Photo: Getty Images.
By Michael Tortorello
Most of us shop for plants with a Tinder mind-set. Swipe right if you fancy the molting papyrus bark on a river birch; swipe left if the serpentine pods of a honey locust leave you cold.
Picking a weeping tree for the garden, however, requires more of a nuanced eHarmony approach. These plants have unusual habits and oversize personalities: whimsical, morbid, grandiose. Identifying the right one might require sorting through an extensive questionnaire to weed out undesired traits.
No need to thank us, but we’ve devised a simple weeping-tree compatibility quiz.
First, though, you may wonder, what makes a tree weep? In an arboricultural sense, a weeping tree’s dominant growing branch—the central leader—typically arcs downward, becoming a lateral branch and making way for another leader. Droopy collector’s items in Europe’s 19th-century gardens, these are generally temperate-zone plants: lindens, maples, hornbeams, beeches, mulberries, willows. In winter, the meandering bare branches turn the yard into a sculpture garden.
Such centerpieces want undivided attention. “To show off their pendulous habit, they need open space around them,” said Sandra Youssef Clinton, president of landscape architecture firm Clinton and Associates, in Hyattsville, Md. Clustering them in a garden creates “a mishmash of styles and forms,” she said. “To me, it’s not restful to look at.”
That said, “These trees work gracefully off hardscape elements,” said Adam Wheeler of Broken Arrow Nursery, in Hamden, Conn., who has tried dozens. At home, he is training a weeping Japanese larch to drape the railing of a raised deck. A cascading tree, said Mr. Wheeler, plays off the straight lines of a building—like a rolling wave against a concrete sea wall.
You could think of this quiz as a way to learn more about weeping trees. But wouldn’t you rather think of weeping trees as a way to learn more about yourself?