Whether in the Landscape Garden or in the standard Minnesota city and suburban Yard, the answer to the question “What is a Weed” should be the same:


That is the answer, the whole answer, and nothing but the answer!

We are familiar with landscapes covered almost entirely with lawn.  Until the population began moving  to the suburbs in the 1950s,  the only landscape generally seen was a copy of the neighbor’s……

It consisted of lawn, more lawn, a maple or Russian Olive in the middle of the front yard and back yard and pfitzer junipers lined up along the front foundation of the house.    For ‘balance’ which almost NEVER was needed, a pyramidal arborvitae was  planted  either at the two front corners of the house itself, or the front door.

Never mind that the pfitzer junipers would grow to ten feet both in height and in width, and the pyramidal arborvitaes might reach 30 feet tall and nearly close off the entire front entrance itself.

The home owner could worry about those problems at some future time.

Bachman’s was more special in those days.   Their designers chose better lines and better material for their landscapes and so stood above the rest.    The spreader and upright yew were common in their settings.

The rest refers to the rest of the landscapers relatively undistinguishable from among the professionals, the  enthusiasts and the homeowners in artistic results.

Most city  lots were around 48′  by 100′ and decidedly rectangular…..with outdoor single garages.

A dandelion in the middle of the front lawn, or ash seedling in the foundation planting  became rather noticed……by all.   They were accurately  called weeds.

This past week we at Masterpiece installed the beginnings of a Landscape Garden at a residence in Edina.    It covered about 3,000 square feet, about one-half of  the spread of lawn previously  maintained there.  

In the half where lawn was removed  about 65 landscape plants, mostly  conifer and deciduous shrubs,a couple white pine, a griseum maple, and several other conifers provided the upright forms, framing and dividing the beauties inbetween.

But the beauties are not big enough to show  off.    Even though there are a dozen or more very attractive boulders placed in the setting, the “Landscape Garden” looks more like an open  lawn of brown mulch rather than a Landscape Garden.   I must still imagine the entrance, the privacy, the moods of the beauty and harmony yet to appear.

“Garden’s, like people, gain character with age.”

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the developing Landscape Garden…..a place to be entered…..a place to divorce ones self from the worries and schedules of the day….a place of visual, mental, spiritual beauty as if one is entering a cathedral where fragrance, form, color, light  and shadow  collaborate to inspire the observor.

Lawn grass is itself a weed if growing in locations other than lawn.   It can ruin a clump of astilbe or ferns,  and most ground covers once it enters their space.   It is far worse than the notorious Creeping Charlie in devestating its neighbor’s space.

Three thousand square feet covered with mulch and only 65 selected plantings leaves a lot of room for a lot of plants out-of-place in no time….. even within a month or so.    Try it if you don’t believe me.

BY FAR THE WORSE WEEDS IN THE GARDEN, LANDSCAPED OR OTHERWISE….THE  PLANTS GROWING OUT OF PLACE …. are tree weeds.   Elm, Box Elder and other maples, green ash, common buckthorn,  Ohio Buckeye, Mulberry, crabapples…….and if you are really lucky, arborvitaes and junipers.  These two you might want to pot up rather than cull.

Some plants are weedy, but not necessarily  weeds…..evening primrose, Euphorbia polychroma, lawn grasses,  and just about anything “Lysimachia” or “Polygonum”.   They, too, become weeds if they move out of their place.

I have good soil and an irrigation system which guarantees reliable regular watering.   My major weeds are redbud, oak, spiny Aralia, astilbe,  celadine poppy, evening primrose, Euphorbia polychroma and its cousin Chameleon spurge, and nearly billions of Angelica gigas, which is a spectacular  specimen and group when ‘in place’.

By next May a couple hundred to  ten times more tree seedlings will likely pop up through the mulch  to join our 65 plantings designed at this Edina property.   If caught in time a kick  with  a good shoe or a few minutes with an iron rake could get rid of nearly all of these out-of-place seedlings in the mulch.   The time to kick and disturb is as soon as you see the weeds.    Now if you live in an area where Catalpa is a major weed, you might choose to keep a seedling or two to nurture if your Landscape Garden is large enough and in need of some kind of upright. 

I planted an Ohio Buckeye seed the fall of 1974, the first year of my landscape gardening on the grounds where I still live.   Ohio Buckeye seedlings like open spaces  covered with shredded bark mulch where squirrels can plant them.    The off spring are nice looking with notable     shape and character.                                                                                                                                         

If you don’t like it in ten years….if it is in the wrong place, it technically becomes a weed….so cull it and do so happily for it didn’t cost you anything.     After all it had become a weed.

During the development of the Landscape Garden, that is when the negative spaces begin to fill up…either with your purchased plants or those nature dictated, this art form changes a bit.    For it includes not only what you decide to add to the negative space, but also includes the plants which need to be moved or removed from the space which forms your “Landscape Garden”.

Ideas of beauty rarely  remain fixed.   They are always challenged by competition, for there are an endless number of roads to beauty.   Flexibility here is a God-sent gift.

If something is cherished, but not particularly liked in its location  in your Landscape Garden and  is not moveable and you don’t want to kill it, perhaps you can prune it to favor.    You are the artist…..be sure you know what you are doing.   Pruning is an ancient art form.

Some plants woody or herbaceous are  more beautiful that others.   Some are plain but worthy.  As I mentioned,  I often allow Ohio Buckeye seedlings to flourish in parts of my landscape and treat them as shrubs by pruning.      Eventually the lovely shape and texture can no longer be kept in the space allowed for it….so I remove it.   It had become a problem plant…one out of place…..ergo, a weed.

I mentioned earlier that on my grounds I have a major problem with astilbe being weedy…..especially Astilbe chinensis.    About twenty years ago I planted a Purple Cats Astilbe.  Its  progeny has caused very likely over a thousand  of these two to three foot beauties, although nearly all are bright pink in color.   

What a problem when they are all in bloom as they are beginning to do so on my grounds as I write this article.  

In about three years the uprights in this Edina Landscape Garden will begin to  divide the 3,000 square feet…to enframe the harmony of the picture within,  to be seen  as specimens as, indeed,  each of them are to create the larger themes of the Landscape Garden itself.

What is required of the  Landscape Garden owner is to be able to identify   seedlings one from another to determine which are valuable to purposes of beautifying the space and which are out-of-place.

I have never planted thalictrums, Virginia bluebells, bloodroot, Chameleon euphorbia, Valerian ever on my property.    They arrived here unexpectedly and add tremendously to the choice I have in creating   the various harmonies within the rooms and grounds.

I cherish White Oak  and redbud.    However, their seedlings  keep popping up all over my landscape garden……but there comes a limit to the numbers my own grounds can house….and that limit was reached about four years ago.    

It is all in a day’s work.    Harmony anywhere is as recognizeable as disharmony, but is much more of a challenge to create and maintain.    Observe the grounds around the homes where you live.

Creating harmony in the Landscape Garden is an easy art form to learn once the homeowner takes a chance to try.