Lawn Planting for Winter Effect

CLEARLY preconceived effects are contrived for spring and summer, both on parks and lawns. Outline and form, singly and in mass, have a fair degree of attention paid them during these seasons, but combinations of color attract less attention during even the “ perfect days of June.” Later on, as summer hues fade, still less thought is given to securing renewed beauty of foliage and flower by employing such plants as are specially fine in August and September. Such plants may indeed be set out, but this is seldom done with a conscious intention of prolonging the season of beautiful foliage, or of producing distinct compositions. In autumn, finally, two specially charming objects may be and sometimes are sought in the use of plants. One looks to the retention of a rich, healthy, green foliage as late as possible by means of certain oaks, beeches, elms, and golden and green conifers, while the other employs the wonderful crimson and gold tints of maples, liquid ambers, sumac, etc., to construct the lovely pictures naturally peculiar to the season. I am sorry to say, however, that we find the last essay made in the most tentative manner. Most people who attempt the experiment are satisfied with a scarlet maple or two, or a liquid amber. It seems hardly to have entered their brains that in thus combining on the lawn unrivaled autumnal color they have at hand possible mass effects of the finest character. They look with pleasure in fall at glades of oak, pepperidge, and maple entwined with blood-red Virginia creepers, and never think of analyzing the composition of the charming effect, much less seek to develop the same thing, as it were, on their lawns. It is this apathy in regard to a thousand natural charms that ask for recognition at our very doors that impels me to consider briefly one department of this subject, namely, the production of domestic winter landscape. I choose it because, after the varied attractions of June, lawnplanting for winter effect seems to me worthy of more distinct treatment than that of either of the other seasons. A portion of the lawn which can be seen as a picture through the frame made by the outline of a certain window should be so planted that it will always be sure to present a delightful scene during the varied changes of winter, when one is necessarily kept within doors more than in summer. Nor need there be any detriment wrought to the general character of the lawn by this limited operation, if only a broad systematic treatment be maintained everywhere on other parts of the place, as well as on that devoted to winter picturesqueness.

Let us, then, look out upon our lawn, and see where and how we can best produce the desired result. I assume that most of us possess lawns of limited dimensions; in the case of the larger lawns, their treatment may be considered by regular experts. The small land-holder, however, with his one or two hundred feet of land must generally bestow such treatment as he can give himself, with the help of inferior labor. Moreover, a thousand are interested in small holdings where one possesses or cares for the grand estate. Most houses have several windows, any one of which may be selected for the frame of our winter picture. Other things being equal, the window should be chosen that looks out on the bleakest part of the lawn, or in some direction where objects would otherwise be visible which it is desirable to screen. In either case, it will be found that evergreens, of which all artificial winter landscapes should he more or less composed, serve to modify and render cosy bleak places, as well as to hide entirely unsightly details. Frequently this point lies in the northwest part of the grounds. Complete unity, however, must exist between the treatment of this and other sections of the lawn ; otherwise, everything will have a loose, straggling, semi-detached look, as if the plants had happened together by chance, and were not at all sure that they were worthily treated or comfortably situated.

The general outline of the masses of foliage will naturally be made coincident with the boundary lines of the property, except as glimpses without are desired; so that when we use the larger evergreens they will very properly occupy the background of the picture. In other words, their rich, solid mass will make a bold and suitable foil, both summer and winter, for the more delicate tints and outlines of evergreen and deciduous plants. For this, indeed, is one of the peculiar features of our imaginary lawn : that it uses deciduous plants, plants devoid of foliage, as freely as evergreens in the winter picture.

Nothing in the woods can surpass the sweeping grace of fold on fold of snow swathing the dark, drooping branches of the Norway spruces that make up the mass of the background. Pine and hemlock alternate now and then with Norway spruces, and vary the charm of this background with the bright green or bluish tints of the former and the peculiar light bluish-gray of the latter. The pines, especially those of the Austrian species, stand firm, rugged, and strong, and the long blue needles of the white pine lend just sufficient variety of tone to satisfy the eye. For grace nothing can surpass the hemlock, which readily retains in its folds queenly wreaths of snow or diadems of icicles.

Rich mass, firm outline, and evergreen tints of the greatest variety characterize the view thus far considered from the window. But we have only begun to analyze the many possible and varied effects. Broad spaces of grass slope up to the house in front, and, although not green, serve to establish a sufficient distance to permit the arrangement of a middle-ground as well as a foreground and background. This middle-ground is always to me the most charming part of any section of the lawn. Elsewhere, mass or extreme detail obscures one’s best conception of any beautiful plant. In the middle-ground, the really choice plant offers itself to the eye with the most inviting effect. Its weak points are thus somewhat hidden, and its charms are enhanced twofold by the distance that here just suffices, not only to lend enchantment to the view, but to give an adequate impression of the plant considered as a whole. The plants that stand nearest the evergreen background are evergreen also, both because they are allied by nature, and because they appear most bold and characteristic seen at a little distance from the house. One exception to this arrangement may be effectively made by interspersing among the evergreens white birches, the value of which can hardly be overestimated in any lawn-planting, and in winter, ornamentally considered, they are almost indispensable. Notice the striking effect of the delicate, creamy-white stems placed here and there directly against the dark background of evergreens, and surrounded, perhaps, by fields of snow and ice. See how the contrast brightens the whole scene, and how curiously the white trunks and graceful drooping branches bear snow wreaths or icicles, each in its own characteristic way. A solid background of evergreens presents much variety of rich color, blue, green, and silver, but the whole effect is, as it were, punctuated by these white birches. Nature uses the birches most delightfully in many a woodland winter scene, and our lawn is, we find, greatly improved by the free use of this artistic resource. But our attention is specially claimed by the specimens occupying the middle-ground. Here, too, we find a fair admixture of evergreen-trees advisable. The evergreens disposed near the foreground are of medium, and in some cases of dwarf size, but always of interesting character, well fitted to make single features on the lawn.

First and foremost is the Nordmann’s silver fir, broad and massive, with shining silvery leaves, — in every way, a hardy, slow-growing evergreen, of noble outline and special symmetry. Though grand and impressive, it needs intelligent pruning, and, to be transplanted readily, the fibrous condition of roots that must be retained by frequent removal in the nursery and systematic root-pruning. The same remark applies to all silver firs, which are in many senses the finest evergreens for producing winter pictures. There is the silver fir (Picea amabilis), lovely both by name and nature, and the still finer Picea nobilis, of unsurpassed blue tints. Hudson’s Bay silver fir, of the same genus, is one of the darkest, hardiest, and most dwarfed species, specially fitted for the outskirts of groups, or for dotting here and there in isolated positions. Parsons’ silver fir (Picea concolor) has wonderful leaves, always curling upward, long, and of a delicate bluish - green color. The so-called dwarf silver fir (Picea compacta), an intermediate form between Hudson’s Bay silver fir and Nordmann’s fir, is especially noteworthy for hardiness, symmetry, and compact elegance. It should be one of the most popular of evergreens.

Then, among the larger forms, we note the Grecian silver fir, very fine and lighter colored. The weeping silver fir is the type, perhaps, of the statuesque in the family. Intelligently pruned, it develops into a solid weeping column of dark green. But here, as with all silver firs, if we are to get a compact growth below, the leading or top shoot must be pinched off from time to time, during May or June. If possible, or, rather, if not incongruous with the remaining part of the composition, it is well to place each of these species, firs, spruces, and the like, by themselves. Spruces we used to make up the mass of the background ; but then there are spruces not only adapted for this purpose, but suitable for general planting in the middle-ground, and even for the most distinguished positions as objects of special interest in the foreground. Any one looking at the dense round or hemispherical shape of the Gregory spruce, and at the taller though slow-growing columnar form of the weeping spruce, would scarcely believe that this and the common Norway spruce are so closely akin. The conical spruce, on the other hand, is such a slowgrowing, perfectly symmetrical, dense specimen of the Norway kind that one exclaims immediately at the perfect spruce here presented. There is in this case nothing of the grotesque grace of the down-sweeping branches of some specimens of Norway spruce, for the conical spruce is symmetrical elegance personified,— just the evergreen to please the popular eye. We cannot, therefore, dispense with it, and find it well placed near the foreground on one side. The blue tint of the Colorado spruce (Abies pungens) shows capacity for varying color that is most invaluable for winter effect. Alcock’s spruce, from Japan, has also lovely variegations of yellow, silver, and green, and the tiger-tail spruce (Abies polita), from the same country, is rigid, yellow, and characteristic, and hardy and fine in many ways.

The Oriental spruce is perhaps the most desirable of all the spruces for both winter and summer landscape. Its shining dense masses are remarkably hardy and striking. It belongs rather in the background, as somewhat larger in habit than the others. Nor should we neglect the beautiful American white spruce, hardy, dense, and richly colored. It grows more slowly than the common Norway spruce, but eventually attains sufficient size to associate it more or less with that evergreen. The most noteworthy spruces, however, for winterlandscape effects are the weeping hemlock spruce and the weeping Norway spruce. The former is a charming evergreen, graceful and picturesque, with soft curving lines. Its light color and delicate tendrils give it an almost feminine appearance. The rugged, strong outline of the weeping Norway spruce, on the other hand, offers the greatest contrast to the habit of this hemlock, and delights the eye, especially in winter. The long branches of this slow-growing evergreen droop and hug the stem in most persistent fashion, now and then curling up eccentric shoots, which afford convenient lodgment for the snow. Both these striking evergreens should occupy the middle-ground of the picture in specially effective positions.

Among the pines we find, perhaps, our most lovely and refined winter colors, but to establish pines upon the lawn is not always easy. Unless transplanted frequently in the nursery, pines develop naked roots, hard to remove with safety. The spruces and arbor vitæs act better, but silver firs and pines are, to say the least, troublesome in this respect. The most lovely pine, to me, in winter is the Bhotan pine (Pinus excelsa), or, what seems to be a hardier form of the same, the so-called P. ayacuhuite. It presents such picturesque open masses and the leaves are so long and delicately green that the eye dwells on its varied outlines with exceeding pleasure. Then there is the Swiss stone pine (P. cembra), bluish-green, and extremely striking in winter as well as extremely hardy. Among the dwarf pines such forms are noteworthy as the dark Mughus and Mughus compacta, the finely tinted light blue dwarf white pine, and the more yellow and rounder dwarf Scotch. Mughus uncinata is also striking, and, although dwarf, quite erect in habit. The largegrowing pines massed in the background among the Norway spruces are peculiarly varied in color and form, and often very beautiful, laden with snow and ice. Dark, massive Austrian pines should have their forms displayed somewhat more prominently than the rest, while the delicate-hued and more sparselybranched white pines should be grouped directly with the Norway spruces, for the sake of real artistic breadth combined with interesting variety. Hemlocks also mass well in the background, their lighter colors and more graceful forms relieving the sombre character of the adjoining spruces. In the outskirts of groups and rather in the foreground, we should find choice plants, such as the rare and exquisite golden Japanese or Sun Ray pine (Pinus Massoniana variegata), with its rich and permanent yellow, so striking in fall and winter. Nor should we forget to plant in such positions the lovely Japanese retinosporas, of delicate, fern-like appearance and unexcelled hardiness of habit. Such plants form the intermediate shadings or half tones of the picture, presenting as they do in winter the most delightful tints of brown, green, and gold. It should he remembered that the winter coloring of evergreens is very different from that of summer. In many cases, like that of the arbor vitæ, these winter tints are dull and uninviting, for which reason, in spite of the custom to the contrary, I do not much fancy their employment for winter effects. But the retinosporas are, if anything, more lovely in winter than in summer, especially in their mingling of brown and gold. The really golden retinosporas have a pure yellow color in winter, very delightful from the fresh contrast it affords to the neutral tints of the surrounding scenery. Of like character is the bronze gold of Biota elegantissima aurea, a Chinese golden arbor vitæ. There is a kinship in the appearance of retinosporas and arbor vitæs, in which the former have greatly the advantage in varied beauty; but we will do well to employ the golden bronze of the elegantissima arbor vitæ whenever we can give it a little favoring protection from cold, which is fortunately not needed for the retinosporas. There are exquisite bluish-tinted junipers, also, erect and torch-like in shape, the graceful lines and forms of which can be ill spared from any part of the lawn planted for winter. The regular evergreen shrubs cannot, of course, he neglected. Rhododendron foliage is broad, massive, and shining, one of the most effective features in winter on any lawn. The mahonias, though very different in many ways, have the same general effect, and should be employed, though always with the knowledge that they will frequently winter kill, that is, become deciduous, for they rarely die from cold. Masses of these mahonias shine and glisten in winter, and are altogether so fine that we must have them, notwithstanding their weakness. The tree box is also rich, solid, and very attractive during the cold months. It is an old plant, but merits, especially planted singly, the very highest consideration. Cratægus pyracantha fructuentes, the evergreen thorn, whether used for hedges or as a single plant, is always peculiarly beautiful in winter. Its low, dense masses of red bronze leaves, small and regularly formed, present a diversity of contour of the most pleasing character. Sometimes, a large mature plant lives through many winters with its shining, bright green color unreddened by the faintest touch of frost. Such a plant may be seen on the grounds of Mr. Henry Fearing, Newport, R. I., and in winter this plant, a dozen feet high and square, is a sight worth traveling many miles to see.

I have far from exhausted the list of evergreens suitable for our picture, but have mentioned enough to give rich and abundant color and form to a landscape otherwise dead and lifeless. We must take care not to forget, in this analysis of the constituents of charming winter effects on the lawn, to consider the many beautiful forms and even colors of naked stems and bare branches of deciduous trees. It has been already noted how finely white - stemmed birches contrast with the background of evergreens, not only in color, but in delicate variety of form. In like manner we have effects produced by other deciduous plants standing singly or in groups by themselves, or, under certain circumstances, in the immediate neighborhood and outskirts of evergreens. What can be richer in color, for instance, than the numerous crimson shoots of the red-stemmed dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) ? Then we may have intermixed with it, or at least planted in close neighborhood, the golden willow, contrasting yellow stems with crimson ones. The red-twigged linden has fine reddish tints in winter on every portion of its current year’s growth of wood, and the golden-barked linden is useful in color as contrast to the golden willow and red-stemmed dogwood.

The trunk of the striped maple (Acer Pennsylvanicum) is also very beautiful in winter for its pink and green. This is not hardy everywhere in the United States, although attractive in all places where it will live. It is unnecessary to press the point on observant lovers of trees that the forms of deciduous plants are very attractive in their winter guise. They look cold and poorly clad, it is true, but the broad, solid tints of evergreens readily relieve this bleak effect. And how grand and exquisite they are according to the nature of the tree, whether it be oak or birch, elm or beech! Two of the finest oaks for our purpose are the over-cup and pyramidal, although of the numerous varieties none fail to be effective in their winter habit. But the overcup oak is specially striking on account of its rugged, grotesque twigs and branches, and the pyramidal for its bold, regular form and rapid growth. Elms, too, with their intersecting Gothic lines, must not be forgotten in planting for winter; neither the cork-barked variety nor widereaching ulmus fulva pendula.

The Japan gingko also throws out great arms or branches against a clear blue winter sky in the most eccentric manner. No less eccentric, but far more charming, are the noble masses of curled and drooping branches and twigs of the weeping beech. No tree is more picturesque in winter, and no evergreen more grand and striking. The tossing shapes and forms it assumes are myriad, and the play of color on the icicles it at times supports is a wonder to behold. Its silhouette cut against the sky is positively unequaled for grace. The weeping sophora is also fine in winter, regularly curving downward, more dwarfed and less odd than the weeping beech. Both of these last-named trees merit the choicest and most conspicuous positions on the lawn, and perhaps the middle distance, a little to one side, suits their proper exhibition best. The strange farreaching branches of the weeping larch, especially when laden with snow, are picturesque in the extreme.

We must be careful always to keep open considerable stretches of turf, endeavoring rather to flank than to cross with plants the direct line of vision through to the background. It should be our object always to compose a pleasing landscape for winter by means of intelligently combined color and form, but never to forget the homely needs of particular plants in the way of shelter and congenial soil. Fifty feet square, or less, will enable one to have a lovely winter picture, provided the composer can give due consideration to each plant’s physiology and possible artistic capacity, while fifty acres in the hands of even a genius, who is untutored, can hardly help producing abortive or overgrown effects at any season of the year. All which means, in short, that an artistic eye, sustained by a thorough knowledge and sympathetic management of plants, can make an inexpensive paradise of the smallest home lot even In mid-winter.

Samuel Parsons, Jr.