This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
Quite a number of years ago my father bought from an agent a Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, one of the finest of flowering shrubs. We did not know very much about shrubs at that time, but we liked them all, and were fond of experimenting. The second year, my father discovered that the hydrangea was much improved by severe pruning. It grew better, and the blossoms were much larger. Then he found out that if the cuttings were inserted in the ground any time before the leaves started in June they would root easily. He raised a large number of plants in this way. All of them blossomed the same season the cuttings were put in, and the second year they were large enough to transplant. They were set in a hedge, five or six feet apart, in front of the house. The land was rich and mellow, and they grew rapidly. At present the hedge is eight or ten feet high and presents a grand spectacle during August and September. From the road, especially in the evening, it looks like a big bank of snow. One year my father put in nearly two thousand cuttings, and very few of them failed to root. He has given away hundreds of plants to his neighbours, has sold several hundred dollars' worth, and has a thousand or more fine plants on his place.
And yet he has not followed it as a business, has not advertised, and has done comparatively little work at it - a few hours in the spring and fall, putting in cuttings and transplanting as the shrubs became crowded.
A neighbour has an acre or two of choice shrubs which he raised almost entirely from cuttings and divisions of plants that have been picked up here and there. He is a mechanic, and has only an occasional half-hour to spare for this work, and yet during the few years that he has owned this lot he has changed the barren hillside to a veritable garden of beauty. And I doubt if, outside of his work, it has cost him more than ten dollars.
Many of the cottage owners at Narragansett Pier - two miles away -have hedges of California privet set around their grounds. These hedges are pruned two or three times during the summer, and the cuttings are usually thrown beside the road. Occasionally persons going by have picked them up and carried them home. At present, there are probably twenty-five or thirty fine hedges in the vicinity which are the direct result of these cuttings. If the owners had purchased the plants from a nursery the hedges would have cost from ten to twenty dollars each; as it is, they cost only a few hours' labour. Privet cuttings root easily, and at any time from spring to fall.
Hydrangea - one of the most popular shrubs, and easily propagated at home.
A tunny corner grown wild with illace.
I have stated these facts merely to show how easy it is to acquire or increase shrubbery. Of course, not all plants increase with the same readiness. Some must be propagated by cuttings, some by layerings, some by grafting, and now and then there is one with which the amateur is sure to fail. But I venture to assert that, with the great majority of shrubs, the beginner will find but little difficulty. As a rule, I have found it best to insert the cuttings in the spring, before the buds have started. Most hardwood cuttings, if desired, may be prepared during the winter and placed in the cellar, to be ready to plant out as soon as the ground opens. Cover the bundles with a thin layer of soil, if the cuttings are to remain in the cellar for some time, to prevent drying. Hydrangeas and some other shrubs can be rooted as late as June. Willows and California privet will root any time during the summer.
Cuttings should be made from four to six inches in length, and if possible should be inserted in a moist piece of ground. They may be placed very close together in rows made just far enough apart to cultivate easily. At the end of the first year they will be large enough to transplant.
Another plant that bothered me at first was the hardy rose. I tried cuttings in the greenhouse and out, and in all seasons of the year, but met with indifferent success. At last I put cuttings in an old coldframe that was partly open to the weather. During the winter the frame was frequently half filled with snow, but the next spring I had a fine lot of thrifty young rose-bushes. If I had inserted the cuttings early in the spring, before the leaves started, I think they would have done just as well. A good plan would be to insert rose-cuttings between the rows of coldframe cabbage and cauliflower plants. It would save space, and both would come out in the best of condition for early transplanting.
These examples, I hope, will show that any one with patience and a little money can provide himself with choice shrubbery and plants; and there is a fascination in propagating plants that can be found in few other pursuits. I doubt if the merchant watches the market quotations with half the pleasurable interest that the propagator gives to the outcome of some of his experiments. Any boy or girl on a farm could have a small nursery in one corner of the garden. It would be a constant source of pleasure and instruction, and with little trouble could be made to yield a snug income.