This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Why not call them conifers, as do the English, French, and German writers? We like the name, it is so much more expressive than evergreens; besides, conifers, or cone-bearing trees, are not all evergreen, and the latter title reminds us of Rhododendrons, Kalmias, and dozens of other genera, having no resemblance to conifers, excepting, perhaps, that all have persistent leaves during the winter months.
And are we certain that the organs of conifers, usually known as foliage, are such in truth; or are they, as the editor of the Gardener's Monthly informs us, mere leaflike branchlets? We must confess that we lean decidedly to the latter explanation; as the facts, suggested by the above authority, bear the impress of truth, view them in whatever light we will.
However, as it is not our present intention to open a scientific discussion, we shall proceed to review, in a rather hasty manner, what we consider the most desirable species and varieties belonging to the splendid spruce family.
In the first of these, we have two old gems of the first water, with an almost endless number of varieties emanating from the same. The White Spruce and Norway Spruce are unexceptionable in every way.
The latter is too well known to need any eulogy from us, but the claims of the former, we fear, are not sufficiently understood. It is the embodiment of symmetrical and elegant formality; whilst its near relative, the Norway, furnishes a perfect example of a graceful, stately tree. They are true types of the opposing classes in habit, although equally complete in outline. The one stiff and regular; the other drooping and pleasingly unprecise.
It is to the numerous sports or varieties of the Norway Spruce that we especially desire to invite attention; as, outside of some half dozen collections in this country, we believe they are almost entirely unknown. We have them of almost every imaginable size, form, and tint-from the little miniature dwarf, scarcely one foot in height, up to the proportions of a first class tree; and again, from the strictly upright column, to the real so-called "weeper." Commencing with the dwarf forms, invaluable for the front of shrubberies, we would suggest, as remarkably fine, Gregoryana, although such kinds as pygmaea and clanbrasiliana are quite neat and pretty.
The upright form, pyramidalis, is very striking, and reminds one of an evergreen Lombardy Poplar. The pendulous variety, inverta, can be made to form an exceedingly graceful tree; whilst the monstrosa, as its name implies, is a perfect monster, although drooping in general character. The Parsons of Flushing, L. I., have originated a variety which we admire as much, if not more, than any of the foreign introductions. It is called alata, and reminds one vividly of the green coral-like Araucaria.
The Wales Weeping is likewise very handsome, and, when better known, will become popular.
We recollect noticing a curious and pleasing dwarf form, in the specimen grounds of T. C. Maxwell & Bros., the nurserymen of Geneva, N. Y., which we consider superior to many in cultivation.
We now pass to the consideration of a newer, and very elegant species, the Oriental Spruce. It has proven so universally hardy, and is so remarkably attractive, that it deserves more than a passing notice at our hands, yet space compels us to pass on with the remark, that every one should plant it who owns sufficient room to allow its fall development.
Menzies Spruce, the silvery foliage of which makes it so conspicuous in its native haunts, in the Rocky mountains, does not succeed as we could desire in cultivation. It is, however, generally hardy, but drops its foliage prematurely.
The Black Spruce is handsome when young only, and cannot be recommended with confidence. The new species just about being introduced into cultivation, called after our eminent botanist, Dr. Engelmann, we trust will prove as beautiful as we have seen it at the timber line, on Gray's Peak.
The two new Japanese species, polita and Alcoqueana, have proven hardy for the short time they have been tested, and we expect to be able to report favorably as to their habit and general appearance.
In the hemlock section, we claim for the old, well known, common Hemlock Spruce the rank of best. It combines elegance of foliage with grace of habit and hardiness of constitution. It is, in fact, one of the few trees for the " million," either for grouping, as a specimen, or for ornamental screens.
Already its numerous dwarf varieties are being disseminated, as among our choicest evergreen shrubs. The rare species from the Pacific coast have not yet been sufficiently tested to report upon, although giving evidence of exceeding beauty. Douglas' Spruce, we must reluctantly add, is not reliable at the north.
In describing the Silver Firs, we feel at a loss where to draw the dividing line between the really hardy, and partially hardy species.
Commencing with those which have given satisfaction in the middle states, we trust our readers will find sufficient beauty in the list to gratify all their wants.
The Nordmann's Silver Fir stands by itself, unquestionably the finest of its class. We are pleased with its hardiness; charmed with its dark green hue; and satisfied with its unexceptionable form and habit; so that we may rest assured that no other tree can excel it in any of these respects. Possibly the next in hardiness, is the most formal of them all, the Siberian Silver Fir. It forms a dense, dark-green, conical mass of small branches and foliage, and is, on this account, particularly, pleasing. The Great Silver Fir is a model of beauty, and appears to succeed with excellent results wherever tested. We have seen it on the summits of the Sierra Nevada of California; on the Rocky mountain range of Colorado, and in the canons of the Wahsatch, in Utah; and everywhere it presented the same uniform, elegant appearance. The Noble Silver Fir, from Oregon and Northern California, is also, as its name implies, a noble specimen. The peculiar bluish-green hue of the foliage renders it a conspicuous object in a collection, and not the least handsome either.
In its native localities it grows to an immense size, which in all probability will be greatly decreased in cultivation.
The Cephalonian Silver Fir has given very general satisfaction as far north as Boston, and in more kindly climates it is certainly a fine conifer. The regularity of its branchlets constitute a marked peculiarity in its habit. The newer Japanese species, firma, although comparatively a stranger in our midst, is winning golden opinions from all who have tested it in our climate, and we therefore trust to class it with our hardy conifers.
We feel sorry that we cannot say a better word for two well-known old friends - the European Silver Fir, and the native Balsam Fir. The former will not survive our coldest winters, and the latter has such a disgraceful habit of " thinning out" among the lower branches, that we must reluctantly give them up. We close our list with a charming little dwarf - The Hudson Bay Dwarf Fir; which is unquestionably hardy and valuable.
Some cultivators ask, uWhat shall I do with my trees? " We answer, in the autumn spread over the surface of the soil, under each tree, a liberal dressing of well-rotted manure, and in the spring dig it in. Whilst young, preserve bat one leading shoot, and protect with a few evergreen boughs; then let them alone, nature will do the rest.