What Trees and Plants Mean to a Cemetery

Date Published: 
September, 1919
Original Author: 
Fletcher Bohlander
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Convention

Mr. President and Members of the Association: I don't want to pass for as good a man as my father was. My name is Fletcher Bohlander; you have it here on the program as Peter Bohlander. I wish I had the language and the gift to express what trees and plants mean to me, as well as what I think they can be made to mean to others. It will be a great pleasure to me, however, to tell you anything that I can on this subject on which I feel that I have been gradually finding out some few things during the last few years. About thirty years ago or more, when I first commenced traveling around the country in the interest of the nursery trade, I began to find out that the best places and the places where I could get the most information about trees and plants, was by visiting cemeteries, for there I could learn what trees and what plants, were doing the best in those communities. This varies quite a good deal in different communities, sometimes in different places in the same community. But I never found a time when the superintendent of the cemetery wouldn't give me time enough and wasn’t perfectly willing to swap ideas. For this reason, I accepted Mr. Salway’s invitation to appear here before you.

Now, as I have already said, I am not gifted in talking, I wish I were. But trees and plants mean a good deal to me, as they do to almost everybody. The very tramp who comes along by your place will stop and enjoy a tree before he goes on his way. I know they have visited our nurseries many times, we are right across from the Railroad and they will even go through the nurseries, and you, will see a better expression on their faces when they leave. Every tree you have in your cemeteries, preaches a sermon, perhaps unknown to us, to everybody who passes. No words of mine can begin to express what trees do for the community. One thing about trees however we all want to remember, for here is where we sometimes make a serious mistake: it is not worth while to insist on planting either trees or plants that are not adapted to our conditions.

There are plenty of trees and plants right in our own communities or adapted to our own communities, where they will do well-what might be called our native stocks and it is much better to use it than to go out and get foreign stock and bring it into conditions to which it is not adapted. A pretty tree, well cared for, is, much better than a dozen trees half cared for and half dead. It doesn't make any difference where you get your trees, so that the varieties you use are adapted to your conditions: that's the important point to remember. Another quite important point is how the trees are grown and how they are cared for before you get them. Many a fine tree has been killed after digging by exposure before packing, and by an unduly long time occupied in transportation. For this reason I would advise every nurseryman to have a small nursery of his own and never to plant a tree that he gets from the nursery in its permanent place until he grows it a year in his own ground. Then, when he transplants it, he very seldom has a failure; it will grow.

Where you are planning for your trees ten or twelve or even fifteen years in advance, if you will take your nursery trees and plant them in groups, and let them come along and develop in beautiful groves, and then take them out of there and plant them in their permanent places using that temporary place as a nursery, I think you will get better results. There are so many little things of this kind I could say to you and it is such a broad subject, that it is impossible for me to hope to cover it in just a short talk. If trees don't mean a good deal to us, why would people like John D. Rockefeller and Charles M. Schwab be working with them and enjoying them? They don't do things unless they get results, unless they get some benefit from them. They get more recreation out of caring for trees and plants than any other thing they can do in life. The proper planting of trees means a good deal of thought. It takes, more time and more patience and more skill to plant and arrange trees and plants to get the proper effect, than it does to paint beautiful pictures. In fact, when we plant and arrange trees, we are painting beautiful pictures on our grounds, and there is only one effective way to do it, and that is to follow the teachings of nature.

Very often, we fail of the effect intended, because we won't let nature teach us. I am satisfied that in the great majority of cases, we would get just the effect we want if we would follow the simple teachings of nature, if we would go out and study our community, if we would study the surrounding country in order to find out what is doing well in our own local communities, and then use that material. Of course, it must be placed right, it must be placed so as to give your entrance a good setting, and it must be placed so as to give mausoleums and monuments a good setting. Don't overplant and don't ignore advice, but don't take too many peoples’ advice. Talking just a little bit against my own business, there is one thing in particular that should not be done, and that is, to employ a landscape gardener who is, connected with a nursery; there is a little too much tendency to recommend the use of the stock and material that he has, himself. But, on the other hand, if you have a good landscape gardener and you have confidence in him, don't let anybody confuse that opinion or upset your idea, but use his scheme the whole way through.

Remember that he has some picture in mind that he is working out, and if you interfere with it, or, if you change it, you will find you will not get the results you should have. Of course, a good landscape gardener is indispensable, if you can get one, but there are mighty few really good landscape gardeners in the country. If there is no landscape gardener available, just remember this, that every man looks at his planting a little bit differently, anyhow, and most of the superintendents of cemeteries have a pretty good idea of how they want to handle their own grounds, and in addition to that, they are always trying to get all the information they can from others. So, if you will just work at it, if you will have confidence in yourselves, and if you don't let too many people confuse you by advice, you• will get good results and beautiful effects. But, it makes no difference how many trees you plant, or, how they are planted or arranged, if you don't take care of them afterwards. And there, again, we can't expect to get very far or do very much, if we work against nature's laws. Take, for instance, the rhododendron, perhaps the most beautiful thing we have in the East; it is impossible for us to grow them here. We can grow them here for a year or two, but we are lacking in soil conditions, in the sulfur and the magnesia that is in the soil, and they just naturally starve to death, so that it is of no use to try to work with them. But we have many other good plants here that can be grown easily. Why not use those things doing the best we can with what we have, instead of trying to do the impossible?

If there are any questions you would like to ask, I will be very glad to answer them if I can. I don't claim to know very much about the business, although it is the only thing that I do know anything about, but there's so very much to know about it, that it actually makes me ashamed of how little I do know. A few years ago, we had so many questions asked us about when and where and how to plant, that we had a little book printed in an effort to answer those questions. I brought a few of those little books here with me, and, if they are of any value to you, you are welcome to them. Or, if I haven't brought enough of them with me, and there are others who want, a copy; I will be glad to see that they are mailed to you free of charge. Anything else I can do for you, please remember I am at your service always.

From the publication:
“AACS - Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Convention held at Cincinnati, OH"
September 24, 25 and 26, 1919