One of the commonest mistakes made by the man who is his own gardener is that of over-planting the home-grounds with trees and shrubs. This mistake is made because he does not look ahead and see, with the mind’s eye, what the result will be, a few years from now, of the work he does to-day.
The sapling of to-day will in a short time become a tree of good size, and the bush that seems hardly worth considering at present will develop into a shrub three, four, perhaps six feet across. If we plant closely, as we are all inclined to because of the small size of the material we use at planting time, we will soon have a thicket, and it will be necessary to sacrifice most of the shrubs in order to give the few we leave sufficient room to develop in. Therefore do not think, when you set out plants, of their present size, but of the size they will have attained to five or six years from now. Do not aim at immediate effect, as most of us do in our impatience for results. Be content to plant—and wait. I shall give no diagrams for lawn-planting for two reasons. The first one is—no two places are exactly alike, and a diagram prepared for one would have to be so modified in order to adapt it to the needs of the other that it would be of little value, save in the way of suggestion, and I think suggestions of a general character without the diagram will be found most satisfactory. The second reason is—few persons would care to duplicate the grounds of his neighbor, and this he would be obliged to do if diagrams were depended on. Therefore I advise each home-owner to plant his lawn after plans of his own preparation, after having given careful consideration to the matter. Look about you. Visit the lawns your neighbors have made, and discover wherein they have made mistakes. Note wherein they have been successful. And then profit by their experience, be it that of success or failure.
Do not make the mistake of planting trees and shrubs in front of the house, or between it and the street. Place them somewhere to the side, or the rear, and leave a
clear, open sweep of lawn in front of the dwelling. Enough unbroken space should be left there to give the sense of breadth which will act as a division between the public and the private. Scatter shrubs and flower-beds over the lawn and you destroy that impression of distance which is given by even a small lawn when there is nothing on it to interfere with the vision, as we look across it.
Relegate shrubs to the sides of the lot, if you can conveniently do so, being careful to give the larger ones locations at the point farthest from the street, graduating them toward the front of the lot according to their habit of growth. Aim to secure a background by keeping the big fellows where they cannot interfere with the outlook of the little ones.
If paths are to be made, think well before deciding where they shall be. Some persons prefer a straight path from the street to the house. This saves steps, but it gives the place a prim and formal look that is never pleasing. It divides the yard into two sections of equal importance, where it is advisable to have but one if we would make the most of things. In other words, it halves things, thus weakening the general effect greatly. A straight path is never a graceful one. A curving path will make you a few more steps, but so much will be gained by it, in beauty, that I feel sure you will congratulate yourself on having chosen it, after you have compared it with the straight path of your neighbor. It will allow you to leave the greater share of the small lawn intact, thus securing the impression of breadth that is so necessary to the best effect.
I have spoken of planting shrubs at the sides of the home-lot. If this is done, we secure a sort of frame for the home-picture that will be extremely pleasing. If the shrubs near the street are small and low, and those beyond them increase in breadth and height as they approach the rear of the lot, with evergreens or trees as a background for the dwelling, the effect will be delightful. Such a general plan of planting the home-grounds is easily carried out. The most important feature of it to keep in mind is that of locating your plants in positions that will give each one a chance to display its charms to the best effect, and this you can easily do if you read the catalogues and familiarize yourself with the heights and habits of them.
If your lot adjoins that of a neighbor who has not yet improved his home-grounds, I would advise consulting with him, and forming a partnership in improvement-
work, if possible. If you proceed after a plan of your own on your side of the fence, and he does the same on his side, there may be a sad lack of harmony in the result. But if you talk the matter over together the chances are that you can formulate a plan that will be entirely satisfactory to both parties, and result in that harmony which is absolutely necessary to effective work. Because, you see, both will be working together toward a definite design, while without such a partnership of interests each would be working independently, and your ideas of the fitness of things might be sadly at variance with those of your neighbor.
Never set your plants in rows. Nature never does that, and she doesn’t make any mistakes. If you want an object-lesson in arrangement, go into the fields and pastures, and along the road, and note how she has arranged the shrubs she has planted there. Here a group, there a group, in a manner that seems to have had no plan back of it, and yet I feel quite sure she planned out very carefully every one of these clumps and combinations. The closer you study Nature’s methods and pattern after them the nearer you will come to success.
Avoid formality as you would the plague if you want your garden to afford you all the pleasure you can get out of it. Nature’s methods are always restful in effect because they are so simple and direct. They never seem premeditated. Her plants “just grow,” like the Topsy of Mrs. Stowe’s book, and no one seems to have given any thought to the matter. But in order to successfully imitate Nature it is absolutely necessary that we familiarize ourselves, as I have said, with her ways of doing things, and we can only do this by studying from her books as she opens them for us in every field, and by the roadside, and the woodland nook. The secret of success, in a word, lies in getting so close to the heart of Nature that she will take us into her confidence and tell us some of her secrets.
One of the best trees for the small lawn is the Cut-Leaved Birch. It grows rapidly, is always attractive, and does not outgrow the limit of the ordinary lot. Its habit is grace itself. Its white-barked trunk, slender, pendant branches, and finely-cut foliage never fail to challenge admiration. In fall it takes on a coloring of pale gold, and is more attractive than ever. In winter its delicate branches show against a background of blue sky with all the delicacy and distinctness of an etching. No tree that I know of is hardier.
The Mountain Ash deserves a place on all lawns, large or small. Its foliage is very attractive, as are its great clusters of white flowers in spring. When its fruit ripens, the tree is as showy as anything can well be. And, like the Cut-Leaved Birch, it is ironclad in its hardiness. It is an almost ideal tree for small places.
The Japanese Maples are beautiful trees, of medium size, very graceful in habit, and rapid growers. While not as desirable for a street tree as our native Maple, they will give better satisfaction on the lawn.
The Purple-Leaved Beech or Copper Beech tree is exceedingly showy, and deserves a place on every lawn, large or small. In spring its foliage is a deep purple. In summer it takes on a crimson tinge, and in fall it colors up like bronze. It branches close to the ground, and should never be pruned to form a head several feet from the ground, like most other trees. Such treatment will mar, if not spoil, the attractiveness of it.
Betchel’s Crab, which grows to be of medium size, is one of the loveliest things imaginable when in bloom. Its flowers, which are double, are of a delicate pink, with a most delicious fragrance.
The White-Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) will give excellent results wherever planted. Its white blossoms are produced in great abundance early in spring—before its leaves are out, in fact—and last for a long time. Its foliage is a gray-green, glossy and handsome in summer, and in fall a deep, rich red, making it a wonderfully attractive object at that season.
The Judas Tree (Redbud) never grows to be large. Its lovely pink blossoms appear in spring before its heart-shaped leaves are developed. Very desirable.
Salisburia (Maiden-Hair). This is an elegant little tree from Japan. Its foliage is almost fern-like in its delicacy. It is a free grower, and in every respect desirable.
Among our larger trees that are well adapted to use about the house, the Elm is the most graceful. It is the poet of the forest, with its wide-spreading, drooping branches, its beautiful foliage, and grace in every aspect of its stately form.
As a street-tree the Maple is unexcelled. It is of rapid growth, entirely hardy anywhere at the north, requires very little attention in the way of pruning, is never troubled by insects, and has the merit of great cleanliness. It is equally valuable for the lawn. In fall, it changes its summer-green for purest gold, and is a thing of beauty until it loses its last leaf.
The Laurel-Leaved Willow is very desirable where quick results are wanted. Its branches frequently make a growth of five and six feet in a season. Its leaves are shaped like those of the European Laurel,—hence its specific name,—with a glossy, dark-green surface. It is probably the most rapid grower of all desirable lawn trees. Planted along the roadside it will be found far more satisfactory than the Lombardy Poplar which is grown so extensively, but which is never pleasing after the first few years of its life, because of its habit of dying off at the top.
The Box Elder (Ash-Leaved Maple) is another tree of very rapid growth. It has handsome light-green foliage, and a head of spreading and irregular shape when left to its own devices, but it can be made into quite a dignified tree with a little attention in the way of pruning. I like it best, however, when allowed to train itself, though this would not be satisfactory where the tree is planted along the street. It will grow anywhere, is hardy enough to stand the severest climate, and is of such rapid development that the first thing you know the little sapling you set out is large enough to bear seed.
I like the idea of giving each home a background of evergreens. This for two reasons—to bring out the distinctive features of the place more effectively than it is possible to without such a background, and to serve as a wind-break. If planted at the rear of the house, they answer an excellent purpose in shutting away the view of buildings that are seldom sightly. The best variety for home-use, all things considered, is the Norway Spruce. This grows to be a stately tree of pyramidal habit, perfect in form, with heavy, slightly pendulous branches from the ground up. Never touch it with the pruning-shears unless you want to spoil it. The Colorado Blue Spruce is another excellent variety for general planting, with rich, blue-green foliage. It is a free-grower, and perfectly hardy. The Douglas Spruce has foliage somewhat resembling that of the Hemlock. Its habit of growth is that of a cone, with light and graceful spreading branches that give it a much more open and airy effect than is found in other Spruces. The Hemlock Spruce is a most desirable variety for lawn use where a single specimen is wanted. Give it plenty of room in which to stretch out its slender, graceful branches and I think it will please you more than any other evergreen you can select.
It must not be inferred that the list of trees of which mention has been made includes all that are desirable for planting about the home. There are others of great merit, and many might prefer them to the kinds I have spoken of. I have made special mention of these because I know they will prove satisfactory under such conditions as ordinarily prevail about the home, therefore they are the kinds I would advise the amateur gardener to select in order to attain the highest degree of success. Give them good soil to grow in, and they will ask very little from you in the way of attention. They are trees that anybody can grow, therefore trees for everybody.
In planting a tree care must be taken to get it as deep in the ground as it was before it was taken from the nursery. If a little deeper no harm will be done. Make the hole in which it is to be planted so large that all its roots can be spread out evenly and naturally.
Before putting it in place, go over its roots and cut off the ends of all that were severed in taking it up. Use a sharp knife in doing this, and make a clean, smooth cut. A callus will form readily if this is done, but not if the ends of the large roots are left in a ragged, mutilated condition.
When the trees are received from the nursery they will be wrapped in moss and straw, with burlap about the roots. Do not unpack them until you are ready to plant them. If you cannot do this as soon as they are received, put them in the cellar or some other cool, shady place, and pour a pailful of water over the wrapping about the roots. Never unpack them and leave their roots exposed to the air for any length of time. If they must be unpacked before planting, cover their roots with damp moss, wet burlap, old carpet, or blankets,—anything that will protect them from the air and from drying out. But—get them into the ground as soon as possible.
When the tree is in the hole made for it, cover the roots with fine soil, and then settle this down among the roots by jarring the trunk, or by churning the tree up and down carefully. After doing this, and securing a covering for all the roots, apply a pailful or two of water to firm the soil well. I find this more effective than firming the soil with the foot, as it prevents the possibility of loose planting.
Then fill the hole with soil, and apply three or four inches of coarse manure from the barnyard to serve as a mulch. This keeps the soil moist, which is an important item, especially if the season happens to be a dry one. If barnyard manure is not obtainable, use leaves, or grass-clippings—anything that will shade the soil and retain
On small grounds I would advise keeping them well to the sides of the house. If any are planted in front of the house they will be more satisfactory if placed nearer the street than the house. They should never be near enough to the dwelling to shade it. Sunshine about the house is necessary to health as well as cheerfulness.
Trees back of the dwelling are always pleasing. Under no circumstances plant them in prim rows, or just so many feet apart. This applies to all grounds, large or small, immediately about the house. But if the place is large enough to admit of a driveway, a row of evergreens on each side of it can be made an attractive feature.
The reader will understand from what I have said that no hard-and-fast rules as to where to plant one’s trees can be laid down, because of the wide difference of conditions under which the planting must be made. Each home-owner must decide this matter for himself, but I would urge that no decision be made without first familiarizing yourself with the effect of whatever trees you select as you can see them growing on the grounds of your neighbors.
Do not make the mistake of planting so thickly that a jungle will result after a few years. In order to do itself justice, each tree must have space enough about it, on all sides, to enable it to display its charms fully. This no tree can do when crowded in among others. One or two fine large trees with plenty of elbow-room about them will afford vastly more satisfaction than a dozen trees that dispute the space with each other. Here again is proof of what I have said many times in this book,
that quality is what pleases rather than quantity.
If any trees are planted in front of the house, choose kinds having a high head, so that there will be no obstruction of the outlook from the dwelling.