Nursery Materials for Cemeteries and How To Plant Them

Date Published: 
August, 1927
Original Author: 
Clarence O. Siebenthaler
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 41st Annual Convention

It is obvious to all of you that any exhaustive treatment that might be given the subject of "Nursery Materials for Cemeteries and How to Plant Them" would soon assume the proportions of an encyclopedia of horticulture. And since I am aware that many of your members are recognized authorities on plant materials, it would be useless to run through long lists of the more common varieties with which you are all familiar. In fact, I often envy the cemetery management the opportunity to observe plants as they progress from small seedlings, rooted cuttings, or grafts, up through their growth to maturity. It is an opportunity to study and learn which the Nurseryman does not have, since due to the very nature of his business, "the scientific production of young plants for transplanting elsewhere to grow into maturity," he knows them only in their younger stages.

The conditions for growth in a cemetery are nearly ideal. Most of the newer tracts are located far from the congested districts. Their size is such that the contamination of the atmosphere by poisonous gases is negligible. They are invariably well guarded against the malicious destruction of property by trespassers. They are by the very nature of their purpose designed and executed as to contour, drainage and ground covering and are maintained in every way as an ideal spot in which plant life may thrive. A cemetery is frequently spoken of as "the last resting place," and it serves mankind best when it is so in fact, because some day it must naturally take on a park-like effect and become still more of a community asset. Their long, yes, virtually perpetual, lives of usefulness make the effort to plant for permanency seem worthwhile. It is all these attributes of the scene of your activities that give you gentlemen the unsurpassed opportunity for study and observation that so few professional or business men enjoy. Consequently, you can understand and appreciate plant life and so perform a service in your community in furthering this interest among others less fortunately situated.

You have heard endless references to "the landscape lawn plan," the "park plan of cemetery," the "memorial park," the injection of the "landscape idea" into, cemetery design, how the memory of past generations is sweeter if it is associated with trees than if it is connected with tombs, catacombs and pyramids. This is not idle patter. Our cemeteries should keep pace with the best thought of the times. It is only natural that humanity should seek as their "last sleeping place," as the name implies, a spot of rest and freedom from intrusion. A beautiful park, a real picture, grounds that are the embodiment of all the best practices of landscape art; such places may seem to exist more for the living than for the dead, but the living are the ones that need them, and incidentally the folks with whom you men do business. Scenery should solace those that are bereft.

It is not the purpose of this discourse to enter into the subject of landscape design which is so largely responsible for the proper development of your grounds. Other speakers on the program will do credit to this phase. Still, the freedom in design is limited by the requirements of modern cemetery practice and the interest very often must lie in the variety of the plant material itself, This does not mean that the cemetery should be an arboretum as far as the number of varieties are concerned, but certainly it is an arboretum so far as it pertains to the intensive study of the subjects at hand. The more modern types of design require a greater variety of plants than ever before. Certain effects of seclusion to the larger lots, which are so desirable, necessitate the use of much shrubby material not formerly used. The larger sizes of the newer cemeteries warrant the appropriation of larger tracts for beautification exclusively. It also makes a more elaborate entrance treatment desirable. Screen and border plantings are needed here, shady retreats there, and bright flowering, happy-looking plants elsewhere. The nurseryman means to supply you with the best plant for the purpose for which it is to be used. (It is not necessary to use Norway Spruces entirely, as is still seen in certain sections.)

Long life is a requisite that any plant material chosen for cemetery work should have. There are already too many places where the immediate effect is the only consideration. Let your grounds be unique in that respect, that permanency and the qualities that come only with old age are the things most desired. There are many plants that are only common place and ordinary-looking until the subduing influence of old age shows up their real natures. This should encourage the more extensive use of the very dwarf and prostrate forms of shrubs and evergreens. I should prefer to mention this group first as it is probably the least well known and next most useful to the intensely valuable group of dwarf and generally slow growing trees.

Some of the evergreens which are quite dwarf in character, and yet sturdy and very tenacious of habit, would be far more desirable covering steep slopes or stony outcroppings than the barren surface often found in the cemeteries of steep contours. These are not paraded before you as new varieties, but suggested as being useful for purposes of which you may not have thought before.

Let me mention first then, Chamaecyparis Obtusa Nana (Hinoki Cypress). This is the variety made famous by its use as a miniature tree in pots by the Japanese. This, to me, is only an example of the punishment which it will stand and still look fresh and vigorous. The annular growth is quite short but it is attractive when small and still more so as it grows older.  I have seen it push aside much larger growing forms like the common American Arbor Vitae, and even Spruces and Pines. Its tenacity for life is marvelous. It will stand up bright and shining against a spider-infested Arbor Vitae or Juniper and come through unscathed. Its only drawback is that it always has been and will continue to be costly, due to its difficulty of propagation.

Juniperus Communis Depressa rarely exceeds two feet in height, good form of Juniper for ground cover. It is at home on sandy or gravelly hillsides fully exposed to the sun, where single plants often reach fifteen feet or more in diameter. It is sometimes catalogued Juniperus Communis, which is erroneous. The name Juniperus Canadensis is also applied, which is a synonym. It grows native in various sections of the country.

Juniperus Horizontalis Douglassi (Waukegan Juniper) is an interesting new creeping Juniper, which is very low and compact, making a dense mat. In spring and summer it is of a soft blue color, changing to a rich purple color in late fall. It grows close to the ground, not over six to eight inches high, but spreads out a dozen feet or more, depending upon soil and planting conditions.

Juniperus Horizontalis Glauca, by some called Sabina Horizontalis, or The Coast of Maine Juniper, grows native along the bleak, rockbound coast of Maine where it is exposed to the most severe weather conditions. It is usually vigorous and dependable creeping Evergreen of a distinctive and attractive bluish-green color.

Juniperus Sabina Tamariscifolia (Tamarix Savin Juniper) is an excellent creeping dwarf variety. The foliage is fine in texture; average height is one foot, with a spread of six to eight feet when full grown. Sometimes it is called Gray Carpet Juniper, and the name Tamarish leaved Juniper is also applied to it. It is said to occur wild in Sicily, Greece, and other places. A very vigorous grower; forming a compact and perfect mat of bluish or gray green; it grows very dense and never changes in color.

Juniperus Chinensis Sargenti (Sargent Juniper) was first collected by Professor Sargent in Japan in the autumn of 1892. This Juniper forms a low dense mat of wide-spreading branches covered with small dark green scale-like leaves, mixed with pointed ones. In the Arboretum it is now the handsomest of the Prostrate Junipers.

Juniperus Communis Depressa Plumosa is a rare Evergreen of distinctive beauty. It is silvery green in Spring and the mountains purple in Autumn. In habit it is low-growing and spreading, and it adapts itself admirably to many, uses. Being very hardy, it will grow under conditions that many Evergreens find unfavorable. For use in rock gardens or filling-in at the base of taller growing Evergreens, it is extremely adaptable and in groups with other species it contrasts with pleasing effect. Its prostrate branches seldom lift themselves more than eighteen inches from the ground.

Taxus Baccata Repandens is one of the few varieties of the English Yew that is hardy in the northern part of our country. Its rich, dark green foliage and low, nearly prostrate, but bunchy growth, makes it wonderfully useful for cemetery planting. Like our native Texas canadensis, it prefers semi-shade and some moisture. The latter should be used more under the shady and often sloping conditions found in the angles of walks along drives, etc.
The greatest acquisition and the most valuable gift Japan has contributed to the gardens of the colder parts of North America, is the Japanese Yew, Taxus Cuspidata and its dwarf form, Taxus cuspidata var. nana. Only these and the two above mentioned are hardy enough to be recommended for general planting in this country. These Yews are especially valuable because of their endurance of shade, their shiny, green foliage and bright scarlet berries.
The Mugho Pine (Pinus Montana Mughus) is a dwarf variety recognized everywhere as one of the most useful Evergreens, with its many stems, compact form and dark green color which it retains throughout the winter. It does not do well south of the Ohio River, but for northern plantings it is invaluable. All of the pines prefer a clay soil and need to be well compacted when planting.

Mahonia Repens is the low growing form of the Oregon grape and should find a place in moist shaded conditions where Vinca Minor has been used too extensively.

Pachysandra Terminalis is a splendid evergreen ground cover with thick, glossy foliage. It forms a dense mat, but to be successful must be planted closely together. It thrives well only whim the roots have, the benefit of its own shade.

Euonymous Radicans Vegetus is popularly known as the Evergreen Bittersweet and is an accommodating sort of plant. It may be grown as a vine against masonry walls, over rocks, or can be sheared into, a hedge, or grown as specimen plants. Although introduced from Japan in 1876, it is only in recent years that its good qualities have become well enough known to make its use extensive.

Of a more shrubby nature are the low spreading Cotoneaster. C. horizontalis Wilsoni is very similar with slightly longer leaves. A hardier variety than either of these is C. apiculata, and it should replace the two former ones in colder parts of the country. C. microphylla is likewise a prostrate variety with evergreen foliage and quite hardy at the Arnold Arboretum.

Of the taller growing Evergreens, some old reliable ones as well as newer varieties are:

Juniperus Chinensis Pfitzeriana. This remarkable tree is today in the front rank of ornamental conifers. Its popularity is well earned. This is a Juniper that thrives in the hot climate of the South and still comes through the cold northern winters without a scratch. Nothing bothers it as it seems to be practically immune from plant pests of all kinds. If left alone it assumes an attractive, low, broad, irregular form. It was originated in Pfitzer's Nursery in Germany. Ludwig Spaeth, famous German nurseryman horticulturist, introduced it into general cultivation.

Juniperus Chinensis Columnaris was introduced to cultivation by the United States Department of Agriculture, through the late F. N. Meyer. It forms a distinct, narrow pyramid with all the leaves circular or needle-shaped. The foliage is remarkably decorative. Like other forms of J. Chinensis, it is very hardy and also retains its desirable color effect during the winter. The habit of growth resembles the well-known Italian Cypress. This tree offers to planters in colder climates the extreme narrow growing form of evergreen heretofore so much desired but unfortunately not obtainable in a dependable tree.

Juniperus Chinensis Mas is a non-fruiting form of the Chinese Juniper and when better known, will be used quite extensively, as its winter color is greener and brighter than any other variety of the tall-growing ones.

Juniperus Squamata Meyeri, brought from Thibet by the late Frank N. Meyer, is the rarest and most sought-after of evergreen plants. Its rich, steel-blue color, even brighter, if possible than the Kosters Spruce, seems to assure for it a place in the newer plantings where accents of color are wanted. Its common name may work against it—The Fish Tail Juniper.

Juniperus Virginiana Cannarti is one of the foremost among the interesting group of Junipers that have been developed from the Red Cedar (J. Virginiana). It has rich green, heavy-tufted foliage, of medium height, and compact, pyramidal growth. Three newer sorts of Virginiana origin are Keteleri, Smithi and Burki. They certainly appear promising in the young plants, and will, no doubt, help to supply the always increasing demand for tall growing columnar Junipers.

A tall slender variety of Yew, developed from Taxus Cuspidata., has recently been put on the market by a prominent eastern nurseryman. It should fill the same place in northern plantings that the Irish Yew and Italian Cypress does in warmer climates.

Most of the Pines and Spruces are better known and although always important in cemetery plantings, they are so familiar to most of you that they require no comment.

There is no need or burdening you with a long list of shrubs suitable for cemetery planting. Anyone might be used to advantage, but too many of them lose their effectiveness after too few years. I do want to describe a few which might not be familiar to all of you as well as calling your attention to some old ones not used nearly as much as they warrant.

Kolkwitzia Amabilis (Beauty Bush). This is one of the rarest and most beautiful of the recent introductions of the Arnold Arboretum. It is a hardy shrub, closely related to the Lonicera.  Fruits are covered with long brown bristles. It seems to grow in any ordinary garden soil.

Pryacantha Coccinea Lalandi (Firethorn) is a thorny, half evergreen Hawthorn from the Himalayas, and rarely reaches a height of more than six feet. The leaves are small and narrow, with white flowers followed by bright orange colored fruits. These remain on the branches all winter, if not eaten by birds, which, by the way, consider them quite a delicacy. It is well adapted for planting on stony slopes, or sunny rockeries. It may also he used for a low ornamental hedge, as it stands trimming well, and is easily trained into any desired shape. Certainly it is a plant that is not yet well enough known, nor extensively used.  Due to its, evergreen nature, it ought always to be moved with a ball of earth attached.

The Cotoneasters are ornamental shrubs with decorative, bright, red or black berries. They thrive in any well drained soil, but dislike very modest and shady positions. C. dielsiana is one of the best, with a height of not over six feet. It has slender spreading and arching branches. The coral red fruits are very attractive. Several more widely advertised forms have the habit of losing their leaves earlier at the base. A few have the habit of contracting San Jose scale, so should be avoided. The more prostrate forms have already been described. 

The Viburnums rank among the most valuable ornamental shrubs. Possibly too much stress has been placed upon the native forms, prunifolium, lentago, dentatum, acerifolium, nudum, and others. These are all excellent foliage and berried plants for large mass planting, but they seem to lack the popular appeal. Try Viburnum americanum in place of V. opulus, and you will avoid trouble from aphids, Virburnum carlesi, on account of its rather large pink and white, delightfully fragrant flowers, which appear in dense clusters early in the spring, before or with the first leaves, is one of the most charming of the family. It enjoys some shade and could add untold glory to somber plantings which come with less interesting varieties. Viburnum dilitatum is bushy than many of the other viburnums and certainly cannot be surpassed for richness of foliage and a gorgeous showing of red berries, when it is happily situated.
Aesculus Parviflora, one of the dwarf horse-chestnuts, is certainly one of the handsomest plants for a lawn group. It is not a shrub that will ever reach any degree of popularity for foundation planting, as it grows rather slowly and does not transplant any too easily. It has slender pinnacles of white flowers and grows best in loamy moist soil. Once established, it takes on a rounded, massive but low effect that is a relief among so many tall, slender growing plants.

One of the newer privets which has been named Ligustrum Ibolium because it is a hybrid between ovalifolium and obtusifolium or ibota, should receive some attention if a formal hedge, is desired. It has all tile attractiveness of foliage that you find in California privet, but apparently it is much hardier. There have been reports of slight winter injury at the Morton Arboretum, but this variety certainly does place the line of winter injury much farther north than can be said of

Philadelphus Virginal and others of the now hybrid Philadelphus seem to have gained considerable popularity as of particular value in cemetery plantings. Mr. Roy, of the Mt. Royal Cemetery at Montreal, finds it quite hardy and a great acquisition. Their time of bloom, so near Memorial Day, should add to your appreciation of them.

Among the dwarf growing trees are many varieties which I believe are the most valuable nursery material for cemetery use. There are many that are showy in bloom, others have brilliant fruits, little pruning is necessary, generally have healthy, bright foliage, and in open spaces away from buildings develop into beautiful low growing masses. Used in groups, they are more nearly in scale with the size of cemetery grounds than most shrubs. Their robust, hard, woody growth makes them resistant to injury by storm, winds and trespassers. There are hundreds of species and thousands of horticultural varieties that come in this group. The Flowering Crab Apples, Hawthornes, Dogwoods, Flowering Cherries, Dwarf Maples, Flowering Plums and Peaches, are all families that contribute heavily to the list of the finest ornamental material known in the landscape practice.

The Flowering Crabs of both American and Asiatic origin have few rivals among gorgeous spring flowering trees and shrubs. At the Arnold Arboretum one of the important events of the year is the blooming of the Crabs. In order to still further glorify themselves, the bloom is followed by the fruit—the size, color and time or ripening varying greatly with the variety. It will suffice to name a dozen or the better varieties. Malus floribunda is probably the best known. Others attracting the attention of plants men over the country are the "Tea Leafed Crab" (Malus theifera), micromalus, sargenti, scheideckeri, arnoldiana, Zumi Crab, spectabilis, atrosanguinea, niedzwetzkyana, prunifolia, rinki, rinki-sublobata, and others. These may be planted in the Fall or Spring, pruned severely, and well watered, as they do not transplant as easily as shrubs.

The depredations or tourists and picknickers are going to make the countryside so barren of our native dogwood, Cornus florida, that it will be up to institutions like yours to perpetuate the most beautiful native flowering tree we have. You can't overdo the planting of this handsome dwarf tree. The pink flowering variety, Cornus florida rubra, is a gorgeous sight in bloom. At Woodland cemetery in Dayton, fifty dollars invested twenty years ago by Mr. Kline in this plant has attracted more favorable comment than thousands of dollars spent in other adornment.

I've often wondered why each of you does not let some one flowering tree of this art dominate in your plantings. In Japan they declare a holiday when the cherries are in bloom. Lilac time at Arnold Arboretum attracts thousands of visitors from all over the country. The Japanese cherries at Washington when in bloom are a national institution. Such a planting of Crab Apples, Hawthornes, Dogwoods or other such dominant notes in your planting give character and style to your landscape obtainable in no other way. Time will not permit further details concerning the Hawthornes, Cherries, Maples, etc. but they are equally delightful.

With larger growing members of the plant world, the trees, you are more familiar. I only want to mention some new elms which have come into prominence recently. One, the vase-shaped elm, Ulmus urni, is a fast growing large leafed American white elm, which must be budded or grafted and is destined to fill a long felt want for uniform growing elms. Its rapidity of growth, cleanliness of foliage and bark and general good appearance will make it of much demand in the coming years.

The Moline Elm likewise originated from the American elm. However, its shape, a round-headed form, its dark, heavy foliage and smooth bark makes it resemble the English Elm. Its comparative resistance to the Elm Leaf Beetle, and the European Elm Scale should make its use preferable to the English varieties.

The small leaf elms, Ulmus parvifilia and Ulmus pumilla, though not new are gaining widespread popularity on account of their excellent foliage throughout the summer and their resistance to dry weather.

Now this has been a scattered, disconnected, rambling sort of treatment without doing justice to any one of the noble plants, nor without any attempt to cover completely any part of the excellent stock scientifically grown and prepared for you in the up-to-date nursery. However, the effort to apprise you of some of the noteworthy plants that might have escaped your attention will have been well repaid if that great institution so ably managed and conducted for the public, the American Cemetery will profit thereby.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 41st Annual Convention
Cleveland, OH
August 22, 23, 24 and 25, 1927