This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
(Prize Essay for Massachusetts Horticultural Society.)
(Continued from page 325.)
On the other hand, if it were not for Magnolia parviflora, we should consider the somewhat longer known Magnolia hypoleuca, unrivaled in its way. This magnolia, of which there is a fine specimen on our lawn, is as hardy and vigorous as Magnolia parviflora. The leaves are much finer and longer, being over a foot in length, silvery underneath, with a bright red midrib and leaf stem. Creamy white and delightfully sweet-scented, Magnolia hypoleuca blooms as late as Magnolia parviflora, and apparently as sparsely. But sparsely or not, it is very pleasant to see such attractive flowers in June, having parted regretfully from our beautiful Chinese magnolia blossoms more than a month since. The silvery green and red of the leaves of Magnolia hypoleuca vary somewhat in beauty, but are always rich and effective. One specially noteworthy thing about many of the plants we have been considering, is their peculiar adaptation to places of the restricted dimensions of, say, half an acre or even less, a consideration which, I contend, is destined to carry more and more weight as the capacity for ornamentation of these small places becomes better understood.
I should have called your attention to a beautiful single white althea, the form of its flower is so simple and elegant; but we must pass on to larger trees. Among valuable hardy plants are the members of the entire genus of maples. Here, amid fringing shrubs, or standing singly on their outskirts, we find still other interesting kinds. Acer Colchicum rubrum recalls the Japanese maples, for it too, is a Japanese maple and a very peculiar one. It grows and looks somewhat like Acer striatum or Pennsylvanicum, a species that seems almost identical, at least, in appearance, with more than one species in Asia and Japan. Acer Colchicum rubrum is properly Acer mono or laetum, and grafts only fairly on the Norway maple, the stock generally used. It is, indeed difficult to propagate at best, and therefore rare. The charm of the tree lies in its red twigs and rich red foliage in June, and also in its red second growth in late summer and early fall. Much of the tree, especially in summer, remains green, so that the numerous brilliant red leaves create a beautiful variegated effect. The green leaves have angular lobes and a neat, elegant appearance that would alone render the tree very attractive.
The position this tree occupies on our lawn is somewhat sheltered, for it is not always and everywhere entirely hardy. Several curious varieties or closely allied forms of this maple come to us also from Japan. Some of them are mottled with white in odd fashion, while others bear pure snow-white leaves, which, unlike the white-leaved Acer negundo, endure summer heat and sun perfectly well. Unfortunately, these forms are still more difficult than Acer Colchicum rubrum to propagate, and less hardy.
I should notice, also here, one or two Norway maples, new and rare, that are very charming on the lawn, and perfectly hardy, after the manner of all Norway maples. Acer platanoides Lorbergii is deeply cut as to its leaves, with the young growth of a more or less reddish color. Acer platanoides Schweidlerii is the finest of these Norway maples, which are well represented on this lawn. The large striking leaves take on the most brilliant red in June, and in August and September the second growth glows richly amid the general green of the foliage. These trees are specially valuable, because they belong to the Norway maple species, in most senses, our best hardy shade-tree. Passing out on the main lawn, we note a single tree of very distinguished appearance, quite distinct from any thing we have observed before. It is golden catalpa. One of our most effective lawn trees is the catalpa. Broad, massive foliage, shadowy and most grand, characterizes the effect of this tree. It retains its foliage, moreover, late in fall, grows rapidly, and, by its large prominent appearance, impresses the eye from the most distant part of the lawn.
Conceive all this effective foliage then painted with solid golden tints, and you have the golden catalpa (Catalpa syringaefolia aurea), which we note here on the lawn in question. The young growth is of course, most prominent, and in fall the richness of coloring is often very striking amid the widespread dullness of incipient leaf decay. Long clusters of white fragrant flowers are also fine in August, which is very late for sweet-scented flowers.
Aralia Japonica, of which there is a fine specimen is comparatively new and very interesting. It is a low tree, with spreading, umbrella-like head. The leaves are very large, curiously or deeply divided, and surmount branches and trunk of thorny or prickly habit. Altogether, it is a strange looking tree, and very hardy. It bears in fall, long, waving clusters of brownish purple fruit or seed vessels, which characterize the tree. The flower is, of course quite as effective as that of common Aralia spinosa, or devil's walking stick. It also affects soil of moderate fertility, having doubtless the failing of the family, viz.: Throwing up shoots or suckers from the roots. Deep, rich soil would, therefore, in all probability, aggravate this failing.
On a gentle slope near one side of the lawn, where the effect of a weeping tree may be most happily presented, is a new pendulous Japan cherry. We have long had small weeping cherries, round-headed, neat and very symmetrical, well fitted to perform an ornamental part on the lawn similar to that accomplished by the Portugal laurel, which is not hardy in our portion of the United States. The weeping cherry on this lawn is a different affair. It is tall, vigorous, and in every way like a common fruit bearing cherry, except that it weeps. And it literally does weep. No deciduous tree, if we except the beech, does its weeping in more persistent, charming and original fashion than this cherry. The flowers, moreover, in early spring are very attractive, fairly covering the tree with small pink blossoms. Combining, as it does, so many ornamental qualities with a hardy and easily propagated nature, it forms unquestionably a lawn plant of much value. But come with me down by the stream; there are some interesting plants in that region. First, let me call your attention to a weeping deciduous cypress, (Taxodium dis-tichum pendulum). It is quite new, although in most ways a simple southern cypress, with all that cypress's soft, feathery grace and elegant outline.
The brownish red bark and erect stem of the southern cypress are also there, but added to these qualities is the great charm of weeping curves, persistent and distinctly drooping. This cypress may be now and then a little eccentric in habit, but usually curves soberly downward. Like its parent type, it enjoys moist soil - indeed, detests dry sandy quarters. In this section of the lawn there are several interesting alders, the natural haunts of which are moist places. Alnus firma, and one or two other Japanese alders are specially interesting, with their green, ball-like seed vessels and shining, elegant foliage at all seasons. I like to note these alders, for their presence here shows regard for a genus of plants too much neglected. Here also grow several interesting Japanese willows, Salix Sieboldii, and a curious dwarf, Salix cericea pendula.
The Ashes are seemingly out of favor with some lawn planters, yet we ought to see them more freely used; for prejudice in this case is entirely unfounded. They are hardy and not more prone to disease than other ornamental species, and they are all possessed of beauty as varied even as maples or elms. Many will recall the round, rich, symmetrical elegance of the walnut-leaved ash (Fraxinus juglandifolia), as well as the beauty of the more common American and European ash (F. Americana and F. Europea). Come with me, however, and look at this aucuba-leaved ash (F. Europea aucubifolia). What a rich mottled gold dyes the leaf, and how attractive the roundish outline of its shining foliage. Near by is Fraxinus punctata, still more beautifully shaded with gold. But these comparatively old variegated ashes are thrown into the shade almost by the curious tints and forms of two or three new varieties. Note this Fraxinus E. concavaefolia, with its white and rosy tints, marking strongly the young growth alike in summer and in fall, until, at a distance, one readily fancies the tree crowned with rich hued flowers. The entire young leaf, in this case, is more or less mottled with white and rose.
Another ash, to which I want to draw attention, has light green, attractive foliage, but it is specially noteworthy for the curiously perfect curves of its downward drooping branches and leaves. This is Fraxinus scolopendrifolia. Then there is the Japan ash (F. elonza Japonica), distinguishable by its small leaves and drooping, graceful form. The Japan silver-leaved ash (F. Japonica argentea), is likewise represented by a good specimen. It is one of the best and most constant of variegated-leaved trees. The leaves are broadly edged with silvery white, which sometimes suffuses the entire leaf. There is also a golden and equally attractive variety of this Japan ash. The cut-leaved form of the ash is found in Fraxinus Japonica serratifolia, and we have the dwarf form of ashes illustrated by F. Europea atrovirens, a curious tree of almost diminutive habit, with dark-green curled leaves fairly hugging the stem. I like to dwell on the ashes, for they are neglected unjustly. My notes are, of course, very brief, and do but scant justice to the many fine ashes on this lawn.
Notwithstanding the beauty of the ashes, however, we turn with pleasant anticipations to look more closely at the oaks. Most original, perhaps in form, of all species of hardy or ornamental trees, as well as enduring and grand, we are all familiar with many effective kinds. Here we find, however, certain strange new forms. The planter seems to have appreciated the magnificent qualities of the oaks as lawn trees, and gathered together a notable collection of them. I will note briefly some of the most interesting.
Quercus pannonica, the Pannonian Oak, one of the finest of its species, is a grand tree that is not exactly new, but certainly very rare. It has great shining, deep-lobed leaves, and grows vigorously; a quality not always specially peculiar to the oak. This reminds me of a form of the pyramidal oak, a member of this group, Quercus pyramidalis cucullata. The pyramidal oak is, perhaps, the most rapid growing of oaks, and as it also has curious leaves curled down at the edges, you will readily perceive that in Quercus pyramidalis cucullata we have found an interesting tree. Cut-leaved forms attain their extreme development among oaks in Quercus heterophylla dissecta. The leaves are literally cut into mere shreds. There are several variegated-leaved varieties of oaks. The most familiar we notice on this lawn is Quercus peduncu-lata argentea, a beautiful and striking variety, with its dark green leaves variegated along the edges with silver. Passing from this simpler type, we notice about us various more complex developments of a similar coloring, which indeed needs only a little warming in tint to turn it into gold. Quercus tricolor variegata is more broadly and curiously streaked and spotted with red and white, becoming in fall tri-colored in appearance.
Among the more warmly tinted leaves we have quercus aureo-viridis, with leaves broadly striped with yellow between the ribs. This variety, though fine, only leads us suitably to a specimen of the true golden oak, Quercus concordia, in some senses the noblest deciduous tree of our lawn. The peculiarity of this oak is, that it lacks the deep golden tint in June, is in fact distinctly greenish-gold, but in August a full, broad, rich gold suffuses the entire leaf, and, as the tree grows well for an oak, it is easy to conceive, even withoat seeing a specimen, what a grand effect it must make. This color seems to grow richer and richer as summer wanes and fall appears. It does not, in fact, gain much richness after August, but the increased contrast, afforded by surrounding fading tints, against its fresh healthy yellow becomes more and more marked. The deepest color is shown by the purple oak, Quercus nigricans. Quercus nigricans is more permanently brownish-violet throughout the summer, but, unfortunately, it is not very hardy in the climate of New York and northward. The weeping oak is represented on this lawn by a grand specimen. Many have doubtless heard of the excellence of this variety. But it is hardly likely that many are conversant with its peculiarly rapid growth for an oak.
I have seen a young weeping oak grow five feet and over in one season, and that in poor soil. One curious fact about these golden variegated and weeping oaks is, that they belong very generally to European species. Possibly the variations of American kinds have not been noted with the same care by propagators, for the simple reason that, until recently, far too little consideration has works between them and the houses fronting on them.
The fields about Washington are turfless, and good turf is only to be had by a tedious process, with great care and labor, and through the heat of summer only by a profuse command of water. There will soon be thousands of houses here, planted on banks from four to ten feet above the sidewalk, with flat, formal, steep slopes, such as even in the climate of England, and with the best of soil and gardening skill it is hardly possible to maintain turf upon suitable to carry the ■eye up to a house of refined materials and workmanship. The soil upon these slopes in Washing, ton is such as one sees in going there from Baltimore in the railway cuttings; a cracking, brick clay and gravel, bearing naturally almost nothing but stunted "broom-sedge." But were it much better, proper turf in such a situation in the climate of Washington would be out of the question, and nothing more incongruous with the cut stone and plate glass which often appears behind it, or more positively dreary and forlorn than what now generally stands upon them for turf, can be imagined. It compares with true turf as a ragged and dirty door mat compares with a table napkin.
As the arrangement has been forced upon the people, and such banks cannot, in many cases, be now avoided except at great expense, and as miles of them must be brought prominently into view to all visiting a city in which every American has a responsibility, the question of any generally-available, tidy treatment of them is one upon which good advice is greatly needed.
Nearly always it would be better, as far as practicable, to break art of rigidly mathematical forms; to obtain everywhere curving faces and especially to destroy angular crests. Next, a much more liberal use of shrubbery is desirable; not alone for decorative purposes, but for beautifully screening, or throwing into background retirement banks of dead and ragged grass. Even screens in the form of low, closely-trimmed hedges might be used. As Washington should appear well in winter they should be of evergreens; the best, if one had patience, probably of tree box or American holly; but it may be observed that after an exceptionally severe winter and a fearfully trying summer both yews and retinosporas of all species and varieties are looking very well in Washington.
After all that can be done in this way, however, should not the chief resort be to creepers?
In Europe such banks are sometimes seen covered very perfectly and yet very snugly and daintily with ivy. They may be seen also dressed with periwinkle, but it is rarely in good order. Evergreen honeysuckle would almost surely succeed, but might look too riotous. Has the evergreen Euonymus had a fair trial as a carpet, carefully spread and pegged? Could anything be done with creeping junipers? Perhaps in some cases it would do to make a facing of rough stone, to be generally overrun with honeysuckle and clematis, but with breaks and niches supporting sedums and other dry-rock plants, and with outbursts of yuccas and drought-enduring shrubs, as the smaller sumachs and mahonias. Suitable stone is to be easily obtained about Washington.
Still another expedient that might be admissible in some situations would be a trellis set at the base of the bank and of sufficient height to obscure it without obstructing the view toward the house. The trellis to be covered, of course, with vines. Wire netting stretched on iron frames, with the simplest possible supports of iron, would be best. But one of cedar or sassafras Poles might better be used than leave the banks in their present repulsive prominence. Such material is easily obtained any where about Washington, and it can be easily morticed and wire-bound together, and perfectly clothed with evergreen drapery in a single year. This would not be beyond the resources of a third class department clerk, a policeman or letter carrier, especially if he had boys to help him after school.
It would be of service to the Republic if you, good Mr. Editor, or if any of your experienced contributors would criticise these suggestions and name plants adapted to cover in a tidy way steept high slopes, facing the sun, in the climate of Washington, and advise how, without much gardening skill, labor or cash outlay, they may be so managed as not to appear at any time of year unsuitably faded, meagre, ragged or sickly.