LATELY I HAVE been thinking of trees again. Some have accused me of being anti-tree merely because I have well-founded and correct hatred of Norway maples, hemlocks, wild cherries and silver maples. I have suffered much from all of them. Hemlocks are worst.
But if I had room, my real passion would be trees. Once I helped choose magnolias for a great planting of those glorious creatures; and while they did not take my advice to have plenty of MM. salicifolia, sargentiana robusta, veitchii, etc, still it was exhilarating even to contemplate several acres devoted to the Asian magnolias.
Usually I am grateful for the little dabs of stuff I grow, when in my right mind I thank God for my sixth of an acre. But there are other times -- shameful, of course -- when I feel much abused.
Lately I have been mourning, for the thousandth time, my lack of black locusts. What is more beautiful than the locust with its light shade, its flowers like little white wisterias in May, its furrowed bark and picturesque old age?
It never occured to me as a young man that I would not have plenty of locusts, but now I suspect I never will. There is a bright yellow-leaved one called 'Frisia' I also covet.
The honey locusts, quite a different sort of cat, are also tempting beyond words. The ones with the vicious thorns are especially beautiful, and so is the yellowish one called 'Sunburst.'
If it were not for the fact that I have four forest trees on this 40-foot lot, I could at least have some things I like better than the present trees.
Can anybody resist the sourwood? The persimmons?The shads?
The most beautiful of all trees is the ginko. Unless it is the white oak. Or -- wait a minute -- the bald cypress. Or the sophora.
Those are the trees of such beauty that it makes me sick to think of the damned maples planted all over this capital, many of which do not color in the fall or have any other merit except (if you have a taste for it) the production of gloomy darkness and gunk that drips.
But banish them from your mind; there is enough misery in the world without thinking of Norway maples. Think rather (even if like me you have no room for them) of the great beauties like the ones I have mentioned.
Or the beech. Both the American and European beeches are beautifully rich in texture, and almost unparalleled in the delicacy of their bursting leaf buds in the spring. They are every bit as bad as the Norway maples in their roots, and nothing but pachysandra can be grown beneath their shade, but at least they are beautiful beyond belief at several seasons of the year.
There are ugly hollies, but you have to search long and carefully to find an ugly variety among the several hundred in commerce. I am glad to see our American holly is admired more than formerly, for it is a glorious plant. The English hollies, the Chinese hollies in many varieties, the yaupons and cassines and inkberries are all elegant small trees too.
There is no need to speak of dogwoods. Our wild dogwood is the most generally valuable garden plant of the continent. It is utterly without fault and has so many startling virtues that I assume it was the last tree created, once Providence really got the knack of things.
Flowering trees are usually a snare and a delusion, like those people you meet at cocktail parties who seem so glamorous and exciting and whom, after the third time, you hope never to have to see again.
The dogwood is the standing reproach, however, to snobs and purists who distrust flash flowering trees, and there are other examples worth mentioning.
The shadblow in flower is as beautiful as any flowering tree in the world. It seems to me the flowers last less than a week. But then that is the snare of flowering trees in general, the flowers never last more than a couple of weeks. That is why shads and dogwoods are fine, they have so many attractions apart from flowers.
The Asian witch hazels do too. Some of them turn the most wonderful tomato and orange and rose colors in October.
Some of the Asian small maples are not only unsurpassed in fall color but are barely equaled for the color of new spring foilage too.
One that I have is never fully colored before December. Every October I grumble at it, but Thanksgiving every year I greatly admire it. The green-leaf forms color best in the fall, by the way.
The root systems of both the weeping willow and the Lombardy poplar are perfectly well known to me, and they are a terror in the garden if you happen to have a desire for growing anything else within a half-block of them. Still, both trees are so ultimately perfect in their beauty that there is no way they could be improved, as far as looks are concerned.
Often they are objected to because of their roots, but I do not hear objections to Norway maples, which have equally wretched roots -- so do elms, and I am one of those who does no in the least miss elms -- but I think the main objection to willows and poplars is that their beauty is so intense.
People perhaps rightly distrust too great and apparent a beauty, suspecting there is something wrong somewhere. As there often is with quite beautiful people.
I do like Blirey's plum, which not only has copper-purple leaves but is covered with pink aspirin pills in the spring. The flowers are double and I would not expect a man of my taste to like it, but I do, very much.
Sargent's crab and the tea crab are two other flowering trees of high excellence. I have never known why anybody would want a crabapple that does not produce fruit, and I would not have one of those flashy double-glowering crabapples if you gave it to me on a platter. And yet I know many are tempted by them.
If a gardner wants a flamboyant show in a flowering tree, why not grow the cerise-crimson double-flowering peaches and be done with it? No crab is as showy as the flowering peach, after all.
Resistant as I am to dozens of flowering crabs, I confess the flowering peach is irresistable. It carries extrvagance beyond all bounds and thereby achieves a sort of triumph. It is somewhat like dogs -- if you are going to have great ears and paws, you might as well go all the way a basset of a bloodhound and not settle for being merely a beagle. Indeed, the trouble with many flowering trees is that they have all the drawbacks of blatant display without really achieving dropdead flashiness.
Laburnums and hornbeams and mountain ashes; sour gums and Arizona cypresses -- Lord, what a feast. And me with nothing. Nothing.
Last summer I dug a nice patch for a few tulips, since I am forever recommending to others that they prepare ground well in advance of needing it.
As a result, the tulips were planted in a few minutes. The soil was friable and crumbly -- perfect.
But I planted other tulips in a part of the garden that is still heavy clay loam. As far as I can tell, nobody in 100 years ever planted anything on this land till I acquired it, and although I have applied a great deal of rotted leaves, sawdust, horse manure and sand, there are still spots I have not got round to.
At first I was horrified at how bad the unimproved land was, but now I have turned it around, and congratulated myself on the improvement I have made, in those parts where I have dug stuff in for five years.
In a burst of efficiency recently I cut off the tops of the Japanese peonies, an operation not always tended to. While digging about for Bermuda grass and other noxious weeds that have crept in, I encountered what I took to be a pokeberry root and gave it some high-powered treatment with the spade. Rarely have I seen a finer specimen; its growth has been prodigious. It is now in four pieces, almost all the growth buds broken.
Things that are too sickening to think of. It was either 'Christine' or 'Westerner.' And I suppose it was 'Westerner' since that is my favorite, except for 'Largo.'
This is the last year I will trim off the old stalks on the peonies in October. This is what comes of doing things right.