In some parts of Germany the government makes it a duty for every landholder to plant trees in the highways before his property; and in a few towns that we have heard of no young bachelor can take a wife till he has planted a tree. We have not a word to say against either of these regulations. But Americans, it must be confessed, do not like to be over-governed, or compelled into doing even beautiful things. We therefore recommend as an example to all country towns that most praiseworthy and successful mode of achieving this result adopted by the citizens of Northampton, Massachusetts.
This, as we learn, is no less than an Ornamental Tree Society, an association whose business and pleasure it is to turn dusty lanes and bald highways into alleys and avenues of coolness and verdure. Making a "wilderness blossom like the rose," is scarcely more of a miracle than may be wrought by this simple means. It is quite incredible how much spirit such a society, composed at first of a few really zealous arboriculturists, may beget in a country neighborhood. Some men there are in every such place who are too much occupied with what they consider more important matters ever to plant a single tree unsolicited. But these are readily acted upon by a society which works for the public good and which moves an individual of this kind much as a town meeting moves him, by the greater weight of numbers. Others there are who can only be led into tasteful improvement by the principle of imitation, and who consequently will not begin to plant trees till it is the fashion to do so. And again others who grudge the trifling cost of putting out a shade tree, but who will be shamed into it by the example of every neighbor around them - neighbors who have been stimulated into action by the zeal of the society.
And last of all, as we have learned, there is here and there an instance of some slovenly and dogged farmer who positively refuses to take the trouble to plant a single twig by the roadside. Such an individual the society commiserate and beg him to let them plant the trees in front of his estate at their own cost.
In this way, little by little, the Ornamental Tree Society accomplishes its ends. In a few years it has the satisfaction of seeing its village the pride of the citizens - for even those who were the most tardy to catch the planting fever, are at last - such is the silent and irresistible influence of sylvan beauty. - the loudest champions of green trees - and the delight of all travellers, who treasure it up in their hearts as one does a picture drawn by poets and colored by the light of some divine genius.
We heartily commend, therefore, this plan of Social Planting Reform to every desolate, leafless, and repulsive town and village in the country. There can scarcely be one where there are not three persons of taste and spirit enough to organize such a society; and once fairly in operation, its members will never cease to congratulate themselves on the beauty and comfort they have produced, Every tree which they plant, and which grows up in after years into a giant trunk and grand canopy of foliage, will be a better monument (though it may bear no lying inscription) than many an unmeaning obelisk of marble or granite.
Let us add a few words respecting the best trees for adorning the streets of rural towns and villages. With the great number and variety of fine trees which flourish in this country there is abundant reason for asking, "where shall we choose?" And although we must not allow ourselves space at this moment to dwell upon the subject in detail we may venture two or three hints about it.
Nothing appears to be so captivating to the mass of human beings as novelty. And there is a fashion in trees which sometimes has a sway no less rigorous than that of a Parisian modiste. Hence while we have the finest indigenous ornamental trees in the world growing in our native forests, it is not an unusual thing to see them blindly overlooked for foreign species that have not half the real charms and not a tenth part of the adaptation to our soil and climate.
Thirty years ago there was a general Lombardy poplar epidemic. This tall and formal tree, striking and admirable enough, if very sparingly introduced in landscape planting, is, of all others, most abominable in its serried stiffness and monotony when planted in avenues or straight lines. Yet nine-tenths of all the ornamental planting of that period was made up of this now decrepit and condemned tree.
So too, we recall one or two of our villages where the soil would have produced any of our finest forest trees, yet where the only trees thought worthy of attention by the inhabitants are the ailanthus and the paper mulberry.
The principle which would govern us if we were planting the streets of rural towns is this: Select the finest indigenous tree or trees, such as the soil and climate of the place will bring to the highest perfection. Thus if it were a neighborhood where the elm flourished peculiarly well, or the maple, or the beech, we would directly adopt the tree indicated. We would then, in time, succeed in producing the finest possible specimens of the species selected: while, if we adopted, for the sake of fashion or novelty, a foreign tree, we should probably only succeed in getting poor and meagre specimens.