The Garden Guide

Book: A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America,1841
Chapter: Section IV. Deciduous Ornamental Trees

Horse-chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum

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The Horse-chestnut is by no means a picturesque tree, being too regularly rounded in its outlines, and too compact and close in its surface, to produce a spirited effect in light and shade. But it is nevertheless one of the most beautiful exotic trees which will bear the open air in this climate. The leaves, each made of clusters of six or seven leaflets, are of a fine dark-green color; the whole head of foliage has much grandeur and richness in its depth of hue and massiness of outline; and the regular, rounded, pyramidal shape, is something so different from that of most of our indigenous trees, as to strike the spectator with an air of novelty and distinctness. The great beauty of the Horse-chestnut is the splendor of its inflorescence, surpassing that of almost all our native forest trees: the huge clusters of gay blossoms, which every spring are distributed with such luxuriance and profusion over the surface of the foliage, and at the extremity of the branches, give the whole tree the aspect rather of some monstrous flowering shrub, than of an ordinary tree of the largest size. At that season there can be no more beautiful object to stand singly upon the lawn, particularly if its branches are permitted to grow low down the trunk, and (as they naturally will as the tree advances) sweep the green sward with their drooping foliage. Like the lime tree, however, care must be taken, in the modern style, to introduce it rather sparingly in picturesque plantations, and then only as a single tree, or upon the margin of large groups, masses, or plantations; but it may be more freely used in grounds in the graceful style, for which it is highly suitable. When handsome avenues or straight lines are wanted, the Horse-chestnut is again admirably suited, from its symmetry and regularity. It is, therefore, much and justly valued for these purposes in our towns and cities, where its deep shade and beauty of blossom are peculiarly desirable, the only objection to it being the early fall of its leaves. The Horse-chestnut is very interesting in its mode of growth. The large buds are thickly covered in winter with a resinous gum, to protect them from the cold and moisture; in the spring these burst open, and the whole growth of the young shoots, leaves, flowers, and all, is completed in about three or four weeks. When the leaves first unfold, they are clothed with a copious cotton-like down, which falls off when they have attained their full size and development. The growth of the Horse-chestnut is slow for a soft-wooded tree, when the trees are young; after five or six years, however, it advances with more rapidity, and in twenty years forms a beautiful and massy tree. It prefers a strong, rich, loamy soil, and is easily raised from the large nuts, which are produced in great abundance.