Years ago when my daughters still lived at home, my younger daughter had gotten me a gift for Christmas, when I unwrapped it I saw that it was a good size book about trees titled ‘North American Landscape Trees’ by Arthur Lee Jacobson, published by Ten Speed Press. My first thought as I quickly look thru a few pages was that here was another book that would sit on my bookcase never to be opened again, gladly I can say how wrong I was. For what it contain was a listing of many different cultivars of different species of landscape trees, in fact there are over 5,000 listed from a 198 genera and 950 species and what it covers is the parentage, how they might have come into existence, where and when it was introduced, how and why it was named and a description of it appearance and other facts that might be available. When you see so many listed and you realize that so many of them just aren’t available it does seem a shame. It is understandable from the point of nurseries that none could possibility carry that many and I know from managing a nursery that even when you try to carry wide range of selections it doesn’t mean folks are going to buy them, unless they might get mentioned by one of TV garden gurus or featured on one of the Home and Garden networks. So for nurseries if can be a iffy proposition trying to broaden the inventory and besides sometimes the descriptions offered by wholesale catalogs of trees they carry give the best description of a tree and omitting what might be a fault, an example such as with crab apples when none of them suggest disease or pest resistance there is a good chance that they aren’t and what might be it’s good features is out shadowed by its’ bad ones. It is another thing about this book and books like Woody Plants that they can give objective opinions, so when we might want to use a certain tree in our designs we might know what to expect. Sometimes, even with objective opinions and good descriptions it doesn’t at all work, for plants sometimes do their own thing outside of what is expected.
To the subject of a few trees, Jen and I had planted a couple of crab apples out in front of our home a few years ago, and on one of the first days of this past February we notice a lot of birds flying around the house, when we looked out the window we saw Robins and Cedar Waxwings picking off all the fruit from one of those trees, the other hardly was touched, to look at the two trees and their fruit set, they looked pretty much the same, size and color, but they are two different varieties, the one the birds loved was a Malus ’Red Splendor’ which is a descended of Malus ‘Red Silver’ who parentage is M. baccata x M. sieversii and was introduced in 1948 by a Melvin Bergerson of Fertile MN. Now the ‘Red Splendor’ has good disease resistance, but it’s parent ‘Red Silver’ doesn’t. The other tree is a Malus ‘Indian Summer’ a cross between M. Zumi x M. ‘Almey’ it was a seedling raised in 1955 at the Simpson nursery and is a sister of M. ‘Centurion’ Both trees are beautiful pretty much year-round, but I don’t know why the birds favorite one over the other, a little difference in the size of the apple, one sweeter than the other? Now ‘Indian Summer’ is easy to get where as ‘Red Splendor’ doesn’t seem to be around in the trade much.
In downtown Dover there is a 5 story brick building that on it side wall there once was a full size mural of a scene of a Italian village street with old buildings lining the small alley heading off into the horizon and in the fore ground planted in front of this mural and part of the scene was a Acer saccharum ‘ Newton Sentry’ the original specimen of this tree was planted at a school in Newton Ma. in 1871 and later moved to Newton cemetery in 1885. The nursery I worked had provided this tree and had also used them in other designs and there might be still some growing at the nursery. These trees are somewhere around 30 –40’ and are less than 6’ wide, their fall color is yellow to orange. I could never find out where Ray had gotten them and I have never seen them listed, but I know they exist and I’m sure there would be good uses for them. Sadly, the tree and the mural are gone when they bumped out the side of the building by a few feet.
Lastly, I’ll mention about a Magnolia stellata, that back in 1997 we had used it in a landscape planting, it was a island type planting that included a Picea pungens, a Picea pungens ’Montgomery’, a Cotinus coggygria ‘Nordine’ and assorted other shrubs and the reason mention them all is that over the years all the plants have grown as expected, except for the Star Magnolia, it looks healthy, flowers well, doesn’t seem to have any problems, but after eleven years it still is only 4-5’ tall, I don’t know why, is it a sport or is something going on under the soil we can’t see? It works out so well in that island, with its’ size, we never think to prune it for it may decide to take off and do what it is suppose to do and then it might not work so well.
There are other trees and shrubs I can think of and maybe something to write later and also, I know, I and others would interested in what you all have observed with plants that may not be what has been described in the catalogs, that make them good or not so good plants to be used in the landscape, so if you feel inclined share.