INSTEAD OF forest maples (to continue some comments on garden trees) the gardener will want smaller trees, and I have pointed out in the past that flowering cherries, which are the common temptation, make terribly dense shade and have excessively greedy roots and worst of all have a generally boring look when not in bloom.
The relatively narrow Japanese cherry variety called "Amanogawa' would be handsome enough at the end of a long cat-run sort of city garden, especially if you didn't want to fool with puttering about. It is carefree, as indeed flowering cherries tend to be. The weeping forms are so irresistible that I commonly congratulate myself on resisting them. If I had an acre or two, I'd grow them. And if the gardener can exercise restraint, and be content with just one thing, then one flowering cherry is feasible even in a small garden.
Remember, they only bloom a week, or at best two weeks.
The flowering peaches have the great merit of dying after 10 years or so, though you can't count on it. I knew a gorgeous one that carried on for a quarter-century. They bloom quickly as young trees, grow fast, and when they flower in April you are rather embarrassed at so much glory.
They are excessive in flower and suit many gardeners who are excessively impressed by quantity of bloom. Though they are even flashier than the cherries, I am more greatly tempted by flowering peaches. There are some fierce smoldering crimson ones with double blooms that entitle the gardener to faint with astonishment at so massive and rich a color feast in early April.
Their blooms last longer than the cherries, and their foliage is a bit more interesting in the off-season. Especially Yankees and Englishmen like peach foliage since it reminds them of gentler climates than their own. To Southerners, peach leaves remind them chiefly of sultry, dusty days.
A tree I much admire is the fruiting peach called 'Dawne,' which you do not want to confuse with the peach called 'Prairie Dawn.'
With all respect to women named Dawne, that final "e" makes my teeth creep, but you don't have to put up a label, after all, just because you grow 'Dawne.'
It is a regular orchard peach, but its flowers are showier than those of most peaches in orchards. 'Belle of Georgia' is a fine white-fleshed peach (to give an example); but its flowers are small, stringy and a rather sad madder color. But 'Dawne' has wide-petaled single blooms of clear peach-blossom pink and no flowering tree is more beautiful. It also produces peaches the end of June, in an orchard, and in July in a somewhat shaded garden.
The fruit is not bad ("excellent quality" according to Bountiful Ridge Nurseries of Princess Anne, Md., which sells it); and even if you didn't spray and therefore didn't count on getting edible fruit, the peaches are so highly colored they are ornamental. If you get it on dwarfing rootstock and leave it alone, it grows to maybe 12 feet and halfway weeps over a fence. Practical gardeners could prune and spray it correctly, winding up with an 8-foot tree producing good peaches long before the main peach season.
I mention it because it is a good example of a first-class ornamental tree largely ignored. If it has a background of false cypresses and a foreground (to one side) of common wild junipers, with white and pale yellow daffodils and maybe be a couple of early tulips like the common 'Red Emperor,' it will show itself off well.
You need not, after all, spend a ton of gold to have beautiful effects, but you do have to notice beauty of exceptional quality when you see it, as in the common peach and common juniper.
The double-flowering plum with bronze leaves called 'Blirieana' I have mentioned several times in the past and will not dwell on it beyond pointing out it grows 15 feet high, blooms in early April and is smothered with candy-pink flowers the size of pennies. It is a bit much. It makes a spectacle of itself. The thing one often wonders, when reading of flowering trees, is whether they are really worthwhile, all things considered. This plum is.
Now often in Washington I see gardens that slope rather abruptly down to an alley, and usually the most exciting thing the bank can show is the gardener cussing on July 17 with a lawn mower.
A better sight, possibly, would be Sargent's crab, which has white flowers and red fruits and an outstanding spreading habit of growth. It is said to grow 8 feet high by maybe 12 or 14 feet wide, but usually you see it (if at all) smaller than that.
It stands little chance, I guess, if a young gardener reads catalogue descriptions of flowering crabapples. The descriptions tell you all about the flowers and fruit (they are not so good at telling you the double-flowering crabs have no fruit) and it is only natural that the gardener will acquire the flashiest-sounding variety listed. Noting wrong with that.
But what the gardener truly wants is the one that makes the greatest contribution to the garden's beauty, and I guess no other crab surpasses (and hardly any one equals) Sargent's crab.
Just as it is hard to describe the unique loveliness of old boxwood -- the idea is not at all conveyed by describing its leaves and height and branching -- so it is hard to describe Sargent's crab.
It's a plant of substantial gravity and weight, which most gardens badly need. It has the same look of permanence and strength that you find in hawthorns, oaks, hollies. Its plain single (and scented, if you please) white flowers are not large, but they are borne every place a flower can be borne. It is showy, dramatic and refined to a fare-thee-well, a combination of virtues rare among crabs.
Of course it would not do at all if you wanted a larger tree -- it's a shrub, really -- of a non-spreading shape.
A tree still sufficiently uncommon to have escaped general contempt is Laburnum vossii , a tree up to 30 feet tall that in early May is hung with flowers like yellow wisteria dripping down all along its branches.
It does not like scalding summers -- I would be surprised if it flourished in Chicago and Des Moines -- and no doubt it appreciates a bit of shade here, as in a forest glade or in an ordinary garden.
You can make tunnels of it, trees on both sides and meeting at the top.
At Kew Palace in London and in the garden of Bodnant in Wales there are famous tunnels of this Laburnum. If your lust for general gaud knows no limits, you can contrast it with the blue Chinese wisteria and Clematis vedrariensis (soft pink) and tall bearded irises and the Lord only knows what else. In some years they all bloom together, producing fierce shocks to Puritans.
In Europe it is associated with jammed-up row houses and blantantly colored rambler roses like 'American Pillar' (not that it blooms the same time, fortunately) and people who go in for fashionable plants usually deplore it. But it is very beautiful and I have never understood why it is not in every garden, though if it were, we'd be a little tired of it.
Finally, this reminder that the common wild dogwood is certainly unsurpassed, and probably unequaled by any other small tree possible in gardens. One could do much worse (and most of us do) than plant the garden solid with dogwoods. The white common form is best, in my view. Other forms are no improvement in beauty, and some (like 'Rainbow') are actively ugly.
Next week, more garden trees.