In their praise and wonder, they, the very largest vegetables we grow in our gardens yet begin as all, as seeds, or, if we are lazy, as rooted cuttings, whips or grown plants of varying sizes, bagged and burlapped and ready to bloom, give fruit, shade, privacy, or that sense of timelessness we all so yearn for. Who plants a tree is generous, they say, but it can be a selfish act, a smug one, one that is a plea for praise, an act of no little tyranny to put in place a monster, an enormous caster of shade, a green monument not unlike a great temple or a hall devoted to the memory of oneself. Intention is all. Intention will out. What one is planting is view itself, destination, a spiritual endeavor and let us leave it at that, a tree is no different than a spear of grass.
In your arms, for a moment, you might be holding a forest, or an orchard, or a spinney, or a copse. At the least, a little wood, a monument.
So many turn to giants, thinking that they will give glory soonest but this is not at all so. It is advisable never to plant a tree more than seven or so feet in height lest you install something borderline mature that will take years adjusting to the site, years before growing in earnest, years before looking like it belongs. Unless, of course, you plant single, narrow-stem trees. For that purpose, Gingko biloba fastigiata is one of my favorites, can be installed in quincunx fashion, or as a little wood since the fastigiates can be planted quite close together. There are also singe spire apple trees that can be similarly handled.
But your property may not take to a truly huge old fellow. Your neighbor’s trees may already be overwhelming your plot. In that event, one turns to the large and wonderful world of the modest tree, low in height, modest in girth, capable of giving enormous satisfactions.
I might start with the rather neglected Japanese tree lilac, last of the breed to bloom and blessed with intriguing cherry-like shining bark, immune to disease and of a handsome demeanor come leaf-drop.
Or I might go into the quite wonderfully varied world of the dogwood, particularly the oriental, kousa, types that are immune to anthracnose that miserably attacks our floridas, skipping them some years but then, in others, leaving them quite dead, quite quickly. The kousas have other recommendations — fine and distinguished bark hues (some with peeling), lovely autumn fruit, and fine spring buds displayed through the winter.
You may want, as well, to go into variegated foliage dogwoods or dogwoods, for obvious reasons, subtitled “pagoda” types. Dogwoods fulfill the other obligations of the smaller tree that they be of interest and beauty all seasons of the year.
More? Think of Stewartia, also known as the poached egg tree for its blossoms seemingly edible, for the brilliant fashioning and coloring of its bark, for its modest demeanor and fine deportment in the smaller garden.
Others coming to mind with varying reward and configurations are the hardy orange (bloom, fruit, jagged, lethal limbs of an electric green and splendid in large pots on the terrace), the lissome, fruited spring blooming, summer and autumn-fruited amelanchier, Jefferson’s favorite tree, also known as the Sarvis (read service) tree, being the only bloomer available to bedeck coffins after the long, hard winter when they stacked up until the earth thawed.
A thriller in autumn is the recently introduced Seven Sons’/Brother’s tree, Heptacodium micoinides, the last modest tree to bloom in the autumn with quite thrilling feathered and torn bark almost as fine as raffia.
The list is long and you be inventive.
One may discover space on one’s property through the daunting but necessary rigors of pruning.
Or one may seize the reins of the garden firmly (always a test of the gardener) and remove a tree that is really substandard to one’s needs, one that was planted by the previous owners and has become a burden of accommodation, an unwanted usurper of space.
Then there is an entirely different approach to planting trees, planting many and keeping them small.
But that is an entirely different essay, not for the faint of heart or weak of arm.