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

The gracefulness and beauty of elm trees

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For its graceful beauty the elm is entitled to high regard. Standing alone as a single tree, or in a group of at most three or four in number, it developes itself in all its perfection. The White American elm we consider the most beautiful of the family, and to this we more particularly allude. In such situations as we have just mentioned, this tree developes its fine ample form in the most perfect manner. Its branches first spring up embracing the centre, then bend off in finely diverging lines, until in old trees they often sweep the ground with their loose pendent foliage. With all this lightness and peculiar gracefulness of form, it is by no means a meagre looking tree in the body of its foliage, as its thick tufted masses of leaves reflect the sun and embosom the shadows as finely as almost any other tree, the oak excepted. We consider it peculiarly adapted for planting, in scenes where the expression of elegant or classical beauty is desired. In autumn the foliage assumes a lively yellow tint, contrasting well with the richer and more glowing colors of our native woods. Even in winter it is a pleasing object, from the minute division of its spray and the graceful droop of its branches. It is one of the most generally esteemed of our native trees for ornamental purposes, and is as great a favorite here as in Europe for planting in public squares and along the highways. Beautiful specimens may be seen in Cambridge, Mass., and very fine avenues of this tree are growing with great luxuriance in and about New Haven.* The charming villages of New England, among which Northampton and Springfield are pre-eminent, borrow from the superb and wonderfully luxuriant elms which decorate their fine streets and avenues, the greater portion of their peculiar loveliness. The elm should not be chosen where large groups and masses are required, as the similarity of its form in different individuals might then create a monotony; but as we have before observed, it is peculiarly well calculated for small groups, or as a single object. The roughness of the bark, contrasting with the lightness of its foliage and the easy sweep of its branches, adds much also to its effect as a whole. (* The great elm of Boston Common is 22 feet in circumference.) We shall briefly describe the principal species of the elm. The American White elm. (Ulmus Americana.) This is the best known and most generally distributed of our native species, growing in greater or less profusion over the whole of the country included between Lower Canada and the Gulf of Mexico. It often reaches 80 feet in height in fine soils, with a diameter of 4 or 5 feet. The leaves are alternate, 3 or 4 inches long, unequal in size at the base, borne on petioles half an inch to an inch in length, oval, acuminate, and doubly denticulated. The seeds are contained in a flat, oval, winged seed-vessel, fringed with small hairs on the margin. The flowers, of a dull purple color, are borne in small bunches on short footstalks at the end of the branches, and appear very early in the spring. This tree prefers a deep rich soil, and grows with greater luxuriance if it be rather moist, often reaching in such situations an altitude of nearly 100 feet. It is found in the greatest perfection in the alluvial soils of the fertile valleys of the Connecticut, the Mississippi, and the Ohio rivers.