Choosing Trees for the Garden

Now just a word about trees from the purely aesthetic point of view. I know a suburban district where every house is of red brick, and when I visited the place last it seemed to me that every front garden had (a) one almond tree, (b) one purple-leaved plum, and (c) one laburnum. If there was any difference in the planting scheme, it was usually that a red thorn had been substituted for the plum or almond.

I suggest that almond trees, though as pretty as any that grow in this country, do not look their best against red brick, but show up far better if set against grey stucco or dark green hollies or cypress. I suggest, too, that red brick is the very last background to choose for a purple-leaved plum; and further, that the very monotony of this planting scheme is enough to make it unsatisfactory.

Most (though not all) of the flowering trees carry their blossom in the early part of the year, and it is quite easy to have a gay background to the garden picture then. Some of the flowering trees also carry berries in the autumn. The well-known Rowan tree is one. Some trees become gaily coloured when autumn tints the foliage with gold or red, but some have the advantage of such brilliant colouring all the year through, or at least, all the spring, summer and autumn. The crab family includes several species that flower, leaf, and fruit gaily : pyrus eleyi is one, and the John Downie crab another. A collection of conifers in gold and blue varieties, mixed with the ordinary dark greens gives a colour variation that is permanent, even in winter.

Then most tree families have one or more representatives with a drooping or “ weeping “ habit, and these, not too freely used, are extremely valuable in adding character to a garden planting scheme. I have said not too freely, because to use more than one such tree in a group is a fatal mistake. In the little garden where colour is important, a weeping cherry could be chosen, but by a grass and water garden, where form is more important than brilliance of colour, a weeping birch or weeping willow might be a better choice.

Tree and shrub specialists mostly issue descriptive catalogues, and since the choice of specimens of this kind must always be an individual affair, I do not propose to make recommendations, but refer the gardener to these catalogues. But better still, in my opinion, is the practice now becoming very common of visiting the specialist nursery in the height of the growing season, and selecting trees on the spot. Only by seeing them in full growth can their true beauty be judged.

Just one other point in this connection. A young tree, particularly a young conifer, often varies very much in habit from the mature specimen. A young cedar of Lebanon, for example, presents a soft feathery appearance, very unlike the characteristic silhouette of the older tree. It is almost always best to plant with the mature tree in mind, even though it may take years for the tree to reach anything like its characteristic form.

And finally, regarding selection on the spot, always remember that a young specimen transplants more easily and certainly than an old one, and that it usually makes a more shapely tree than one which is rather old when it is acquired.