by-the-way. … Become free and begin thinking about where you live and what you see.

The art of landscape gardening is a visual art form.  So is magic.    Experts in both attempt to control what  the eye is to see and what the eye is not to see.  What is implied and what is not implied.  

When I was Executive Secretary of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society a number of garden clubs,  mostly gals, would visit my landscape garden in Minnetonka.

The entry points to and through the landscape garden were clearly established.   Women are creatures persuaded by color…..guys by shape.    Knowing this I was able to  dictate the direction the gals would follow.    A landscape garden  usually consists of rooms and often hallways connecting  one room to another.   

No matter how beautiful a plant form might be, color dictated the direction of the path the gals would follow.   When the path entered a room,  if colorful plants, usually the flowering ones,  were placed to the left, the ladies would turn left.       

To begin ones lessons in Landscape Garden 101. one must understand you are entering the world of God’s plants.    Universities now might have you concerned about planting only “Native” plants, that is only those ‘born’  in  your county, your  state or your country.   If you are so racist, you can still learn the art form of landscape gardening, but your tasks to achieve beauty, as it is in the human world, will be very much limited.

Three  quick memorizations are required before we proceed.   1…a Weed is a plant out of place;  2…..the Landscape Garden is a result of ‘What do you put Where…..and Why did you do it?’…..three questions in one……and the most important of them is the WHY.

Another, the third, ….’there are Many Roads to Beauty’, but countless more to create and sustain ugliness.

Maybe there should be a forth:   “Landscape Gardens, like people, gain character with age.”

Where do you enter your estate…..that is,  the grounds to the place where you reside?    In more modern upper crust America, it has come to be  through the garage with no  one every knowing what the grounds look like. 

So let’s start again…..What is the setting of the grounds where you reside and ‘govern’  where you see or walk through most often?   Are every one of your windows a picture looking out onto  a beautiful setting?   Maybe that is where you might start your landscape play by designing from a window.

Remember, a  landscape garden is a plot  of ground made beautiful by the arrangement and careful cultivation of plants.   Landscaping ones home grounds is the means by which most Minnesotans become acquainted with at least the fringes of the art of landscape gardening.   When we dream of home, it is a house in a setting, a setting among lovely trees and shrubs civilized with a carpet of lawn and an arrangement of beautiful flowers.

What you have just read  is where I recommend begin your thinking.   It is where I started…..and I live in a paradise.

Decide, perhaps,  on the space which is the  most ugly on your grounds….or the space,  the improvement of which, would mean the most on the road to make your home grounds beautiful.

Where to begin?      Remove the  lawn or the otherwise ‘in the way’ of creating your masterpeice landscape.   It doesn’t have to be a massive project.   One of the most beautiful areas on my own home grounds is  a twenty by eight foot hallway going from my front grounds to the largest of my garden rooms on the property.   It needs to be seen to be appreaciated.   I am drawn to my hallways and rooms many times each day, each week, each month including winter, the longest landscape season in our Northland.

Look and study the canvas you have now created.  You need no new vocabulary to explain what you see, what you would like to see, or what you will see.    You will think every day words……the only new vocabulary will be the names of the plants.   NOT ALL EVERGREEN CONIFERS ARE CALLED PINES!     Only a few are.

Think forms first and then color.

Another warning……listen, but only with care,  to the advice of your local Master Gardener.   These well meaning people  know nearly nothing about the landscape garden, but are heavy on Rain Gardens and growing Native Plants in their agendas.   They are university folks filled with enthusiasm to dictate rules.

Once your sod is removed stand in a position there  where you will be most frequently viewing the rest of your grounds.  Is the painting you view worthy?  What do you wish to frame?    What might not be  worthy of framing?

What is sacred and will not be removed  under any circumstance?    …………Well, one sacred item will  be the house itself, if it stands before you.   If it is at your back, the sacred  might be a white oak or spectacular Sunkist Arborvitae or a redbud……or maybe a fifty year old “overgrown”  neglected juniper that might be shaped as the Japanese might form.

If you alrady have some sod removed  do cover it with some kind of ground cover….mulch if you cannot think of anything else.    Use a mulch which will NOT attract the eye.    If you do nothing Nature will decide what your landscape plants will become……including maple, elm, ash, box elder or mulberry trees.

Try not to buy your plants just to buy plants.   It  can become  very expensive and wasteful and lead to profound discourgement.    They are living things which need special care if sitting in a pot all week long.

Some of the ground covers which will  keep Nature’s choice to a minimum in the lawn cleared area are Pachysandra, Ajuga,  Sweet Woodruff, Lamium,  Vinca,  and a number of sedums including  Sedum acre and kamchaticum.   NEVER purchase perennial Snow on the Mountain (Aegopodium) or Bishop’s Weed, for it becomes  a weed perpetually out of place.   

If you buy about five of each of the above mentioned units in the removed lawn space,  and water regularly and the soil is tolerable to life,  by the end of the summer  a 150 square foot space could be  substantially “ground covered”.

Then, too, purchase  easy-to-grow attractive perennials, Euphorbia polychroma, bloodroot,  cordylaria,  and Celadine Poppy and wild ginger and mayapple, plants  which spread rapidly by runners or seed while you are deciding what woody plants might be worthy of  adding.

And then remember another vital rule for beginning landscape garden practice:  When in doubt about positioning, GROUP.

Do expect to spend some time removing plants out-of-place volunteering in the open spaces among those you have actually planted.    Might be a good idea to buy a few bags of mulch to control them.    My I suggest Scott’s Dark Brown Forest Mulch.

Creating landscape gardens for HOME GROUNDS is our specialty at Masterpiece.    If all of the above is too complex or time consuming for your busy schedule, be sure to call us at  952-933-5777 and let us PITCH IN.

P.S.   How does your landscape garden set for next winter?    Call us if you need improvements.

April 19, 2012

Our Garden World of Ground Covers

Filed under: Ground Covers — glenn @ 9:11 pm

“Our” garden world refers to the geography of Midwest USA with a Horticultural Zone of, let’s guess, 3.8  to 4.8……….So, then….

What  are ground covers in the landscape garden which I grow and have something to write about?

Those plants whose forms tend to creep along the garden floor forming horizontal masses usually no higher than two or so feet, are called  ground covers.

The most popular groundcover in Minnesota regardless of horticultural zone, is turf grass (lawn).  

(Not all grasses are groundcovers.   Miscanthus giganteus  should by its Latin name suggest it is not fit for ground cover use.    It is a beautiful grass with spectacular “plumes’ in late summer, but stands at an expanding clumb somewhere around twelve feet tall at maturity.)

Ground covers are essential landscape garden  materials which  provide  negative space. that is space absent  of forms,  to allow the display of an individual  plant  or even a group of plants independent  from mass plantings.   (Another purpose might be to display the beauty of  the ground cover itself.   

When one sees a  beautiful sculpture of a mature White Oak or Emerald Green Arborvitae , it is noticed  because it arises as an individual  from the negative (empty) space  surrounding it rather being lost  a forest.

I have many, many favorite groundcovers and use many of them as if they were fighting for space at the floor of a forest glade.  Among them are:

Ajuga, but not all are reliably hardy nor spread readily.   I prefer the Purple leaf  or Gaiety ajuga to all others for they  spread, spread and spread and  show a mass of  beautiful bluish blooms in mid spring.  Nearly all of ajugas  so-called improvements, such as Black scallop or Catlin Giant  do not spread aggressively and cannot be counted on  to live very long.

Burgundy Glow is a special ajuga, one with variegated bluish green and gray to cream foliage.   But until about ten years ago the plant was NOT reliably hardy.   It spreads only modestly, so I do not term it as  a groundcover.

If you have a reliable watering system Lily of the Valley can make a spectacular mass and when large enough and in bloom, the unique fragrance of Lily of the Valley can be intoxicating without you ever having be bend down to pick a flower stem.    Try to confine its space to about 100 square feet so the mat becomes so thick nothing, even tree seeds can penetrate its cover.  The regular watering encourages its ability to expand and mass.

Lamiums are usually  troublesome.   I have all sorts for they seed readily and spread even ‘readilier”.   They cover and cover in mass okay, but sometimes they run over and around everything else including valuable peonies taking over their space.

A few are more refined, but some of the ‘refined’ lose their propagated beauty.   Anne Greenaway is an example.   Beautiful bluish and limegreen with streaks of yellow and true green make this a beauty…..EXCEPT the plant can’t reliably hold its colors  as it ages.   It reverts to a dark gray-green mixture  leaf pattern, but maintains an ability to bloom steadily from midMay to frost…..a sharp attractive purplish lavender.    

I stay away from Herman’s Pride Lamiastrum.   It is big and clumsy and I don’t want another yellow in the garden.   It likes to live and do its thing….run over everything else.

Pachysandra is another once not-hardy plant that is now a wonderful regular in most of the grounds we landscape.   Easterners love Pachysandra, an evergreen broadleaf, and when I was a kid those who visited or moved here from the Northeast would snobbishly look down their noses on gardens and gardeners who couldn’t  grow the fragrant evergreen, Pachysandra. 

Well, for about the last fifty years we can… of the reasons I love  warming here in Minnesota reaching almost a horticultural zone 5 in the Twin Cities.  

Again, in case you missed it, Pachysandra stays bright happy green all winter long.   It makes a good mass, but watch out for lawn grass invasions with this as well as all of your non-grass  ground covers.   Lawn grasses are killers when uncontrolled in the landscape garden.

It does not do well in bright sun.   Its foliage fades and even occasionally  burns.  

This Spring my Pachysandra has been blooming now for about three weeks and will continue until a windy warmup arrives.    

Mayapple is a native Minnesota groundcover,   It looks like a mass of  eight inch umbrellas which opened yesterday this year, and will remain open in my garden until dormancy in mid to late September.   It is a cute addition besides its cover which in frenzied manner aims to jealously own it ever growing space.

In about  two weeks like a six year old kid, I will check underneath an umbrella or two to admire the single happy flower almost smiling  at me.   In a month it will have become a greenish balloon, or ‘Mayapple’  as it is called in lore.

Sweet Woodruff is another fragrant  groundcover when grown in mass.   It is daintier, and although fortunately  just as weedy, as the already mentioned   groundcovers, its mass isn’t thick enough to keep out an endless number of seedling invasions.

It is good that I like it.   Once Sweet Woodruff is introduced into your grounds, it is likely to be there forever.   Its delicacy saves it.

A ground cover which SHOULD NEVER BE PLANTED ANYWHERE NEAR A GARDEN, is Aegopodium….Bishop’s “Weed’, but more commonly called, perennial Snow on the Mountain.

It is a WEED of the horrible kind.   It becomes uncontrollable in no time at all and suddently your garden is under siege.

Remember, the Landscape Gardener’s definition of a weed is:   A PLANT OUT OF PLACE.   Perennial snow on the mountain eventually because a plant out of place whereever it is grown.

Then there is Vinca…..Garden  girls from out East prefer Periwinkle.  Dart’s Blue is by far my favorite.   It eventually grows  several layers of wires covered with masses of  small sized  dark green shell like  leaves, and like  this very day show off  splotches of sharp dark blue open faced flowers.   

I do have an automatic irrigation system providing water on a reliable schedule from early April till shut down time in October.    I cannot grow any Thyme as a result.    I have a common sedum that would cover the Earth if I didn’t control it…and I cherish it every day it grows.  It blooms yellow, but I have never been able to score its real Latin name.

It is the kind of sedum I can rip out of the garden and hand it over with or without soil to friends to take home with the following instructions…..plop or spread the clump onto open soil, then step on the clump and wait a day or two.   If in June it will have double it space  in a week……It is only and inch in height….two when in bloom.

Many of the sedums on the market do not defend their space well and fall to invaders….especially the tree kind.    Many prefer drier soils than I have.   I grow Coral Carpet in a drier location in full sun for half a day and it is doing okay….looks like a mass of reddish beads among its stone neighbors.

One hardy perennial groundcover grown for its floral color I must have in my landscape garden is Arabis caucasica….white rockcress.   It spreads rapidly and in early spring,  as now, it produces the whitest blooms in masse one  could ever see.   The white is so stark and pure, I have several  areas roughly twenty five square feet each spread throughout a section of the grounds  for repetition for rhythm on the grounds rather than a single  white target.   Like the blue-flowering ajuga, I grow this Arabis for its floral  yield rather than its foliage, which appears wimpy and weak, but don’t mistake that for trouble.   If it likes its location  it will soon let you know.

In most grounds white arabis likes to advance its space and does so.   Other arabis are not able to make this claim.

Some of the most beautiful and hardiest of all ground covers are the evergreen conifers….those in the catalogues called ‘spreaders’.     As a group most tend to range from six inches to two and a half feet in height.    Many,  if the space for their expanse were  available, could grow for decades and decades and reach fifty to  two hundred or more feet, if not limited by invasive seedlings, for most have the ability to continue rooting as they wander around their world.

Coniferous ground covers will be a topic for another day.

October 30, 2011

Not all Minnesota Autumns are Equal

I spent  much of this gray  day involved in my own landscape garden.   I am loathe to call it work, for once I enter the space, I am too lost in its aura, too mesmerized  to feel any labor.    I become occupied and governed in deeds   the space has captured  me to do.

Not all autumns are equal.   In my space this October has been one of the most beautiful ever.   Traditionally in the Twin City area, the first two weeks in October will rival or surpass any two weeks in Spring for sheer beauty from color…..

In my garden world  the sugar and red maples and Ohio buckeye, the younger red and white oaks, typically  turn red or orange before October 15.    Their  leaves are gone by now,  opening forms they once hid in Nature’s shade and  mass of summer green.  The smaller notes of the garden composition, the ground covers, annuals and herbaceous  perennials flowered well  and long into the month.  Some garden phlox, lamiums,  hotlips turtlehead, goldsturm rudbeckia, fireworks solidago, the stonecrop Autumn Fire, and Johnson’s blue geranium  are still hanging on with spots of bloom, but more as highlights of color rather than sweeps.  The Ginkgo remains bright green until a heavy frost.  The next day the foliage is yellow…and the next,  it  all  drops.  

As brilliant and shocking as the color was this early October, today was ever bit its equal competitor. 

The color was made much softer from the grayness of the day, but their splashes are  far more noticeable and wide spread.     That which covers much at ground level, with the exception of the evergreen conifers,  is no longer green as earlier in the month.   Most of the  hostas, many of which are huge, explode with yellow and appear by the  scores throughout at ground level.

The most spectacular color for the past week and one or two more is the soft smoky pinkish-cinnamon, red-orange yellow leafed barberry, eight by eight feet in size, standing large  behind a dwarf turquoise  foliaged Scots pine both rising above the yellow hostas and the green pachysandra, gray green lamiums, darker green vinca, and almost black-green fall display of one of my favorite plants in the landscape garden, bronzeleaf ajuga.  These ground  covers are ‘rugs’ in the landscape garden, some to be walked on, but these listed  are to be appreciated  for their color and frangrances and color of bloom, if so endowed.  

The groundcovers mentioned are at their very best displayed  when they become relatively large rugs opening the negative spaces needed to appreciate their  forms and color contrasts with their neighbors more precisely.  

In the ideal landscape garden the eye must be controlled if captivating the visitor is to become as complete as possible.   It is your artistic goal to cause anyone who enters this sacred space of Earth, which you are learning to form, to forget from whence they came…..

Most often the person escaping will be you, its artist, and its most frequent visitor.    Beginners should realize that the more often you enter your space, there likely will come a point of no return when you become lost to your  landscape garden’s  spell.  

Losing ones self in the grounds  comes easy for a lot of guys who mow lawns.   Many love what they do, and know exactly what I am conveying in this article.  And they don’t have to know very much as long as the mower is operating properly.  

Learning the ‘rules’ of the landscape garden can be complicated for a period of time.   Except for the names of the plants, there is no new vocabulary necessary to learn.    You know the words….such as space, height, size, shape, color, rhythm, shade, texture, and so on.

Most of today’s October maroons in my landscape garden are maroon all garden season.   Velvet Cloak smokebush, Black Beauty Elderberry, Rosy  Glow barberry, Helmond Pillar barberry,  Concord barberry, Centerglow Ninebark all of which can be seen better with absence of foliage from the major shade  trees.   Northern Hilites and Dwarf Korean azaleas are in  their maroon foliage in my garden  today as well.   The  Crimson Spire Oak grown in full sun,  is on fire with scarlets, reds and oranges. The one in a fair amount of shade is still green.

Green is a an essential  color in the autumn landscape garden display.  There are so many varieties of green……as you know it is the king and queen color of God’s garden……for we  couldn’t live without  its chlorophyl.  

What is the longest landscape season in Minnesota?    When I taught classes through the University of Minnesota Extension Service, I almost always opened up the session with that very question.

Typically there were no snappy responses.from the students….perhaps thinking it a trick question.  And, indeed it was.    They couldn’t answer because they never thought of winter as a landscape season.

Shocked!  They were shocked when they learned that the landscape season, winter, is equal to all other landscape seasons….fall, spring, and summer…..combined in our  Twin City area.

My next question followed thusly:   If winter is the longest landscape season in our Minnesota year, what are the most vital trees for Minnesota’s landscape beauty?

Silence…..until, typically someone shouted out “pines”!

Well, not exactly, but I  knew that  ‘pine’  among Minnesota home owners means …..”pine,  plus  spruce, hemlock, yew, juniper, arborvitae, fir, microbiota, and chamaecyparis”,,,,,, in other words, the northern  evergreen conifers.

Normally, sometime  in mid October these magnificent evergreens, their  large shrubs to medium sized trees to the giants, Norway Spruce,  Colorado Spruce, Scots and White Pine rise from the summer’s green to dominate our grounds for six months until mid May when in a week or so the lace of  deciduous green begins to cover most of our gardened state in cycle once again.

The conifer ground covers and spreaders and small  shrubs   add greens of all shades;  gray green, dark green, lime green,  turquoise, and chartreuse.  Some turn plum color for the winter, yet others such as the ‘Red Cedar’ juniper and microbiota, brown. 

Most evergreen conifers darken as they enter winter.  Yet, I have a Chamaecyparis tree which remains yellow all winter,  while  other same chamaecyparis turn  chartreuse.   Shade, soil, genetics,  the regularity of moisture, one, all, or none of the mentioned , probably  have some bearing on color control from season to season.

If you are a Minnesota homeowner and your house has some space available for plantings, please do consider a landscape garden as an art form for your enjoyment.   Give us a call Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd….952 933 5777  if you are interested in joining a tour of landscaped gardens in the Twin City area……..spring, summer, fall,  and the big daddy of them all in these parts, WINTER.

October 28, 2010

A Few Words About Autumn Color in the Landscape Garden

The Landscape Garden is more than what most people consider to be garden.   It is an enclosure to enter, stroll though, walking the paths up to and passed plants which might appear sculpture at one look, and framing after a few paces along the path.  Envision a private woodland with windows and openings where beautiful forms or colors can be seen and beautifullly displayed.

Benches in the distance  entice  visitors to find the path to a resting place, providing for yet another scene where a sitting may resurrect cherished memories or inspire new thoughts……and smell new fragrances.

Last Sunday and Monday were the best days of color ever from my grounds.  The mists coated the yellow, maroons and greens and  oranges with a sheen  that made them glow.  The shrubs and understory trees were old enough, therefore large enough to show off their colors in mass.   The paths were overwhelmed with dottings of every color possible from the leaves primarily from mature red maples, Acer rubrum. 

Grace smokebush, Mount Airy Fothergilla, the garden’s featured  redbud, the dusty plum red cedar, bright green Wintergreen Juniper, Dwarf Blue Spruce, Dark green Taunton Yews and Tree yews, chartreuse Sunkist Arborvitae, slowly changing from summer yellow, the red barberry leaves, the blackish  leaves of an  enormous baptisia with  the seedling white and red oaks and their magnificent red and maroons, and the most fiery of them all, the leaves of Aralia spinosissimma with some purplish fruit still in tact lead the list with  the most shockingly colors of the show.

Autumn color in my grounds usually begins about October 7.   My massive white pines begin dropping their older needles and seem to cover everything for a week or so.   The mature red maples, which I have been losing one after another recently, begin the color changing normally.

I have many, many confers  and many which are dwarf or semi-dwarf…In just a few days they will begin to dominate the entire landscape with their form, size and color.

My landscape grounds almost always are as beautiful throughout winter as they are in the  best of  any other season.   Especially since I have protected it from deer feedings with fencing.

More homes would appear more beautiful if they had grounds specifically designed for a winter garden.  Minnesotans should remember that no plant beautiful in winter is ugly in summer…..but may plants which may be beautiful in summer are ugly or disappear in winter.

I must have about 100 hostas planted,  lying about somewhere.   Some varieties turned bright yellow, some showed darker patterns than their summer look, and yet, many of the older maintained the brightest, purest green, before their collapse as a garden showpiece.

Some hotlips Chelone was still in bloom as were several Goldsturm Rudbeckia which were growing in deeper shade. One of the best newer varieties on the market, Fireworks Solidago has been in bloom for three weeks…..a spectacular plant if planted in full sun. 

 On Sunday the sun tried to find room to break through the mist, but didn’t quite make it, making the various scenes show off in perfect lighting for best color display.

Many junipers change color in fall.   Hughes, Prince of Wales, Andorra, the red cedars usually, turn plumish sometimes to almost a maroon, and some red cedars to a brown.

A finished landscape garden has a plant display, cover  or grouping  generally at every level of height  to the  highest tree  grown, which could be a dwarf or semi-dwarf.   Negative spaces may be filled by a variety of mulches or varieties of low growing ground covers.

Remember the greatest expanse of negative space in most home grounds is turf.   Trees without negative space around them no longer are trees but become forests.

Increase your autumn color and winter forms by planning ahead perhaps this winter.   Walk through your grounds to evaluate its winter beauty….

Usually Minnesotans forget about how beautiful they can make winter be with the right selection of plants led by the coniferous evergreens.

May 10, 2010

Ground Covers in the Landscape Garden

Filed under: Ground Covers,perennials,The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 11:07 pm

Mulch, soil, leaves, river rock are all ground covers.  Each have there own place in Earth’s landscape  with river rock probably best located at the river.

The ground covers honored by this article are the ones which produce flowers and the coniferous evergreens that like to spread.

Have you ever seen a Japgarden juniper over fifteen feet wide.  You’ve missed a beauty if you haven’t.

Ground covers provide the negative space among  upright forms in the garden to allow those form to show their best shapes and  features.

I have about a half acre of landscape garden, which includes my house and garage.  About one per cent of this space is lawn…..which is a ground cover that does not produce a typical flower, nor is it coniferous.    Well, what did you expect?  Lawns are in the grass world.  Lawns can be walked upon.  Most flowering and coniferous ground covers cannot.

There are several sizes to ground covers, used  here not  in the meaning of  space they may occupy, but in their height…divided into four levels of growth….ground hugging, low growing, medium height, and tall ground covers……in all the plant world covering the soil  in masses of  about knee high height and lower.

As a guide, use garden thyme, chocolate chip ajuga, most  sedums, creeping jenny (lysimachia), creeping phlox, Wilton carpet and Mother Lode  junipers, and the tiny veronicas  as the ground hugger; sweet woodruff, ajuga, white arabis, wild ginger, the smaller leafed lamiums, or Japgarden or Prince of Wales  juniper as  low growing;  microbiota,  Hughes juniper, Mayapple, and the larger leafed lamiums as medium height, and Buffalo,  Gold Lace, and Broadmoor junipers, and some ferns as tall ground covers.

You will notice, that by ground covers we refer to plants which increase their domain horisontally.

It is in the idealized Landscape Garden where ground covers perform their most attractive roles in their performing.  Most of these plants gain character as they increase their space.

The sedums flower later in the season, but nearly all of the other ground covers show their very best in Spring.  The “best” might be the flower shape, the tightness of cover or the pattern of cover or foliage,  the fragrance, the color, either of foliage or flower, or the rhythm of foliage, its texture, its patterns of foliage.

Clients and clients-to-be are welcomed to visit some of Masterpiece’s landscape gardens to learn more about ground covers.   Call us at 952-933-5777 for an appointment.  We shall be looking forward to showing you the important role ground covers play in the art of landscape gardening.

For a description  of the Landscape Garden please go to our home page at this web site.