And while in the vein, we would include in the same category another less fashionable, but still much petted foreigner, that has settled among us with a good letter of credit, but who deserves not his success. We mean the abele or silver poplar. There is a pleasant flutter in his silver-lined leaves, but when the timber is a foot thick you shall find the air unpleasantly filled every spring with the line white down which flies from the blossom, while the suckers which are thrown up from the roots of the mature trees are a pest to all grounds and gardens, even worse than those of the ailanthus. Down with the abeles!
Oh! that our tree-planters, and they are an army of hundreds of thousands in this country, ever increasing with the growth of good taste — oh! that they knew and could understand the surpassing beauty of our native shade trees. More than forty species of oak are there in North America (Great Britain has only two species — France only five), and we are richer in maples, elms, and ashes, than any country in the old world. Tulip trees and magnolias from America are the exotic glories of the princely grounds of Europe. But (saving always the praiseworthy partiality in New England for our elms and maples), who plants an American tree — in America? And who, on the contrary, that has planted shade trees at all in the United States for the last fifteen years has not planted either ailanthuses or abele poplars? We should like to see that discreet, sagacious individual, who has escaped the national ecstasy for foreign suckers. If he can be found, he is more deserving a gold medal from our horticultural societies, than the grower of the most mammoth pumpkin or elephantine beet that will garnish the cornucopia of Pomona for 1852.
In this confession of our sins of commission in planting filthy suckers, and omission in not planting clean natives, we must lay part of the burden at the door of the nurserymen.* (It has been found a convenient practice — this shifting the responsibility — ever since the first trouble about trees in the Garden of Eden).
"Well! then, if the nurserymen will raise ailanthuses and abeles by the thousands," reply the planting community, "and telling us nothing about pestilential odors and suckers, tell us a great deal about 'rapid growth, immediate effect -beauty of foliage — rare foreign trees,' and the like, it is not surprising that we plant what turn out, after twenty years' trial, to be nuisances instead of embellishments. It is the business of the nurserymen to supply planters with the best trees. If they supply us with the worst, who sins the most, the buyer or the seller of such stuff?"
* It need not be forgotten that Mr. Downing was himself a nurseryman. — F. A. W.
Softly, good friends. It is the business of the nurserymen to make a profit by raising trees. If you will pay just as much for a poor tree, that can be raised in two years from a sucker as for a valuable tree that requires four or five years, do you wonder that the nurserymen will raise and sell you ailanthuses instead of oaks? It is the business (duty, at least) of the planter to know what he is about to plant; and though there are many honest traders, it is a good maxim that the Turks have — "Ask no one in the bazaar to praise his own goods." To the eyes of the nurserymen a crop of ailanthuses and abeles is "a pasture in the valley of sweet waters." But go to an old homestead where they have become naturalized and you will find that there is a bitter aftertaste about the experience of the unfortunate possessor of these sylvan treasures of a far-off country.*
The planting intelligence must therefore increase if we would fill our grounds and shade our streets with really valuable ornamental trees. The nurserymen will naturally raise what is in demand, and if but ten customers offer in five years for the overcup oak, while fifty come of a day for the ailanthus, the latter will be cultivated as a matter of course.
The question immediately arises, what shall we use instead of the condemned trees? What, especially, shall we use in the streets of cities'? Many — nay, the majority of shade trees — clean and beautiful in the country — are so infested with worms and insects in towns as to be worse than useless. The sycamore has failed, the linden is devoured, the elm is preyed upon by insects. We have rushed into the arms of the Tartar, partly out of fright, to escape the armies of caterpillars and cankerworms that have taken possession of better trees!
* We may as well add for the benefit of the novice, the advice to shun all trees that are universally propagated by suckers. It is a worse inheritance for a tree than drunkenness for a child, and more difficult to eradicate. Even ailanthuses and poplars from seed have tolerably respectable habits as regards radical things. — A. J. D.
Take refuge, friends, in the American maples. Clean, sweet, cool, and umbrageous, are the maples; and, much vaunted as ailanthuses and poplars are, for their lightning growth, take our word for it, that it is only a good go-off at the start. A maple at twenty years, or even at ten, if the soil is favorable, will be much the finer and larger tree. No tree transplants more readily, none adapts itself more easily to the soil, than the maple. For light soils and the milder parts of the Union, say the Middle and Western States, the silver maple, with drooping branches, is at once the best and most graceful of street trees. For the North and East, the soft maple and the sugar maple.* If any one wishes to know the glory and beauty of the sugar maple as a street tree, let him make a pilgrimage to Stockbridge, in Massachusetts! If he desires to study the silver maple there is no better school than Burlington, New Jersey. These are two towns almost wholly planted with these American trees, of the sylvan adornings of which any "native" may well be proud. The inhabitants neither have to abandon their front rooms from the smell nor lose the use of their back yards by the suckers. And whoever plants either of these three maples may feel sure that he is earning the thanks instead of the reproaches of posterity.
The most beautiful and stately of all trees for an avenue and especially for an avenue street in town — is an American tree that one rarely sees planted in America † — never, that we remember, in any public street. We mean the tulip tree, or liriodendron. What can be more beautiful than its trunk, finely proportioned, and smooth as a Grecian column? What more artistic than its leaf, cut like an arabesque in a Moorish palace? What more clean and lustrous than its tufts of foliage, dark green and rich as deepest emerald? What more lily-like and specious than its blossoms, golden and bronze shaded? and what fairer and more queenly than its whole figure, stately and regal as that if Zenobia? For a park tree, to spread on every side, it is unrivalled, growing a hundred and thirty feet high, and spreading into the finest symmetry of outline.* For a street tree, its columnar stem, beautiful either with or without branches — with a low head or a high head — foliage over the second story or under it — is precisely what is most needed. A very spreading tree, like the elm, is always somewhat out of place in town,, because its natural habit is to extend itself laterally. A tree with the habit of the tulip, lifts itself into the finest pyramids of foliage, exactly suited to the usual width of town streets, and thus embellishes and shades without darkening and incumbering them. Besides this, the foliage of the tulip tree is as clean and fresh at all times as the bonnet of a fair young quakeress, and no insect mars the purity of its rich foliage.
* By the soft maple is probably meant the red maple. — F. A. W. † Though there are grand avenues of it in the royal parks of Germany raised from American seed. — A. J. D.
We know very well that the tulip tree is considered difficult to transplant. It is, the gardeners will tell you, much easier to plant ailanthuses, or, if you prefer, maples. Exactly, so it is easier to walk than to dance; but as all people who wish to be graceful in their gait learn to dance (if they can get an opportunity), so all planters who wish a peculiarly elegant tree will learn how to plant the liriodendron. In the first place the soil must be light and rich — better than is at all necessary for the maples — and if it cannot be made light and rich, then the planter must confine himself to maples. Next, the tree must be transplanted just about the time of commencing its growth in the spring, and the roots must be cut as little as possible, and not suffered to get dry till replanted.
* At Wakefield, the fine country-seat of the Fisher family, near Philadelphia, are several tulip-trees on the lawn, over one hundred feet high, and three to six feet in diameter. — A. J. D.
There is one point which, if attended to as it is in nurseries abroad, would render the tulip tree as easily transplanted as a maple or a poplar. We mean the practice of cutting round the tree every year in the nursery till it is removed. This develops a ball of fibres, and so prepares the tree for the removal that it feels no shock at all.* Nurserymen could well afford to grow tulip trees to the size suitable for street planting and have them twice cut or removed beforehand, so as to enable them to warrant their growth in any good soil, for a dollar apiece. (And we believe the average price at which the thousands of noisome ailanthuses that now infest our streets have been sold, is above a dollar.) No buyer pays so much and so willingly, as the citizen who has only one lot front, and five dollars each has been no uncommon price in New York for "trees of heaven".
After our nurserymen have practised awhile this preparation of the tulip trees for the streets by previous removals, they will gradually find a demand for the finer oaks, beeches, and other trees now considered difficult to transplant for the same cause, and about which there is no difficulty at all if this precaution is taken. Any body can catch suckers in a still pond, but a trout must be tickled with dainty bait. Yet true sportsmen do not for this reason, prefer angling with worms about the margin of stagnant pools when they can whip the gold-spangled beauties out of swift streams with a little skill and preparation, and we trust that in future no true lover of trees will plant suckers to torment his future days and sight, when he may, with a little more pains, have the satisfaction of enjoying the shade of the freshest and comeliest of American forest trees.†
* In many continental nurseries, this annual preparation in the nursery, takes place until fruit trees of bearing size can be removed without the slightest injury to the crop of the same year. — A. J. D. The same method is now extensively practiced with shade trees in American nurseries. — F. A. W.
† It seems unkind to criticise Mr. Downing's choice of trees, but modern experience does not fully bear him out. The tulip tree, which he praises so highly, has not proved at all satisfactory for street planting. Neither has the white pine and some of the other trees which he favored. At the same time it appears that the despised ailanthus still holds those crowded city streets where, for reeking coal smoke and other untoward conditions, no other tree will grow. — F. A. W.