This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Is there any more bewitching occupation that reasonable mortals can engage in than the propagation of new and rare hardy trees and shrubs? To see springing up around you the thrifty rows of little beauties collected by loving hands from the uttermost parts of the earth, nature's darlings, the pride of many distant people, and the surprise and delight of our own countrymen, is a pure and daily new sensation, whose bright charm keeps us always children in our quick impressibility and enthusiasm.
The exciting quest of new and unknown trees, in unvisited lands, the search through hidden valleys and over wild mountains for the strange forms of plant life which every country - almost every little island - is sure to present to the quick eye of the trained botanist, is a pleasure of a kindred sort; but this is the privilege of only a select few who are ready to endure fatigue, discomfort, even to brave death itself, in their devotion to this absorbing pursuit. We, at home, receive the benefits of this enthusiastic devotion, and have their choicest discoveries to admire and handle, without any of their sacrifices.
We get from far Japan a "Cercidiphyllum," perhaps, and we prepare an ideal soil for it that shall, we hope, cause it to express its satisfaction by a quick responsive growth. We study all its parts, and its habits; we make up our mind how best to propagate it, for that is the great and absorbing question from the first, how to produce many from one, so that all who desire it can at last have a fac simile to plant in their own grounds.
We first try to root cuttings in the simplest and most common way, from the growing tips. It refuses, point blank, to root in this vulgar way, and, although somewhat disconcerted, we cherish it all the more for its aristocratic reserve. We wait till winter and try hard cuttings - surely hard wood will root easily if soft wood will not, and we shall see with raptures the sturdy white roots break forth to make a rooted plant, and another. But no! we have not found the key yet to its secret habit of growth, and it baffles us again. Well! thanks to an older student of nature, we can graft it upon some related tree - we shall compel our reticent guest to obey us and multiply, this time. We look about us for the stock to graft on, and lo! there is no kith or kin to be found of relationship near enough to persuade it to grow on borrowed roots! What next to do? We can layer it, but that is so slow, and our tree is so very small. To wait for seed to mature is not to be thought of; our friends are waiting anxiously for their little tree to plant out. Some way there surely is, if we can only hit upon it. One more means occurs - to graft it upon pieces of its own root.
It is done, it succeeds, and the reluctant beauty is won! Two years later and we have some rows of little trees growing as contentedly as if on their native heath. Next we receive a cherry tree with fine, drooping branches and double, rose-colored blossoms, so 'tis said. This is the favorite drooping tree of the Japanese, and it gives us no trouble at all - it takes readily on our garden cherry trees, and one more fair tree has come to stay. Then how the imagination clothes with romantic interest the planting, the gradual germination, the final sprouting and unfolding of such seeds as a certain seven that we are the happy possessor of - seeds of that rare and almost extinct genus of trees, now only known to exist in a few small trees as high as a man, in a little clump on the top of Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope - the Leucodendron argenteum. This tree, which bears its seeds in a magnificent cone of large size, like a pine cone - although now a true conifer - has lanceolate leaves, seven inches long by one and a half broad, completely covered with a pearly-bluish, satiny nap, with long, satiny hairs on the edges of the leaves, which is, without exception, the most beautiful foliage that ever fell under our notice.
No description can make it real to those who have not seen it; but have we not the cone and the leaves? And how we watched those precious seven black seeds! To our surprise they proved entirely tractable and seem to put on no airs because they are the " last of their race" and the handsomest trees in the world! Common pots of clay are hardly good enough for such visitors, but we will not put them in fancy ware - they might not like it. Who talks of the pleasures of dress, or fine fare, or of gold, beside the proud delight of the true propagator, who sees each blessed morning the cotyledons of those tiny wonders stretching out broader and thicker, and greener, and the satiny plumule - hope of the race, ah! - pushing up between. To rehabilitate such a genus of fast disappearing trees would be enough to have lived for. Then the interest of bringing into existence a multitude of such rose bushes as Anna de Diesbach, Alfred Colomb, and Jacqueminot. What visions of form, color and fragrance does the very name of rose conjure up. The rudest workman stops to wonder, and is half ashamed of his admiration of the full roses. And the sincere cultivator is not a jealous man.
He can see, without envy, any improvement in method which his more original and experienced neighbor makes use of to help along his colony of seedlings and graftings. The rural "grafter," who knows only the art to rudely cleave and graft his fruit trees, would look with unmixed wonder at the process of grafting the rare conifers and oaks, as practiced by a Dawson and a Trumpy. And so there is no more instructive or fascinating spot to a lover of fine and rare plants in this country than the famous Arnold Arboretium, near Boston, where that remarkable botanist and propagator, Mr.
Jackson Dawson, is at work, growing, testing and thoroughly proving the trees of every land to find the best for our own climate. The place has become a Mecca and a fountain-head for all thorough workers in the related trades, and is a centre whence is flowing a constant stream of the rarest and most practical information on the subject of both native and foreign plants. Long may it continue to be a means of benefiting our whole land. Truly to be a good propagator is as noble a trade as a brilliant man need aspire to, and is surer to bring its meed of fame. Somerville, Mass.