Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

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.

September 21, 2009

Much About Mulch!

Filed under: mediums in OUR artform — glenn @ 5:48 pm

Why mulch?

About fifty years ago most suburban homeowners asked, “Why landscape my yard?  I like lawn.”  Trees and shrubs seemed in the way keeping neighbor from neighbor.  Fences were unfriendly.  These were the days of the spreading lawns; the openness of meadow where lots of kids could play with moms nearby.  No one talked much about mulch.

In many quarters today, moms and children have disappeared.  Fences are erected.  Garden rooms have replaced the meadow in some places.  In others foundation landscaping planted 50 years ago still struggles.  Here,  homeowners seem bothered that there is an outdoors at all.  Even in the city the grounds around a house remains a “yard”.  A place for kids, but there are no children.  Dogs bark.

Whereever today’s metropolitan house is set, however, there is likely to be found “mulch”.

Without ever having taken a scientific survey,  my eyes and work over the past 35 years have told me the mulch most frequently used somewhere around  that metropolitan house was stone…..either river rock or chipped limestone dumped over a spread of black plastic.    “No maintenance” demanded the homeowner.  “Low maintenance” pleads the more realistic 2009 Twin Cities’ homeowner.  “Stone mulch!”  answered the obedient landscaper.

And so, the home yard around the house  was covered with stone.

We, at Masterpiece, much appreciate this small measure of improvement in popular homeowner attitude toward “stone” and  “yard”….We are against both, for  we prefer the term “grounds”.  “Beautifying the Home Grounds” is so much more winsome in our world of landscape art than, “Beautifying the Home Yard”….don’t you agree?   And we prefer organic mulches.

Although we will gladly work the home yard, a homeowner should always be aware, our ultimate goal is to make the “grounds” beautiful, no matter how small or how ugly the home yard.

Until recently organic mulch was not much mulled over.  Commercial and government buildings alike…even  religious institutions led the way uglifying the beautiful verdant Earth with moonlike settings of crushed limestone or river rock around the structures they planned and built.   Beauty was never a consideration, so crushed limestone and river rock became the standard for home and commercial mulch “beauty”.  If one sees this moonscape here and everywhere, well, it must be beautiful, for the “experts” tell us so……and indeed, they did.

“Landscaping” classes at our  local State university and Vo-tech institutions told us so, recommending  stone mulchs, regardless how ugly, and taught the required calculations of the tonnages needed for the dumpings.  Beauty in the grounds always was an irritation, anyway!  Wasn’t it supposed to be in the “eye of the beholder”?  “Why can’t people “‘behold’  chipped stone and river rock everywhere?”  it might have been argued.

For the homeowner who would prefer not to make the Earth’s surface more ugly and lifeless, let us consider mulches other than the “stoned”.  Most have become available only recently.

In the modern homeowners’ vernacular mulch means a layer of some matter  laid over the ground to prevent the growth of weeds.

Usually there are two stated purposes beyond weed control  for using organic mulch as a soil covering around plants:   to conserve moisture and  prevent erosion.   If organic mulches are applied rather regularly around plants, they add organic matter to the area.  Moisture  and nutrients are rendered more available to plants on a more regular basis.

There are mulch chips, shredded mulch, and double shredded mulch; pine needle mulch, pine bark mulch  and pine chip mulch.  Add to this list,  hardwood bark, shredded hardwood bark, and hardwood chips, straw mulch, oak leaf mulch, cedar mulch, cypress mulch….even newspaper mulch.

Some mulches are dyed…..brown, tan, black or garrish….the look of something sold as “red”.   Some folks like garish.

Most homeowners concerned about landscaping as an art form generally prefer ones eye to flow from plant to plant rather from mulch to mulch, but there might be an exception.  What  if the garden is only of mulches?  Then one could  go wild using chipped white rock, blue trap rock, lava rock, pink quartz or recycled auto and truck tires as well as all those mulches already named.

Organic mulches will eventually break down and become “soil”.    The area  will need replacement mulch….so therein lies the complaint from the homeowner demanding low maintenance.

Only in the dead environment is there no maintenance.  But then, no one would be around to  enjoy the beauty of the landscapes we at Masterpiece  created.

September 8, 2009

Boulders in the Minnesota Landscape Garden

Filed under: boulders and stone,mediums in OUR artform — glenn @ 10:57 pm

Here in Minnesota boulders happen.  They were carved out from bedrock by glaciers and then dumped willy-nilly as the glaciers receded.  For decades farmers gathered the gatherable to get them out of the way of plowed fields.  Some still do.  Now, they  sell them.

Some boulders are more beautiful than others.  Some are larger, others more square than oblong.  Some are granite, others limestone.

Things “boulderlike” have become very popular in landscapes.  In the old iron mines up north, rock  outcrops are quarried and the products marketed….selling them to builders and landscapers.

For years the Minnesota landscape people have built boulder walls which resemble egg piles.  Roundish things often the same size piled and pushed by bobcat tightly one onto another  creating an enormous eye sore for you and future generations to view.

Not long ago the industry produced indescribably ugly reddish brown volcanic lava slag chunks and sold them as ground cover material to homeowners to “beautify the home garden”, hoping to stay up-to- date with their garden “arts”.  Minnesota homeowners still have tons of limestone chips or river rock dumped around their homes believing that making their ground look more like  moonscape enhances earth’s beauty.

I have lived at my property for 35 years.  There were no boulders, and, lucky for me, no river rock or limestone “mulch” which I would have had to remove when I moved there.  There was lawn, a tree or two, and more lawn.  And there were interesting gentle slopes and slight differences of elevation in the 1/2 acre space.  I like boulders naturally placed in the landscape.  Quarried rock can be beautifully arranged there as well.  But it does require more training  and skill to create naturalistic settings than placing garden items living or man made simply where space allows.

One sentence incorporating three questions is all that is needed to understand the rules of both plant arrangement and the placement of boulders:  “WHAT ARE YOU PLACING WHERE AND WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?

“Therein lies the rub!”

No special vocabulary is needed to answer these three questions.  What is required is an eye, a feel, and experience.  Please visit our masterpiecelandscape.com Website lineup of landscape pictures.  Of course I am biased but the guys who run Masterpiece Landscaping are very, very good at positioning the right plants, and the right stonework into the right places and combinations in the landscape.  But, see for yourself after you finish reading this article.

What can boulders in the garden do for you?

My general answer may be, perhaps nothing.  Some very astute gardeners deeply into landscape beautfy prefer a more formal, more gentle Earth setting.  One without boulders tends to quiet and soften a view with the living not the cold, brutal hardscape.  A rocky garden is less civilized and a less tranquill space than a rockless setting.  It suggests the wild rather than the cultivated.

In Minnesota, especially around the city of Duluth, some of the most beautiful rock anywhere can be seen.  Drop by the Lester Park area on the east side. Go to the streams rushing from the uplands onto the grand lake, Superior.  Boulders, rock standings, some bigger than a house expand ones imagination.

If in your landscape you wish to create or imply a stream, your work could not be believable without rock or boulders.  They make the water move laterally one way or another.  They create the width or narrowness of the believable stream.

Plants grow, but boulders do not.  This should always be remembered when determining plant-boulder space relationships.  Here we can have a problem with large plant forms near any boulders.  To repeat, plants grow, but boulders do not.

Boulders are expensive when set properly.  Frugal and stingy gardeners don’t “plant” boulders.  The stone itself may cost only $400 per ton, but how are you going to get the monstrosity home?  And then up a hill or around to the back grounds, and then how is it going to be set?  That is the art of it, isn’t it?    It takes time, skill, equipment and labor.

I am sorry to say that some “landscapers” simply dump boulders onto a spot.  The “dumper” claims when looking at what was dumped, that nature made it dump that way.  The next time you notice  boulders set in a landscape,  judge for youself the ones you think were dumped versus the ones you believe were set with beauty in mind.

Remember too, there always is a chance, maybe one in ten thousand, the boulder was dumped beautifully, so keep your betting money in your pocket.

Study those boulders you believe were set with beauty in mind and compare them with the dumps.  Then explain with a meaningful vocabulary what you believe the difference is.

Alot of politicians these days are trying to sell equality.  Landscapers and gardeners should remind them that that which is equally large, is equally small.

Sand, masses of sand are particles roughly of equal size.  Boulders in arrangements of equal sizes are usually boring and in all ways uninteresting….pressing on the monotonous.  Manufactured boulders are repulsive to look at.

A flat piece of land is usually associated with a more formal garden.  It is the environment most associated with gal gardeners.  In general, they prefer flowers, the more the better.  To them garden means flowers.  Not that they were born fixed in this belief.  There are many practical, reasonable reasons for this…You think of some.

I have noticed a wonderful trend over the past ten years or so, however.  Lots of our best clients, (sorry guys, most of them are women….guys are needed to help pay the bills), absolutely love boulder settings.  Not all of them are in the suburbs either.

Some of the most beautiful grounds of all, in my prejudiced view, where boulders are central to the feel of the verdant landscape, are in small city lots, one in dinkytown and another in St. Louis Park.

There are many asides to boulders in the garden.  Daylilies often are made more beautiful not far from one or some.  Creeping evergreens, expecially Japgarden Junipers next to, around, creeping onto or away from boulders, never fail from causing a sigh of approval   when seen.

Another mentionable, one tends to lose far fewer  pruning shears, trowels, cultivators, hand tools of all kinds in gardens where  there are boulders around,  especially those not dumped.   That is, if one trains to set them as tables where these tools can be safely if temporarily positioned when the gardener moves on to another task.

Then there is the sitting boulder.  In the dinky town garden the front area was landscaped with sitable boulders for a seating of six to eight.  The lady client had a book club of six to eight regular members and looked forward to an occasional outdoor setting.   No garden furniture needed to be moved into position.

Boulders offer more to a successful landscape than what I have mentioned here.  I wouldn’t want to reveal  all we know about their uses in these blog articles.  Otherwise, there might not be a need for you readers to call us to help keep us in business.