For the same reason that a chapter has been given to the evergreens, in spite of many incidental references, one may be devoted to the Conifers. They are in every way worthy of special study. We have seen what splendid objects selected Conifers are for lawns. They are also beautiful for avenues and for group-planting.
A garden-like aspect might be imparted to many meadows near large houses by devoting a little money to the formation of groups of conifers, and so long as the trees were fenced in the fields could be grazed. Thus inexpensively could ornament and utility be combined.
A further use for Conifers is to plant on the edges of drives, for example, in large parks.
Every tree which bears its flowers in a woody bract is a Conifer. The majority are evergreens, but not all. A well-known example of the deciduous Conifers is the common Larch, Larix europaea. The Wellingtonia is a familiar example of the evergreen Conifers, which include most of the Firs and Pines, as well as the Junipers and Cedars.
A judicious planting of Conifers adds distinction to the garden. These trees are never wild and unkempt.
It is rare to see healthy, well-developed Conifers with an out-of-place look. If such an instance occurs, it is when they are planted freely close up to a small, low house. Distance and a groundwork of turf show them to the greatest advantage.
The different kinds vary a good deal in rapidity and vigour of growth. None attain in Europe to the dimensions of the giant trees of California, which are a species of Sequoia (Wellingtonia); but in suitable soil they will make good specimens up to sixty or seventy feet high, in the course of years. The majority thrive in a deep loamy soil. Shelter from cold winds helps them at all stages and is particularly important when they are quite young.
The trees should never be crowded. Even when planted in groups, those of pyramidal habit should be far enough apart, say ten feet, to make their characteristic circular growth. If ample space is not provided, the contour of the trees will be broken, and there will be bare, hollow patches where branches, grown into by others, have died back.
While some of the finest of the Conifers will, as stated, make good trees, there are others of slow growth and low habit which are shrubby, and are more suitable for mixed planting in the borders than for specimens on lawns or for meadow or park groups. There are even kinds which are of such stunted growth as to be suitable for small rock gardens. See Chapter 19.
The principal genera of Conifers, whether in number of species or distinctive kinds, are Abies, Araucaria, Cedrus, Cryptomeria, Cupressus, Ginkgo, Juniperus, Larix, Libocedrus, Picea, Pinus, Pseudostuga, Sequoia or Wellingtonia, Taxus and Thuja.
We use the popular names "fir" and "pine" in connection with certain of these Conifers from childhood, and often never pause to ask ourselves their meaning.
The Firs are not members of one particular genus and the Pines of another. For example, we speak of the Austrian Pine and the Scotch Fir; both, however, belong to the genus Pinus.
Fir derives from the Anglo-Saxon word fuhr. Compare the German fohre, a pine tree.
There are two great groups of Firs, of which the principal economically is the Spruce Fir or Norway Spruce, a tree hardy enough to thrive in latitudes far too cold for most of our Conifers, and yielding in its timber the deal of commerce. It grows at an elevation of 3,000 feet in Norway, and at 1,ooo feet in Lapland. This tree also yields the Burgundy pitch of commerce. It has pointed, rounded ("tetragonous") leaves and drooping cones. It is the Picea excelsa of botanists. It is not important as a garden tree, but some of its stunted forms, such as dumosa and pygmaea, are grown in rock gardens and elsewhere. "Pine-needles" are the rounded, fallen leaves of the spruce.
The Silver Firs are grouped under the botanist's name of Abies, and A. pectinata is the typical species. The Silver Firs differ from the Spruce in having flat leaves and upright cones.
The word "Pine" comes from the Latin pinus (picnus). Note pix and picis and the Anglo-Saxon pic, from which our common word pitch derives. Pitch is of course the solid black substance obtained by boiling down tar, and tar is the dark resinous substance obtained from pine trees. Thus we come "full circle."
One would use, as far as possible, the old names Fir and Pine, but they will not suffice for a garden collection of Conifers, as some handsome species have no popular name. Thus in Abies we find such kinds as cephalonica, concolor, grandis, nobilis, nordmanniana, Omorica, Pinsapo and Veitchii, which embrace Grecian, American, Crimean, Japanese, Balkan and Spanish trees having no recognised popular names. The foregoing are all handsome. A. nobilis has a variety named glauca which is more frequently grown than the type as a border tree.
Some important nurserymen sell under the generic name Abies certain species which botanists put under Picea and Tsuga, indeed, these dealers almost ignore the two last names. Thus, where some call the Spruce Fir Picea excelsa others will call it Abies excelsa. It is necessary for the amateur to know this, when consulting catalogues, and he is advised to bear it in mind in considering the names in the present chapter.
The lover of Conifers who is driven to the conclusion that he must use the botanists' names if he is to obtain a proper grasp of the order will find other pitfalls in the trade catalogues, which do not follow modern botanical nomenclature in every case. The principal of these will be pointed out in the present chapter.
The genus Araucaria is important to gardeners from the possession of one hardy species, imbricata, the familiar "Monkey Puzzle." This remarkable Chilian tree is entirely distinct.