In some parts of Germany the government makes it a duty for every landholder to plant trees in the highways before his property; and in a few towns that we have heard of no young bachelor can take a wife till he has planted a tree. We have not a word to say against either of these regulations. But Americans, it must be confessed, do not like to be over-governed, or compelled into doing even beautiful things. We therefore recommend as an example to all country towns that most praiseworthy and successful mode of achieving this result adopted by the citizens of Northampton, Massachusetts.
This, as we learn, is no less than an Ornamental Tree Society, an association whose business and pleasure it is to turn dusty lanes and bald highways into alleys and avenues of coolness and verdure. Making a "wilderness blossom like the rose," is scarcely more of a miracle than may be wrought by this simple means. It is quite incredible how much spirit such a society, composed at first of a few really zealous arboriculturists, may beget in a country neighborhood. Some men there are in every such place who are too much occupied with what they consider more important matters ever to plant a single tree unsolicited. But these are readily acted upon by a society which works for the public good and which moves an individual of this kind much as a town meeting moves him, by the greater weight of numbers. Others ,there are who can only be led into tasteful improvement by the principle of imitation, and who consequently will not begin to plant trees till it is the fashion to do so. And again others who grudge the trifling cost of putting out a shade tree, but who will be shamed into it by the example of every neighbor around them — neighbors who have been stimulated into action by the zeal of the society. And last of all, as we have learned, there is here and there an instance of some slovenly and dogged farmer who positively refuses to take the trouble to plant a single twig by the roadside. Such an individual the society commiserate and beg him to let them plant the trees in front of his estate at their own cost.
In this way, little by little, the Ornamental Tree Society accomplishes its ends. In a few years it has the satisfaction of seeing its village the pride of the citizens — for even those who were the most tardy to catch the planting fever, are at last — such is the silent and irresistible influence of sylvan beauty — the loudest champions of green trees — and the delight of all travellers, who treasure it up in their hearts as one does a picture drawn by poets and colored by the light of some divine genius.
We heartily commend, therefore, this plan of Social Planting Reform to every desolate, leafless, and repulsive town and village in the country. There can scarcely be one where there are not three persons of taste and spirit enough to organize such a society; and once fairly in operation, its members will never cease to congratulate themselves on the beauty and comfort they have produced, Every tree which they plant, and which grows up in after years into a giant trunk and grand canopy of foliage, will be a better monument (though it may bear no lying inscription) than many an unmeaning obelisk of marble or granite.
Let us add a few words respecting the best trees for adorning the streets of rural towns and villages. With the great number and variety of fine trees which flourish in this country there is abundant reason for asking, "where shall we choose? " And although we must not allow ourselves space at this moment to dwell upon the subject in detail we may venture two or three hints about it.
Nothing appears to be so captivating to the mass of human beings as novelty. And there is a fashion in trees which sometimes has a sway no less rigorous than that of a Parisian modiste. Hence while we have the finest indigenous ornamental trees in the world growing in our native forests, it is not an unusual thing to see them blindly overlooked for foreign species that have not half the real charms and not a tenth part of the adaptation to our soil and climate.
Thirty years ago there was a general Lombardy poplar epidemic. This tall and formal tree, striking and admirable enough, if very sparingly introduced in landscape planting, is, of all others, most abominable in its serried stiffness and monotony when planted in avenues or straight lines. Yet nine-tenths of all the ornamental planting of that period was made up of this now decrepit and condemned tree.
So too, we recall one or two of our villages where the soil would have produced any of our finest forest trees, yet where the only trees thought worthy of attention by the inhabitants are the ailanthus and the paper mulberry.
The principle which would govern us if we were planting the streets of rural towns is this: Select the finest indigenous tree or trees, such as the soil and climate of the place will bring to the highest perfection. Thus if it were a neighborhood where the elm flourished peculiarly well, or the maple, or the beech, we would directly adopt the tree indicated. We would then, in time, succeed in producing the finest possible specimens of the species selected: while, if we adopted, for the sake of fashion or novelty, a foreign tree, we should probably only succeed in getting poor and meagre specimens.
It is because this principle has been, perhaps accidentally, pursued, that the villages of New England are so celebrated for their sylvan charms. The elm is, we think, nowhere seen in more majesty, greater luxuriance, or richer beauty, than in the valley of the Connecticut; and it is because the soil is so truly congenial to it, that the elm-adorned streets of the villages there elicit so much admiration. They are not only well planted with trees, but with a kind of tree which attains its greatest perfection there. Who can forget the fine lines of the sugar-maple in Stockbridge, Massachusetts? They are in our eyes the rural glory of the place. The soil there is their own, and they have attained a beautiful symmetry and development. Yet if, instead of maples, poplars or willows had been planted, how marked would have been the difference of effect.
There are no grander or more superb trees than our American oaks. Those who know them only as they grow in the midst, or on the skirts of a thick forest, have no proper notion of their dignity and beauty when planted and grown in an avenue, or where they have full space to develop. Now there are many districts where the native luxuriance of the oak woods points out the perfect adaptation of the soil for this tree. If we mistake not, such is the case where that charming rural town in this state, Can-andaigua, stands. Yet we confess we were not a little pained in walking through the streets of Ganandaigua the past season to find them mainly lined with that comparatively meagre tree, the locust. How much finer and more imposing, for the long principal street of Canandaigua, would be an avenue of our finest and hardiest native oaks, rich in foliage and grand in every part of their trunks and branches.*
Though we think our native elm or sugar maple and two or three of our oaks the finest of street trees for country villages, yet there are a great many others which may be adopted, when the soil is their own, with the happiest effect. What could well be more beautiful, for example, for a village with a deep, mellow soil, than a long avenue of that tall and most elegant tree, the tulip-tree or whitewood? For a village in a mountainous district, like New Lebanon, in this state, we would perhaps choose the white pine, which would produce a grand and striking effect. In Ohio, the cucumber-tree would make one of the noblest and most admirable avenues, and at the south what could be conceived more captivating than a village whose streets were lined with rows of Magnolia grandiflora? We know how little common minds appreciate these natural treasures; how much the less because they are common in the woods about them. Still, such are the trees which should be planted; for fine forest trees are fast disappearing, and planted trees, grown in a soil fully congenial to them, will, as we have already said, assume a character of beauty and grandeur that will arrest the attention and elicit the admiration of every traveller.
* The oak is easily transplanted from the nurseries, though not from the woods, unless in the latter case, it has been prepared a year beforehand by shortening the roots and branches. — A. j. d. The oaks arc nowadays being very successfully used in street planting throughout the eastern and southern states. — F. A. W.
The variety of trees for cities — densely crowded cities — is but small; and this chiefly because the warm brick walls are such hiding-places and nurseries for insects that many fine trees — fine for the country and for rural towns —-become absolute pests in the cities. Thus, in Philadelphia, we have seen, with regret, whole rows of the European linden cut down within the last ten years, because this tree, in cities, is so infested with odious worms that it often becomes unendurable. On this account that foreign tree, the ailanthus, the strong scented foliage of which no insect will attack, is every day becoming a greater metropolitan favorite. The maples are among the thriftiest and most acceptable trees for large cities, and no one of them is more vigorous, cleaner, hardier, or more graceful than the silver maple.
We must defer any further remarks for the present; but we must add, in conclusion, that the planting season is at hand. Let every man, whose soul is not a desert, plant trees; and that not alone for himself, within the bounds of his own demesne, but in the streets, and along the rural highways of his neighborhood. Thus he will not only lend grace and beauty to the neighborhood and county in which he lives, but earn, honestly and well, the thanks of his fellowmen.