Garden Bloggers' Book Club & Thoughts on Lombardy Poplar

I’m continuing to read through The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell, the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club November selection.

I ran across a paragraph that I could just not believe, and had to re-read several times and then go back and read it in context. I am still somewhat dumb-founded.

Henry is recommending the Lombardy Poplar, Populus nigra, as a good tree for the garden! What?!

And I quote: “But no matter what you hear or read, I am here to say flatly that there is no more exciting or lovely tree in all the world than the Lombardy Poplar, and if the gardener is going to lose his head and ruin the roses forever, at least this poplar is a comprehensible infatuation”.

A "comprehensible infatuation"? It is? On what planet? To be fair, Mr. Mitchell does discuss how the tree has shallow roots, has been overplanted, has weak branches that break off in storms or the whole crown breaks off so it no longer has its distinctive columnar form. So, he isn’t hiding the tree's flaws.

Here’s what I think of the Lombardy Poplar. Buy a chain saw at the same time you buy the trees, because before you know it, you will need the chain saw to cut down what I consider one giant woody weed! And do “real trees” really come in packages of a dozen bare root stems? I don’t think so, but that’s generally how I’ve seen these sold.

I’ve never liked the Lombardy Poplar, and can’t even think where I might have seen it growing recently. I think it has fallen out of favor, or at least I hope so! We had some in our backyard when I was growing up, but they were all cut down after just a few years, because they were a mess. And that upright form? My recollection is that they always seemed to be leaning in whatever the direction the prevailing wind pushed them.

If you want a tree with a nice columnar upright form, surely there are better choices than the Lombardy Poplar! I did a quick search for “fastigate trees” and came up with this list in short order. When you look up info on the Lombardy Poplar, you see comments like “short-lived”, “plant as a wind screen until slower growing trees mature”, etc. So I guess it has its place as a “temporary tree”, but not as a tree you plant for generations to follow.

So, that’s how my reading is going. I agree with some things, disagree with others, but overall, I’m enjoying the book. Anyone else started reading?


  1. Good job you don't live here in Lombardy, Carol - they're not called Lombardy poplars for nothing :)
    Seriously, I'd never thought of them as being a tree either to enthuse about or hate. My only complaint is when they lose their seeds in May/June. With thousands of the trees around, the air is filled with white fluff for ten days - I'm not a hay fever sufferer, but even I have problems that week. If you've ever seen the beginning of the film Amarcord you'll know what I mean ...

  2. There's no accounting taste I guess. I don't have an opinon of the poplar, but I absolutly LOVE my Weeping Willow! My husband on the other hand detests it! It's messy, droping branches and reaching down in your face while you mow. But I've taken over the mowing and raking of branches, I can trim the lower ones but before long they are reaching and brushing the ground again! I still love it though, I have a resting log underneath to sit in shade near the garden.
    Haven't received my copy yet. Can't wait!

  3. Carol, liking Lombardy Poplars sounds goofy to me, too! I can't remember if Henry changes his mind on that one by the end of book three. His views on chemically-dependent gardening change a great deal over the years. Since his books are newspaper columns recounting his own experiences through the decades, they're closer to blogs than to any omnipotent Garden Instruction Book.

    My own feelings about specific garden plants or garden practices change quite frequently, so this quality endears him to me! It's like he was one of us!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. I've started rereading and am enjoying it just as much as the first time...I wondered what I would think since this was one of the first garden essay books I read...several years and a good amount of garden experience ago. I just like his voice...he had so much knowledge and yet it comes across in such an accessible manner...and he certainly knew what it means to be a gardener. His humor is great...he would have been such an interesting, opinionated person to know!

  5. Thanks all of for the comments. I did drive by a yard on the way home from work yesterday that had two Lombardy Poplars in it. They weren't as bad as I remember, but I still don't care for them.

    I also was in a parking lot later on where they had planted a fastigate variety of maple in several of the islands around the lot. A much better choice for a columnar shaped tree, if you ask me, and they were starting to show their fall colors, too.


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