WHAT is the reason," said an intelligent European horticulturist to us lately, "that the Americans employ so few evergreens in their ornamental plantations? Abroad they are the trees most sought after, most highly prized, and most valued in landscape gardening, and that, too, in countries where the winters are comparatively mild and short. Here in the northern United States, where this season is both long and severe, and where you have, in your forests, the finest evergreens, they are only sparingly introduced into lawns or pleasure grounds".
Our friend is right. There is a lamentable poverty of evergreens in the grounds of many country places in this country. Our plantations are mostly deciduous; and while there are thousands of persons who plant, in this country, such trashy trees (chiefly fit for towns) as the ailanthus, there is not one planter in a hundred but contents himself with a few fir trees as the sole representatives of the grand and rich foliaged family of evergreens.
They forget that, as summer dies, evergreens form the richest background to the kaleidoscope coloring of the changing autumn leaves; that in winter, they rob the chilly frost-king of his sternest terrors; that in spring, they give a southern and verdant character to the landscape in the first sunny day when not even the earliest poplar or willow has burst its buds.
More than this, - to look at the useful as well as the picturesque, - they are the body guards, the grenadiers, the outworks and fortifications, which properly defend the house and grounds from the cold winds and the driving storms that sweep pitilessly over unprotected places in many parts of the country. Well grown belts of evergreens, pines and firs, which---------"in conic forms arise, And with a pointed spear divide the skies," have, in their congregated strength, a power of shelter and protection that no inexperienced person can possibly understand. Many a place, almost uninhabitable from the rude blasts of wind that sweep over it, has been rendered comparatively calm amd sheltered; many a garden, so exposed that the cultivation of tender trees and plants was almost impossible, has been rendered mild and genial in its climate by the growth of a close shelter, composed of masses and groups of evergreen trees.
* Original date of May, 1848.
Compared with England, - that country whose parks and pleasure grounds are almost wholly evergreen, because her climate is so wonderfully congenial to their culture that dozens of species grow with the greatest luxuriance there, which neither France, Germany, nor the northern United States will produce - we say, compared with England, the variety of evergreens which it is possible for us to cultivate is quite limited. Still, though the variety is less, the general effect that may be produced is the same; and there is no apology for our neglecting, at least, the treasures that lie at our very gates, and by our road-sides - the fine indigenous trees of our country. These are within every one's reach; and even these, if properly introduced, would give a perpetual richness and beauty to our ornamental grounds, of which they are at this time, with partial exceptions, almost destitute.
As we are addressing ourselves now chiefly to beginners or those who have hitherto neglected this branch of arboriculture, we may commence by mentioning at the outset four evergreen trees worthy of attention, indeed, of almost universal attention in our ornamental plantations. Those are the Hemlock, the White Pine, the Norway Spruce, and the Balsam Fir.
We place the hemlock first, as we consider it beyond all question the most graceful and beautiful evergreen tree commonly grown in this country. In its wild haunts, by the side of some steep mountain, or on the dark wooded banks of some deep valley, it is most often a grand and picturesque tree; when, as in some parts of the northern states, it covers countless acres of wild forest land, it becomes gloomy and monotonous. Hence there are few of our readers, unfamiliar as they are with it but in these phases, who have the least idea of its striking beauty when grown alone in a smooth lawn, its branches extending freely on all sides and sweeping the ground, its loose spray and full feathery foliage floating freely in the air and its proportions full of the finest symmetry and harmony. For airy gracefulness, and the absence of that stiffness more or less prevalent in most evergreens, we must be allowed, therefore, to claim the first place for the hemlock, as a tree for the lawn or park.
Unfortunately the hemlock has the reputation of being a difficult tree to transplant; and though we have seen a thousand of them removed with scarcely the loss of half a dozen plants, yet we are bound to confess, that, with the ordinary rude handling of the common gardener it is often impatient of removal. The truth is all evergreens are far more tender in their roots than deciduous trees. They will not bear that exposure to the sun and air, even for a short period, which seems to have little effect upon most deciduous trees. Once fairly dried and shrivelled, their roots are slow to regain their former vital power, and the plant in consequence dies.
This point well understood and guarded against, the hemlock is by no means a difficult tree to remove from the nurseries.* When taken from the woods, it is best done with a frozen ball of earth in the winter; or, if the soil is sufficiently tenacious, with a damp ball in the spring.
* In the nurseries this, and other evergreens, over four feet, should be regularly root pruned; i.e., the longest roots shortened with a spade every year. Treated thus, there is no difficulty whatever in removing trees of ten or twelve feet high. - A. J. D.
Of all the well known pines, we give the preference to our native White Pine for ornamental purposes. The soft and agreeable hue of its pliant foliage, the excellent form of the tree, and its adaptation to a great variety of soils and sites, are all recommendations not easily overlooked.
Besides it bears transplanting particularly well, and is, on this account also, more generally seen than any other species in our ornamental plantations. But its especial merit as an ornamental tree is the perpetually fine, rich, lively green of its foliage. In the northern states many evergreens lose their bright color in mid-winter, owing to the severity of the cold; and though they regain it quickly in the first mild days of spring, yet this temporary dingi-ness, at the season when verdure is rarest and most prized is undeniably a great defect. Both the hemlock and the white pine are exceptions. Even in the greatest depression of the thermometer known to our neighbors on the "disputed boundary" line,* we believe the verdure of these trees is the same fine unchanging green. Again, this thin summer growth is of such a soft and lively color, that they are (unlike some of the other pines, the red cedar, etc.) as pleasant to look upon, even in June, as any fresh and full foliaged deciduous tree rejoicing in all its full breadth of new summer robes.