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.)
To explain the meaning and fair application of such words as promising, new and hardy, and to suggest a tasteful and effective arrangement of a series of ornamental plants that may properly be included in such a definition, I cannot perhaps do better than describe to you a choice and well planted lawn. The picture, as a whole, will then explain itself as well as the manifold relations of various parts. I desire, indeed, to make evident the unity and just proportion of the scene, and, at the same time, to dwell duly on the individual traits of each plant. These plants cannot fail to gain peculiar interest when you come, as it were, to associate with them and study sympathetically their wants, caprices and many lovely qualities.
Here is the picture: - A simple cottage, low, rambling and picturesque, enclosed by boundaries of shrubbery on every side. Fifty feet east and west extend the side lawns, and down to the north slopes gradually the main stretch of turf, till it ends in the winding banks of a clear and rapid stream. A part of the bank is somewhat marshy, and here the opportunity has been taken to plant sundry interesting herbaceous plants or wild flowers that affect such spots. Willows of various kinds droop over the water, and birches strike vigorous roots into moist and congenial soil. Alders wave and cypresses stand elegant and tall in similar spots, until we come to solid dry land in the northwest corner. Here are masses of Norway spruces, alternated with white pines, and here and there an Austrian pine. This evergreen grouping extends nearly up to the house. The shelter thus afforded is therefore most complete, forming protection and background alike. This portion of the frame-work of the picture also serves to bring out harmoniously and effectively sundry beautiful groups and single specimens of the finer evergreens.
As we approach the house, these evergreens become smaller and more dwarf, until immediately about the building we find plants that grow only two feet, perhaps, in ten or fifteen years. Back of the house and on the sides grow deciduous shrubs, large and effective, bordering the entire remaining portion of the domain. These are varied at intervals by the loftier heads of deciduous trees, maples, elms and the like, the trunks of which are entirely hidden by the thickly and naturally disposed shrubbery. On the corners, especially, are planted large elms, intended to mark and define more completely the boundaries of the lawn. Just within the enclosure grow a few choice, medium sized trees, standing isolated, as it were, but everywhere else we meet mere shrubs or dwarf trees. As a rule, moreover, we find evergreens and deciduous plants each grouped by themselves.
Yet with all this variety of trees, the lawn proper, or greensward, remains very prominent, its broad, well-cultured stretches being on the whole the most noteworthy part of the design.
Wandering amid such scenes as I have just hastily sketched to you, let us take sundry notes, giving our attention chiefly to new, hardy, ornamental trees and shrubs, and their tasteful and effective arrangement. As we turn into the paths immediately about the house, the first objects that attract special attention are various small shrubs, or rather miniature trees. We are struck by them, because though they have evidently a family likeness, they are yet as diverse in appearance as it is possible for plants to be. They stand either singly in some prominent position, or in clusters of three or five on curves or intersections of paths. There must be at least twenty of them, and scarcely two of them alike. Inspection of their labels tells us they are Japanese maples, chiefly but not entirely of the polymorphum species. Rare curiosities indeed! We doubt if you have often seen their like before. Yet they have been known to explorers and plant collectors fifteen, twenty, and even, in some cases, fifty years.
Experts have long recognized how remarkably their shapes vary, from the more common type of maple foliage to the extreme of cut-leaved forms, and how their lace-like tissues are dyed with purple and gold in June. They have been exhibited and sold in Europe, in a limited way for at least fifteen years, but, strange to say, in face of the simple facts, there has existed a wide-spread conviction that their hardiness is defective. Hence we read of them as pot-grown, a condition that must always prevent the full, free development of their beauty. Some one must have finally, and perhaps accidentally, left them unprotected in the open ground during winter, for we may now find them growing in the most exposed positions, apparently as hardy as any maple. The only weakness of which they now continue to be accused is a tendency to burn and fade under the stress of exceptionally hot summer days. But as there are very few established plants in this country, perhaps we may find that as they become more permanently settled in the soil, even this weakness will disappear. I know such to have been the case in Mr. Thomas Hogg's collection, which includes the specimens which have been longest planted in this country.
They were imported somewhere about 1862 and 1864. Any summer day one may see in this collection all kinds of Japan-ese maples standing entirely uninjured by sun or cold. The fact is, that most, if not all, Ja panese maples, set out up to this date, have been imported from Japan and accustomed to very different conditions in their own country. They have also, in all probability, been hurt to the core by the voyage, and in addition to this have been weakened for our purposes by the Japanese system of ultra dwarfing, so that it is not strange if they seem to have a poor chance in America. I feel confident that American born plants, when we have them well established on our lawns, will do better; but even as it is, scarcely one summer in five will specially burn their leaves, and as they grow older the danger decreases. It must be remembered, moreover, that no variegated-leaved plants stand the heat of July and August without injury. They may not, in many instances, burn, but they will fade. A natural query also arises, as to why Japanese maples are so rare. They have been long recognized as gems among hard-wooded plants, and for house interior decoration only, would have been well worth extended propagation. This question may be fairly asked, but the answer thereto is not easy to find.
A practical system of propagation has, for some reason, remained until recently undiscovered. Layering was found to be a slow and unsatisfactory process, and seed would not, of course, reproduce with any certainty the different varieties. American and European maples were employed in vain as stocks to receive Japanese scions, because the junction made by grafting, though apparently successful for a time, invariably failed within a year. Finally, after the manner in which such discoveries usually happen, several propagators in both Europe and America about the same time came to the conclusion that they must use the parent stock, polymorphum, for all varieties of its own offspring. It was all very simple, but then why did no one think of it? Thanks to this discovery we may now hope in a few years to see Japanese maples more plentiful throughout the country. Nevertheless we need not hope that their propagation will ever be easy. It would be contrary to the nature of the plant.
(To be continued )