This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
If we look carefully at the streets of our towns it will surprise those who reflect to see how the trees crowd each other, spoil each other, and defeat the object for which they were set out. The leading object with a street planter is, in his own expressive phrase, plenty of shade. Hence he selects fast growers, and plants thickly. Soft maples or poplars will be his choice in nine times out of ten, and they are set about twenty feet apart. It does not take long for these trees to grow ten feet from the trunk. In four or five years the branches meet. At four or five years from planting they are the pride of the planter's heart - a sight to see. But from that time they go back. Instead of spreading and keeping up a stock of low umbrageous branches, they go up; this is the only chance for the branches to get the light. The chimney pot is kept under a deliciously cool shade, but who or what but the swallow cares for it there. The planter feels instinctively that something should be done. He applies to the tree butcher, who advises him to head back the tree - to pollard them in classical language - and this is done. The next two years, though he planted fast growing trees to get shade, and thickly to get shade the faster, he has no shade at all.
In two or three years more he finds that the cutting back of such large trees has injured them. They are rotten in places, and shabby in others, and the whole tree has to be cut away. It is strange people do not learn this by experience, but they do not. In nearly all our large cities trees have disappeared almost wholly from the sidewalks. They have died from bad treatment. Premature graves met them because of the ignorance of those who are quite sure trees will not grow in towns, though the nearest public squares protest against the doctrine.
Many a man in a hurry has been reminded that the more haste the less speed, and in nothing is this doctrine better exemplified than in the race of the street planter for fast growing trees. The lover of a horse-chestnut is often laughed at for his slow taste, but the man who plants a horse-chestnut often lives to laugh at the sun-burned scorner, whose fast poplar has long years ago been cut down and burned. But one need not select shade trees that grow so very slow as a horse-chestnut. There are scores of nice things that are not far behind those which make 2.10 time. They are not exactly of the Maud S. kind, neither are they of the pedlar race, and they should have a chance. It is not much use to thin out after the trees have grown up and have become spoiled, but where there are young and healthy trees, street trees with the branches almost touching, take out every other one by all means.
In our gardens we should exercise the same judgment. There are cases where trees are better to grow together in groups. That is all right. The outside branches of the group grow out and sweep the ground, just as a single tree would do. These combinations give us some of the prettiest effects in landscape gardening. We have had occasion recently to compare two avenues, both of sugar maples. One is on the grounds of a lady near Philadelphia, celebrated for her artistic talents. Her works are read by the most intelligent all over the world. One of her strong points leads the shafts she aims at everything that is low and vulgar. One would think that surely rural taste had been a special study with her. But the sugar maples set 20 feet apart some forty or fifty years ago, are just that way still; and only for the gothic lines of the leafless branches, as seen through the long vista in the summer season, there would be nothing to admire. We cannot even enjoy the cooling breeze so grateful on a summer day, as we course beneath them, for not a breeze can penetrate the solid mass. It is shady to be sure - a sort of sultry oozy shade, and that is all. The grounds in contrast with these are at Hav-erford College, an institution founded by a body of old-fashioned Quakers a half a century ago.
But they had the good sense to employ good talent; and Carville, a first-class landscape gardener of the day, was engaged for the purpose. It is well worth a journey by tree lovers to see the rare specimens which have been allowed to develop into grand trees on these grounds. But our immediate point is the sugar maple avenue. The trees are at least 40 feet apart, yet the branches touch each other, and extend, as good healthy branches should, clear across the broad road. It is a hard thing to talk about cutting down a tree. Have they not grown up with us, pleased us, and in many a way endeared themselves to us? and so they have, and so has a hollow tooth. The tender sympathies of our nature we do well to cultivate. But we cannot set aside good sense and good judgment, however hard-hearted it may sometimes seem to be. Thin out crowding trees by all means, and especially street trees.