The two false gods we worship, Speed and Show — Our mania for abnormally quick and gaudy trees must give way to an enthusiasm for Permanence and Fitness.
I D0 not blame the hundred thousand Americans who annually visit England, for desiring to duplicate the best English tree effects. For the English landscape possesses more luxuriance and mellowness than ours, and this is largely due to the tree growth, since trees grow taller and live longer than other plants. (See plate 68.) Also I am sorry when cultured people plant English trees and they die. But I believe we are wholly mistaken in throwing the blame for such failures on our methods, when the real defect is in our spirit. The trouble is we worship two false gods — Speed and Show.
For instance, we Americans have an insane passion for shade by the speediest and cheapest route. The only method we can conceive is to plant "fast growers." Yet there are two better methods, one of which is actually quicker, while the other is cheaper in the end. It is legitimate to alternate silver maples or box elders with long-lived trees, but even this is usually a bad plan, for some one will lack the sense or courage to chop down the temporary trees before they injure the permanent ones. And every time we plant fast-growing trees only, as most of us do, we are sure to reap disappointment, for they are bound to die or become unsightly at an early age.
Again, we may be quite unconscious that we worship Show, but we do. For we go about our friends' country places admiring their golden elders, weeping hemlocks, cut-leaved maples, and other "horticultural varieties." These things do not exist in nature but are, in a sense, creations of the nurserymen. They are like jewellery or spice or slang—to be used in moderation, but we ordinarily make them the dominant features of our home grounds. I trust that the readers of this book are not immoderately fond of loud clothes, cheap jewellery, rag-time or slang, but the trees Americans plant most are analogous to these things. We can never achieve the mellowness of the English landscape by such a route. For, even at their best, horticultural varieties are transitory and undignified compared with their prototypes. They make for restlessness, not repose.
If I could deliver to the American people a golden treasure-box containing the most precious thought that England has to give her sister about her trees, that thought might be expressed somewhat as follows: "The most valuable quality in any landscape is mellowness, and this can be attained only when long-lived trees are in the majority. Two thousand years of change have made our English people enthusiastic lovers of enduring things. A thousand years from now you Americans will have the same spirit, and America will be quite as mellow as England. For half the trees one can then see in any direction will be a century or more old. And they will not be the trees you now plant by the million, such as poplars, willows, soft maples, and others. They will be oaks, beeches, lindens, and the like, for slow-growing trees are the only ones that can achieve great age and stature. Your job, as individuals, is to recognize this law of evolution and put your home grounds in harmony with it".
How can we do this ? In two ways. First, by transplanting all the large trees we can afford. Second, by planting enough slow-growing native trees to dominate the land we own. The fast growers and horticultural forms should be reduced to a minimum. The former are only for temporary luxuriance; the latter only for spice. This is the only true perspective.
What a different programme this is from the one we have hitherto been following! Until a few years ago, it was the regular thing for nurseries to have only the English oak, elm, beech, and linden; there was no demand for the American equivalents. Now the whole attitude is changing. We see that we can never get English mellowness merely by planting English species. We have abundant proof that European trees, as a rule, are not long-lived in America, except on the Pacific coast. But, even if they did thrive here, it would be slavish imitation to have them in preponderance. We want an American landscape, not an English one. Formerly we aimed at the letter and missed the spirit. Now we see that mellowness resides not in English trees as such, but in the great age and stature of tree growth, and that we can have mellow country places only by preserving and planting our own long-lived trees.
But my theme is how to reproduce all the most important English effects with material that will really be hardy and long-lived in America. In my judgment there are about eight main effects.