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.
In your January number of the Horticulturist, you make some very appropriate remarks on the proper varieties of trees for street culture. As this is a subject in which every lover of rural improvement and fine scenery and pleasant thoroughfares must feel an interest, I have concluded that a little more may be said upon it, without loss of time or influence.
It is now some years since I commenced planting trees by the way-side. In my first effort I was guided more by popular opinion than by what I now consider a correct taste. The maple was all the rage in those days, as it is with many now; so in the outset I went the whole figure for the maple, which, when it grows unrestrained, is certainly a very beautiful tree. Yet it has one serious objection; it early loses the freshness of its verdure, and its leaves acquire a thick, dry, leathery, dead appearance. Not so with the elm, whose verdure remains beautiful to the last, - not so with moat of the trees of our forests; and if I were to plant over again, and plant merely for shade and beauty, I should be sparing of maples. Indeed, if our soil would permit variety, I would never confine myself to any one, or even half a dozen species; variety would be what I should seek, and contrast what I should most particularly study. If I gave preference to any one tree, it would be the elm - at home in almost every variety of soil, especially moist soils.
Beside other trees it always gives an agreeable contrast, and impresses one with the dignity to which the trees of the forest may attain.
I have planted out the oak, and have no reason to complain of the tardiness of its growth. Its majesty by the side of the ever graceful elm always presents an agreeable feature; and while the former is early in putting forth its leaf, the latter is tardy in heeding the call of spring. So in autumn; when one has cast its leaves to the freshening blast, the oak retains its foliage, and dressing in new colors every day as the season of the sear and many-colored leaf passes on, it smiles at its own decay, and lays the dress of summer in gorgeous array upon the earth. I would by all means have the oak occasionally scattered by the way-side, as one of its choicest ornaments.
The American chestnut is a tree whose merits have never been fully appreciated. As valuable as it may be to split into rails, burn for charcoal, or apply to any other economic purpose connected with the dollar, it nevertheless has strong claims as an ornamental tree. It is of rapid growth and beautiful form. There is much of the beauty and strength of manliness in its fine and wide spreading branches. Its foliage comes out late, and like that of the oak, remains late. Its beautiful white blossoms, which come out long after the blossoming season of other trees, contrasting with the rich, deep greenness of its foliage, make it conspicuous among other trees of the wood, and its curious burrs add to the loveliness of its autumnal richness. This tree retains its foliage in freshness often until the most of the trees of the forest have cast off their drapery. In the variety which should always be introduced in street planting, it should always have a prominent position.
The hickory is a tree of unquestionable beauty. Its fine head, rich verdure, firm trunk, which in youth exhibits the maturity of age, are all commendations in its favor; but it is a tree of slow growth, and in no wise adapted to every soil, like some trees - qualities which must prevent its general cultivation. Yet, in a favorable soil, it would with me be a favorite tree, thrown into some position where its slow growth would give it loveliness. I have seen way-side trees of the hickory which were amply large enough, and that possessed enough of beauty to make them fascinating.
In fact, we know of no tree of our forests that, left to the free growth of nature, would not make a respectable growth by the way-side; and if the planters of trees, instead of following the old stereotyped practice of setting out all maples, all elms, or all locusts, would introduce such varieties as soil will admit to grow freely, and circumstances will favor their obtaining, so that no two trees of the same variety shall stand together, but those of different foliage and habits become neighbors; there would, we are sure, be greater beauty in the graceful rows of street trees, coming forward at the bidding of nature, than we can at present anticipate. The eye, as we passed along, would continually be feasted with new objects, often so opposite in their characters as to savor the visions of romance, and lead us to suppose we were really passing through fairy-land - just such a land as every one should be ambitious to make, in our sweet realm of freedom, where refined taste and persevering industry are allowed to exert their utmost influence.
There is a great error existing in planting out trees, which may very properly be mentioned in connection with the remarks already made. It is, planting them without reference to their adaptation to soil. That every tree has its favorite soil, in which it will flourish better than in any other, is very certain. Many trees will flourish only in a warm, dry soil; yet how often have we seen such trees, because public opinion pronounced them beautiful, taken from their warm, dry homes, and thrust into cold, wet, clammy earth, where their roots had but little more chance to throw themselves than if they had been planted on a rock, and where all the aliment introduced into their system was so opposite to what nature required, as the most conflicting circumstances could induce. Can it be any wonder that trees die, or at most maintain but a sickly growth under such circumstances? In vain we have remonstrated and employed our eloquence in giving reasons of protest against such proceedings. Our only consolation was, "The------is the most beautiful tree; it grows well in such a place, and I am sure it is dry enough for it here." And how often a short time has realized the truth of our assertion, and we have heard in apology, u It's of no use to set trees here; they wont do well".