copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)                                             

Click Here to return to
My Garden
Content Page

Click Here to return to
the previous section



 “No Man so callous but he heaves a sigh
When o ‘er his head the withered cherry blossoms 
Come fluttering down.”
                       — Korumushi.

 IT SEEMS not to be the pleasant custom nowadays in our country to plant trees in the flower borders. In gardens of the old world one comes frequently upon a spreading tree rising from a tangle of gay flowers in even quite narrow borders, casting a cool shadow across the sunny path. Sometimes it is a sombre black-shadowed Yew, often a gnarled and twisted apple or pear, or some rare exotic; but, whatever it is, the garden assumes an added grace, a more interesting aspect from its presence.

Certainly much of the charm of the trim Box-bordered gardens of our grandmothers may be attributed to the fruit trees which marched up and down the straight paths creating sweet shadowy interludes in the sunny expanse, sifting their fragrant petals like snow among the Daffodils and spry Ladies’ Delights, and later hanging out their scarlet or yellow fruit in rich harmony with the Tiger Lilies, Marigolds, and “gilded Sunflowers.”

These old gardens haunt one’s memory as having possessed “atmosphere” and a wealth of interest not always present in modern gardens, augmented, as they are, with rarer flowers and all the modern inventions of the gardener’s art.

Many a garden would be redeemed from the commonplace by the presence of a few graceful trees. They would relieve the tiresome flatness of its surface and lend the agreeable variety of light and shade which gives depth and meaning to its brilliance and subtlety to its beauty, without which no composition is wholly satisfying. A garden should hold out a perpetual invitation, but this the merely sunny garden never does during the heat of summer days, whereas, that with comfortable seats in shady corners ever tempts us to linger. It has the pleasant livable quality which is as desirable in a garden as in a room.

I do not speak for great Elms, Maples, and Oaks within the garden enclosure. They, indeed, would rob the soil, and cast a far too heavy shade. But there are beautiful flowering trees, picturesque in outline and so lightly made as to cast only such shadow as many a plant is grateful to receive. They rob the border to no greater extent than we can easily repair by the addition of a little extra fertilizer.

In spring these flowering trees are particularly valuable in the garden, because the great array of flowering bulbs and other early spring flowers are so low growing that our colour is, of necessity, put on too flat, and so we are grateful to the trees which carry the colour higher up and fling their bloom-wrapped branches, like silken scarves, high against the garden wall. Lured by the trees birds will make their homes within our garden enclosure, giving their songs and the vivid interest of their lives for our edification. And, more than this, they will be our able coadjutors in ridding the garden of the vicious cutworm and a grievous horde of evildoers.

There are many sorts of flowering trees but none so lovely as the flowering fruit trees, and of these, perhaps by virtue of its age and the great respect with which it has been regarded from earliest times, the Apple should claim our first consideration for, says Harriet Keeler, “When man emerges into history, he has an apple in his hand and the dog by his side.”

Crabapples are best suited for use in the limited space of the flower garden, and there are numerous fine varieties. None is more beautiful than Pyrus floribunda, the grace and brilliance of which is not easily surpassed — scarlet in bud, deep pink in blossom, each slightly drooping branch literally wrapped in enchanting colour. Here, in the angle of the high stone wall, it is usually in full regalia by April 24th, and along the borders its colour is deliciously repeated by pink and cherry-coloured early Tulips growing in little groups through mats of white Arais. In time it reaches a height of twelve feet, but blossoms when quite small. I have a variety called Scheideckeri with larger flowers of paler colour but otherwise similar to the foregoing. Very charming as a neighbour for P. floribunda is the Siberian Crab, P. baccata, bearing pure-white flowers. P. coronaria, the American Sweet Scented Crab, grows rapidly into a picturesque tree almost thirty feet high and clothes itself with large single pale pink blossoms with the fragrance of violets. Exquisite, also, and attaining about the same height, is P. spectabilis with great clusters of blush-pink, semi-double blossoms. Perhaps the treasure of the family is Bechtel’s Double Flowered American Crab,1 the latest to bloom in this garden. It makes a nice, symmetrical little tree, and after the leaves have accomplished their pale young growth come myriads of pink double blossoms like little Daily Roses that have the Sweet Violet fragrance. Near this tree we enjoy a group of gray-white Florentine Iris and a gay colony of bright cherry-coloured Tulip Pride of Haarlem.

The Crabs root deeply and enjoy a warm, dry soil, well prepared to a considerable depth, so that the garden borders suit them well. They are very hardy, not nearly so deliberate in their growth as their fellows of the orchard, and forming very nice-sized trees in a few years.

Blooming in April and May, many bulbs are at hand to flower with great effect beneath their spreading branches: the paler-coloured Daffodils, Poet’s Narcissus, and a host of pink, white, and buff-coloured Tulips. Beside these the earliest of the May Irises and all the pretty creeping plants of the season enable us to accomplish many charming pictures, and in the autumn the small highly coloured fruits, profusely borne, again bring these trees into important requisition as colour factors.

The word Prunus covers a multitude of delights:

Peaches, Cherries, and Plums of a diversity and loveliness quite undreamed save by those who have set out to know them in all their great variety. If one needs to make a choice perhaps the Cherries would come first, for there is nothing quite like the pure perfection of Cherry blossoms — not the chill whiteness of Pear blossoms with their strange cloying perfume, but a quality of purity all their own, glistening, youthful, with no hint of cold aloofness. They fill the mind and satisfy the soul, and, spreading their white shade above the troops of golden Daffodils, fill the garden with an enchanting radiance. All the Cherries are bewitching; even the Japanese Weeping Cherry, Cerasus pendula, is so exquisite in its grief that one finds it possible for once to tolerate a tearful tree. Cerasus avium var. multiplex, enveloped in snow-white bloom, is thought by many to be the queen of flowering trees, but there are so many treasures how can one decide? This tree is perhaps too vigorous for small gardens, for it reaches a height of forty feet; but if there is room for it there is nothing lovelier. It blooms at the same time as the orchard Cherries, of which it is a development, with great loose clusters of pure-white double flowers. Cerasus Pseudo-cerasus, known also as C. Watereri and C. Sieboldii, is an exquisite form of the Japanese Rose Flowered Cherry, and this, with the other double rose-flowered form, James H. Veitch and the lovely pure-white, double-flowered Chinese Cherry, C. serrulata, are the best for planting in the flower borders. These are the trees the blossoming of which is the occasion in Japan for holidays and festivals in which all classes take part. It seems a sane and lovely custom and one that western nations might do well to follow, but, imagine, if you can, the American man of business and affairs making a holiday and going afield, lunch-basket in hand, because the land is full of apple blossoms, “their breath upon the breeze.” Noses are held too closely to the grindstone for the sweet perfume to reach them, and too many there are who let pass unnoticed these rare “blue days,” musical with the ecstatic songs of mating birds and cloudy with the mist of blossoming trees.

Cherries enjoy the deep, well-drained loam of the garden borders, and they love a sunny situation. Lime in some form is important to their well-being, and they respond gratefully if given a dose at least once a year.

Here, in the frost-bound north, the impetuosity with which the Peach trees burst into bloom, in defiance of threatening winds and cold, endears them to us. Indeed, so reckless are they in responding to the “double-faced” smiles of cunning April, who comes acourting, that their beauty is sometimes spoiled, and one must wait a whole year to enjoy the breathless moment when the Peach trees are a pink enchantment above a shadow of purple Crocuses.

What the Apple tree is to New England the Peach is to the Middle and Southern States. Every negro hut boasts its glorifying Peach tree, every trim homestead its Peach orchard, and I remember, when a little girl in Baltimore, that so many of the backyards had Peach trees that it was quite a delight to walk along the side streets in early spring and peep through the iron railings or over the queer board fences at the great bouquets within. On the mountains of Maryland are the most beautiful Peach orchards imaginable, and one does not easily forget the experience of having seen one lying in flushed ecstasy within the curving embrace of a rugged mountain road.

The double-flowered Peaches are even lovelier than those of the orchards, the pink or white rosette-like blossoms clinging densely along the naked branches. We have a variety known as the Blood-leaved Peach with tiny blossoms and reddish-purple foliage, but it is not so good a tree as Prunus Pissardii, the purple-leaved Plum, and shares, with all the Peaches, the fault of losing its leaves too early in the fall. Peach trees, too, are not so good in form as the Cherries, Plums, and Crabs, but one willingly gives them space for the delight of their short spring rapture.

Prunus triloba, which is not, correctly speaking, a tree, and P. Pissardii, the purple-leaved Plum, are the only representatives of the Plum family of my acquaintance. The first, P. triloba, the Rosette Plum, is shrub-like in growth, and wreathes its leafless branches in double bright pink blossoms somewhat resembling but much larger than those of the Flowering Almond. It is said to bloom best when well pruned just after flowering, but I tried this with most disappointing results; whereas, when left alone, it was a veritable bouquet.

Prunus Pissardii, with its wine-coloured foliage, is a splendid tree. Its small single blossoms are so delicate as to seem like mist against the garden wall, and I cannot but feel that the double-flowered form, Moseri fl. pl., must lose much of grace and endearing frailty in the doubling of its petals. The rich foliage of the tree makes it prominent in the garden all during the season, and nothing is pleasanter in its neighbourhood than flowers in the various pink shades. We begin with Flowering Almonds pressed close against it and a trail of pink Tulips followed by Bleeding Hearts, Paeonies, Hybrid Pyrethrums, tall Hollyhocks, and Phioxes. P. Pissardii reaches a height of about fifteen feet. The double-flowering Sloe, Prunus spinosa, fibre pleno, is described as very lovely, but as yet we have it not.

The flowering fruit trees do not at all exhaust the treasures to be had, and one of the loveliest of these others and earliest to bloom of any of our flowering trees is the Shadbush, a lovely will-o’-the-wisp of a tree appearing like puffs of mist among the wet green trunks of woodland trees — as ethereal and fleeting. This lovely wild thing with its harsh-sounding name, Amelanchier canadensis, enjoys the shelter of the garden walls where rough winds may not tear its fragile flowers and where its roots may go deep into the rich soil of the borders. It is a graceful, lightly made tree though sometimes reaching a height of thirty feet, but it blooms when quite small, and the peculiar wraithlike quality of its flowering makes it especially welcome in the spring garden.

Both the native Dogwood and Judas trees, which blooming in unison in Maryland and Virginia create of the April woods a fairy world, are both entirely worthy a place within the garden. The spreading Dogwood is too well known to need description. The white and the rarer pink variety are to be found in most good gardens, and it is not only in spring that it is valuable, but in its rich autumn dress as well.

The tiny lavender-pink blossoms of the Judas tree or Redbud, Cercis canadensis, appear before the leaves and are set so closely upon the naked branches that little bunches and knots of them are crowded off upon the trunk of the tree, looking like extra rosettes pinned on by anxious Mother Nature as an afterthought. The tree has an interesting irregularity of contour, and is quite Japanese in character against its background of gray stone. The leaves are large and heart-shaped, and the tree is a fairly rapid grower, blooming when quite young. There is a variety called Siliquastrum which attains a height of about ten feet, and is more bushy in growth. The flowers are somewhat larger than those of canadensis and it is perhaps a better tree altogether. Pinky-mauve Darwin Tulips nicely repeat the colour of the Judas tree, along its border, relieved by bushes of Hardy Candytuft. John Gerarde described the colour of the Judas flowers as a “purple colour mixed with red,” and further says of the tree that “it is thought to be that on which Judas did hang himself and not upon the Elder Tree as it is vulgarly said.” This explains its strange name.

The two splendid Magnolias, M. conspicua and M. Soulangeana, flower by mid-April. The first, which is known as the Yulan Magnolia, has been cultivated in China for a thousand years, and is considered the symbol of candour and beauty. Its great thick-skinned white flowers exhale a rare fragrance, and the tree in time reaches a great height. Soulangeana bears pale flowers stained with deeper colour, and is the more often seen. Once established Magnolias are as hardy as iron, but they are somewhat difficult to transplant. March is said to be the best time to set them out, and it is well to shade the young trees for several weeks and keep the ground about them thoroughly moist. All Magnolias prefer a damp soil, but will do well wherever the soil is deep and rich.

No garden would be complete without a few Hawthorns. Here we have only two — the white English Hawthorn or May, and Paul’s Double Scarlet Thorn —  but there are many others. The white thorn, Crataegus Oxyacantha, while it is the commonest, must surely be the loveliest, and I know of few things which fill the air with so rare a perfume. It may be had in various pink and red forms and double, but the single white is, I think, the most characteristic and beautiful. The effect of the tree in flower is not pure white, but almost silvery. Burns sings of the Hawthorn, “wi’ its lock o’ silver grey,” and Shelley of the “moonlight coloured May.”

I have a fine Hawthorn tree outside my bedroom window, and not only enjoy the sweet perfume the first thing upon waking, but hear the bees testifying in noisy fashion to the excellence of the fare provided for them. Paul’s Scarlet Thorn is very brilliant when in full flower, but lacks the sweetness of the other. Both, in time, grow into good-sized trees but are rather leisurely about it.

A favourite among my garden trees is the Golden Chain, Laburnum vulgare — the variety Watererii is better — and in late May hangs chains of yellow pea-shaped blossoms nearly two feet in length from every branch. It is easily raised from seed, and grows quickly, finally reaching a height of about twenty feet. It will grow in any well-drained soil and impartially in sun or shade, but, as far north as Massachusetts, is not reliably hardy save in sheltered places. All parts of the tree are said to be poisonous, especially the beans that follow the flowers.

If room can be found it is pleasant to give a corner to our native Burning Bush, or Wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus, for the sake of its brilliant seed vessels which dangle like scarlet ear-drops from every twig and branch, hanging long after the crimson leaves have fallen and carrying a bit of cheer through the desolate gateway of winter. The leaves, bark, and fruit of this tree are also said to be poisonous.

There is an old saying which is good advice: “Be aye sticking in a tree, it’ll be growing when you’re sleeping.” Do not wait until the garden is finished, but put the trees in first, that they may be developing and preparing to give to the garden the appearance that we so earnestly desire — of having long existed.

1 Pyrus, ioensis.

Click the icon to go to the next chapter of My Garden.