In general the Minnesota home owner knows little to nothing about the landscape garden world. They do not understand it as an art form. They do not know the names or the habits of the plants in the neighborhood as well as on their property. A shade tree gets big, conifers are called pines, shrubs are bushy. No one really pays much attention to names.

“I don’t like spiraeas”, a recent new client uttered in disgust while surveying her grounds’ new canvas, and ordered her MasterGardener friend, who informed her the plant was indeed an ‘undesireable’ spiraea, to rip this new member of the landscape garden out of its roost. Since I was the designer and our guys had planted around 70 pieces of woody plant material on her grounds, one of which was this spiraea called Tor, a very neat medium sized (4’ht by 3’w) deciduous shrub with countless white flowers in mid-spring and excellent fire red to purple fall color, I was curious to know the why of the angst about spiraea.

“Oh, they’re too common. One sees spiraea everywhere.”

Well, there are about 50 different kinds of spiraea that are or have been on the market here in the Twin Cities over the past ten years. Which ones have you grown and disliked? They come in all sizes except as trees, bloom well, many two times a season, and others, like Tor also have beautiful autumn foliage.”

Spiraeas as a group, are outstanding shrubs for the zone four landscape, but most not so when expected to be the main feature of attraction in the home grounds. With the exception of Vanhouttei Spiraea, which is indeed a spectacle when in full bloom around Memorial Day in our area, the genus is worthy for its color when in bloom and its resistance from insect and animal interference. Our new client was thrilled with the overall completed landscape, and since she had never heard of a Tor Spiraea, allowed the specimen to be taken from the gallows and restored to its rightful spot in which it had been originally set.

Most landscape garden plants don’t possess such well known generic, even common names, especially if they are shrubs or trees other than the elm, oak, maple, ash, cottonwood, black walnut mammoths.

I believe the main reason the home grounds throughout the midwest are so barren of beauty unless the lawn is well cared for, is because no one knows the names of plants, much less their colors, size and shape.

The unknowledgeable buyer is familiar with size…..3 feet tall is shorter than 5 feet tall and the same for width, so they look at the label.

A beautiful newbie at the landscape nursery is Sunkist (Yellow Ribbon) Arborvitae, and upright bright yellow foliaged conifer. Six to eight feet height the label tells prospective buyers…and I was one about 16 years ago. It was new on the market and perfect as a beauty and privacy in my front lawnless garden. Well, it IS a beauty, but it’s over twenty feet tall and only in junior highschool by age.

Chamaecyparis is not only a newbie for the Twin Cities over the past fifteen years, it is sold as a shrub. Its label claims six feet of growth is what is to be expected. It is advertised further as a dwarf…..which it is not. These dwarfs which on my grounds have not been pruned have already past the twelve foot mark, barely out of grade school.

There are treeforms of the same Chamaecyparis (pisifera aurea nidiformis). I planted two six by six-inch babies in the summer of 1974 and now among the most beautiful trees of our Masterpiece Garden grounds.
Unfortunately, they are not sold in the Twin Cities.

The Japanese Yew is another plant which here in the Twin Cities is not respected for its true size. Unless there is a ‘nana’ attached to the yew’s name and it is a cuspidata taxus (yew), you’ll be dealing with a plant whose native drive is to reach something like 30′ by 30′ by maturity, a maturity which might last for centuries if its space isn’t bothered.

The environment matters so much in life’s determining the size of longer lived woody plants. Certainly the nature of the species places certain limits on the eventual size of any plants, woody or herbaceous. But good soil and reliable watering with appropriate sun exposure are in command in determining size extremes.

Whoever would have counted on a size five pot Grace Smokebush to reach twenty five feet in height in THREE seasons in my grounds? The landscapers’ catalog reports maximum height at 10-12 feet.