This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
While weeping trees have their proper place in arboriculture, they never possess the stateliness and grandeur of their upright progenitors. Being abnormal forms, we do not look for such attributes, and are therefore prepared for the weird and fantastic shapes that some assume, and for the formalities of others. There are certain situations in which the weird forms are appropriate, and the formal kinds are well suited to arbours.
The common notion that weeping trees are produced by grafting ordinary trees with buds inserted upside down is quite absurd. Weeping forms have been originated by nature and are perpetuated by man. One seedling out of many thousands, instead of producing a tree of normal upright growth, assumes the pendulous habit. If this happens in an unexplored region, it lives its allotted term of life unobserved, and its peculiarities pass away at its death, as it seldom reproduces its characteristics in its offspring. One branch, or even a twig, of a tree otherwise normal in its structure, may assume a weeping tendency, and it, too, dies with the parent tree. This departure from a type is found, not only in the form of branch and twig, but also in a change in the colour or shape of the leaf, as in the golden elder and cut-leaf maple. Some of these variations come from seed; others are "sports." Man observes these idiosyncrasies, and perpetuates those that please his fancy by grafting, budding or rooting.
Young's weeping birch.
In most instances, the budding or grafting is on the trunk of an upright form of the same or an allied species.
In Salix Babylonica, a native of the Levant, we have a weeping tree that in the seventeenth century was supposed to be the willow mentioned in the 137th Psalm, upon which the sorrowing captive Jews hung their harps. It thus became the typical tree of sorrow.
This tree is not generally hardy in the northern States, but the late Thomas Meehan had called attention to a sport from it originating upon the grounds of Mr. T. C. Thurlow, West Newbury, Massachusetts, of a more upright form, that has proved hardy there and at the experiment station in Nebraska. There is, however, a substitute for it in the Wisconsin weeping willow, a tree whose origin is clouded in mystery. It is suitable only in large grounds, where ample room may be devoted to it. The willow has given us another handsome weeping form in Salix purpurea, var. pendula, the purple osier of Europe, which is in reality a broad, spreading, decumbent shrub, often nearly ten feet high. This, when grafted on an upright trunk, is known in our catalogues as "The New American Weeper," and is one of the most graceful of the smaller pendulous trees. The grayish-olive tone of its leafage renders it an admirable subject to be placed well to the front, where a foil of dark-green foliage makes it a conspicuous, though generally harmonious, object.
Undoubtedly the loveliest of all hardy weeping trees is the cut-leaved weeping birch when at its maturity, but unfortunately, in most sections, it dies at the top before reaching an age when it displays its pendulous growth to the best advantage.
Tea's weeping mulberry, forming in arbor (see picture below).
The weeping mulberry on Its own roots.
Next to it, perhaps, is the weeping beech, which in its youth is almost painful to look upon, but when time has clothed its trunk with numerous tortuous branches assumes a form that presents a tumbling, waving mass of foliage which in some specimens is grand and imposing. No one can form any idea of the ultimate shape this tree will assume. It seems to change its mind with each seasons growth, and may eventually form a specimen weirdly grand or grotesquely absurd.
These same remarks apply with even more force to the weeping Norway spruce. This, when seen in the dim twilight, with its dark evergreen foliage hanging in clotted masses, suggests the uncouth denizens of the paleozoic forest.
In Young's weeping birch is a fantastic form well adapted to small grounds, but in this case, also, it is a question of time as to whether it will develop into being a pleasing form or not. The weeping larch is another tree of curious growth, requiring age before it may be admired in all its beauty.
One of the best-known weeping trees is the Camperdown elm, a typical grafted variety whose hardiness is unquestioned. While of comparatively slow growth, it forms in time, and in good ground, a most suitable arbour. A well-grown specimen will droop to the ground and form an enclosure twenty or more feet in diameter, producing a dense, agreeable shade, handsome when in flower, and again when in leaf. When planting this elm, it is well to remember that the doorway to the natural arbour it will form will be between some two of its main, spreading branches, and care should be exercised that this opening will look out upon a pleasing vista.
The Wisconsin weeping willow.
The weeping ash, where it does well and is grafted high enough, forms a splendid arbour much sooner than the Camperdown elm, but it seems more adapted to its English home than to our climate.
Tea's weeping mulberry, of comparatively recent introduction, is one of the fastest growers of them all, and naturally forms a narrow arbour. The new growth starts out from the upper part of the present branches, arches slightly, and then hangs down straight. These new branches rob the inner ones of light and air, causing their decay and death, but the new branches are annually increasing the spread of the top, and in time form an arbour, in order to hasten the formation of a fair-sized arbour, cut the head well back, in the spring or at the time of planting, fasten an iron ring or wooden hoop under the outer rim of the head, and train the branches out laterally for two seasons. The hoop should be wrapped with burlaps to prevent chafing, and the branches tied to it.
Weeping mulberries are grafted on upright forms. A~ illustration is given (page 93) of this tree, growing on its own roots, when the branches droop from the trunk all the way up. It is not a thing of beauty, but of curiosity. Had it not been supported from the time of planting it would be sprawling upon the ground. In planting a weeping tree to form an arbour, one must procure a specimen grafted at least six to seven feet high in order to obtain sufficient head room.
The glittering raiment of soft snow.
The gem among the flowering weepers is the Japanese rose-flowered weeping cherry, which, in early spring, and before the leaves appear, is a fleecy, feathery mass of bloom, completely covering every part, swaying with the winds, and hiding its nakedness while putting on its summer foliage.