ON A HOT June day I looked up into the small tree shading the DuPont Circle bus stop and noticed, for the first time, a hundred little creamy clouds the size of a hand, suspended beneath the dense foilage.
It was, of course, the linden in bloom, or the lime-tree, as some gardeners call it. And even in the middle of a city there were a handful of bees working the flowers, which are like clusters of white-cream threads touched with green, and turning to tan as they age.Six of these thready clusters are borne together, and two clusters (thus 12 flowers) hand on one stem from the twig.
I lived as a boy near a street called Linden Circle, but there were no lindens on it, and the first linden tree I ever knew personally was at Monticello, Jefferson's farmhouse out from Charlottesville. When I was a youth I visited there and heard this great buzzing, which proved to be bees in the large old linden near the house.
The flowers, smelled up close, are not sweetly perfumed, and suggest all too closely the privet bloom. But outdoors, beneath a great old linden tree, the air is sweet. The linden at my bus stop is not large, and the scent does not drift out on the air, at least not while I am catching buses.
But I thought of all the people standing around waiting for the N buses in distinctly poor humor, and I thought I'd be as irritated as the rest of them if I hadn't happened to glance up to notice the linden at its peak of bloom. Viewed from the side, you would hardly see a flower, but looking straight up into the tree you see millions of blooms, clustered together like small billowy clouds of size of a human hand.
Lindens are wonderful trees -- scarcely any tree is less than wonderful -- and their beauty depends on a general rightness of leaf and branching. Lindens always remind me of those neat middle-class women you see who are well turned out and who have taken some pains with their appearance, such as it is, and who even when they are not much to look at, see to it their shoes are trim, their hems are neat and so on.
The beauty of trees is a subjective business, no doubt, and I think no linden is ever goint to be as elegant, as lithe and graceful, as the black locust. Now that the locust blooms have fallen, and the fresh new leaves have turned a richer green, they are still the most beautiful of trees.
It is true they drop branches not only in storms but even on still nights. The world is just too much with the locust and it lets it go. And of course the locust gets borers. All the same, no tree is more beautiful and hardly any other American tree is so lovely, and I have never thought much of those "tree experts," as they and ludicrously called, who regard the locust as a weed tree.
If a tree is not supremely beautiful, I see no great reason for it to exist in a garden.
There are, after all, such things as arbors and summer houses and awnings over terraces, and if shade is the only thing desired from a tree, there are easier and quicker ways of providing it than planting one. But no awning does what the locust does in the way of soft sheaves of foliage, and hardly any tree makes such a gentle shade, excluding the sun, but not providing even the least gloom.
There are those unreal trees in some of the landscapes of Claude and Poussin, and there are no trees that look like those in nature, but the locust comes closest in effect.
People who pronounce upon trees seem to have got it into their heads, such as their heads are, that the ideal tree is the tree without disease problems, without bugs, without invasive roots, without dropping fruit or dropping flowers or dropping leaves. And in their efforts to find such trees they have quite lost their minds and have forgot one little factor: some trees are very beautiful; so beautiful that a good many trifling faults must be forgiven them, and among the beautiful and the damned (as you might say) the locust ranks high.
It merely occurred to me last night visiting a hospital, that I should not like to be squashed by a bus without having gone on record in praise of the locust and now, no doubt, it's all right to get killed.
In the event one lasts till fall, however, there may as well be a few snapdragons. I know pefectly well that many town gardeners simply have not the space nor the inclination to undertake any of those long-range plans that writers keep urging them to do, and I see those gardeners roaming about garden centers hopefully.
Among the best things anyone can acquire is a few pots or flats of snapdragons. They bloom right through till cold weather, and in many gardens they will last two or even three or four years though usually they are treated as annuals and replaced each spring.
Snapdragons used to reach four feet with massive spikes of bloom, and if I had a retaining wall, I even now can think of nothing more wonderful than a patch of the huge old snapdragons sprawling over the top. But I do not despise the dwarf snapdragons, either.Some people find them graceless, but I think them handsome enough at a foot in height, and needless to say the ones you see at garden centers in flats are the dwarves.
Like almost everything else, they like full sun, but bloom pretty well with less than that. They are useless under dense shade trees. The Norway maple, so wretchedly common in cities of the East Coast, makes a particularly vicious and dull shade. What a pity there is no incurable virus for Norway maples.
And yet, every time I allude to the terrible tree, equaled only by the hemlock as a garden monster, people say they love those maples and hemlocks.
They remind me of the lady in Browning's poem whose heart was too soon made glad and who liked positively every guy that came along.
And everyone to her own taste, I say, but I do darkly suspect that some of those gardeners who pretend to love maples and hemlocks are the same ones who wail through the years that roses, peonies and so on simply will not do for them, though they have done everything for them.
Except the first thing, of course: to cut down Norway maples and hemlocks.
Replacing them with, for example, locusts. Maybe even a few snapdragons.