We can hardly categorize any tree as ‘bad’. However, I feel the need to express that some tree choices definitely go the wrong way without giving any benefits to our landscape. Enjoy here the “modest” personal opinion of a biased tree lover on Guilty Pleasures or Bad Trees?

Where are the limits of good and bad? When talking about music, we can easily list a couple of ‘Guilty Pleasure’ songs. For instance, considering Boney M ‘s Ma Baker can be hard to stand and extremely entertaining.  If we are talking about cars, we don’t want to be seen in a Subaru WRX STI. Or in the  Dutch Toppers festival. Indeed, different things appeal to different people, but these are not my cup of tea. But I will not step on to uncharted waters. Who knows, maybe you are an avid visitor of the above mentioned or you choose to wear a very unpleasant Christmas sweater at Christmas dinner. Just go and do your thing.

From my perspective, there are also some ‘bad’ trees. My first feelings towards improper trees arose during the period when I was working at a tree nursery. Back in those days, heather gardens where unfortunately quite popular. They were dominated by both Erica and Calluna heather species, mixed together with Skimmia and Azalea and also including the monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana. I used to deeply hate this last one due to its leaves, maybe I should not call them leaves but scales. Scales which annoyingly damaged your skin, and due to its milky substance that got stuck to your clothes and ruined them forever. As a result, you ended up with skin irritations and with a sense of deep rooted dislike towards this tree. At that moment, the costs were of about one guilder per cm at the nursery, no we didn’t have euro in those days but still a waste of money if you ask me. The only time I appreciated Araucaria was when I saw some adult specimens in an avenue in southern England; the dull and plastic look of the tree was not apparent and their size was impressive. Since then my tolerance level towards this species has increased.

During the same period, we started to set aside the traditional hawthorn and Ligustrum hedges and instead plant the more “modern” conifer hedges. Looking back, I think they look like plastic because of their static appearance. The same applies to the cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus. Where were we when this horrible shrub was introduced? As far as I am concerned, this tree is probably the closest to the ‘plastic plant genus’, and it wouldn’t be out of place at the local ‘one euro shop’. But it could still be worse. My Boney M. equivalent in the tree world would be Thuja orientalis “Aurea”, a yellow conifer! I cannot even think of having this tree on my future grave, what a nightmare! Its expansion on both urban environment and the countryside gives me goosebumps and makes my hairs rise.

The next tree group that tend to go wrong are the ball-shaped trees. They were highly popular in the late 1980s. Both the crown and the root flair look very similar when planting them, so an “expert eye” is quite needed in the planting process otherwise they end upside down. The result in both ways is ending with a tree lane closely related to toilet brushes. Taking black locus Robinia pseudoacacia 'Umbraculifera' as an example, this ball-shaped tree is able to form a beautiful irregular crown image if it is not intensively pruned each year to maintain the dull ball shape.

I have often the impression that many of these crafted trees in the Netherlands originated in Boskoop, the former Dutch national tree center. To the confusion of many, the tree label in this area is quite subjective. In fact, they consider rhododendron as trees. An a popular tree in this area the variegated willow,  Salix integra "Hakuro-nishiki", a  stick with a misshapen appearance of leaves, can also not been seen as a tree. Another example of a controversial crafted tree in the shrub-tree borderline is the variegated Norway maple, Acer platanoides "Drummondii". Apparently, this  species was developed in Stirling, Scotland, and it clearly shows the gap between breeders and managers. Actually, this species can be a pain to maintain as its foliage growing pattern is quite random. We typically see that green foliage spontaneously grows in between the variegated leaves covering the trunk, branches and twigs. The growth of these green leaves is stronger because photosynthesis is more efficient, and thus benefits the growth of the tree. No matter how much pruning you do, over time the greenery keeps exploding and you slowly start to give up. This phenomenon can also be observed in the golden elm, Ulmus x hollandica "Wredei", and in the tricolor red beech, Fagus sylvatica "Purpurea Tricolor" and is learning who is in charge, not us.

Nowadays we also have some trees that don’t quite fit in, our tormentors. I am a great advocate for tree diversity, but sometimes this goes way too far. For instance, what are we supposed to do with a hundreds year old olive tree in the Netherlands? It is quite disrespectful for the tree itself to treat it as we do here. In the future, climate may be suitable for this species in this side of Europe, but for now the weather is not appropriate for them and it just gives disappointing results. Besides, there is a great change of introducing alien pathogens such as Xylella from Southern Europe and  therefore risking the future existence of our local species.  And all just for the sake of our aesthetical pleasure. Quite often we see thick, whimsical impressive olive trunks that have been pressed into a tiny planting pot with a few buckets of soil. In this cases, the crown has been chopped off a few years before ‘transplanting’ the tree, and due to the vigor of the tree we can still observe some shoot growth on it. Normally this shoot growth happened while in the Mediterranean climate, as once the olive trees are in the Netherlands the growth is stagnated mainly because of the climate and the above and underground amputations. So, this type of trees may create a nice atmosphere in the garden of a pizzeria, but otherwise they should be grown with respect in their country of origin. The same applies to palm trees. There might be some winter resistant palms, but is palm an enrichment of our landscape?

There are quite some trees that go the wrong way around, but there are even more beautiful and fascinating trees to enjoy!

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