Gardeners are Propagators, too

Step across the threshold of a garden, and you may never be the same again.
Spend regular hours in the garden, and you will certainly begin to view the world differently.
You start out just wanting to create a little beauty around your house and end up learning about the habits of ants, bees and hummingbirds. Or your only desire is to plant a few petunias and roses to give color to your front entry, and yet, before you know it, you have become an expert in soil types, compost and fertilizers. You merely want to grow a few tomatoes, bell peppers and some lettuce for your salad, and all of the sudden here you are, schooled in sciences – like plant pathology and entomology – that you had barely heard of up till now.
Above all, perhaps, gardening teaches that the process is just as important as the result, that good preparation is a key element to success. If you have the right plant for the right location – that is, you provide each plant with the correct amount of light that it needs – you are bound to be somewhat successful. If, prior to planting, you amend the soil so that it drains well, and the roots of your plants can grow without hindrance, you will be even more successful. If, in the months after planting, you pay careful attention to watering – not over-watering but deep-soaking when you do water – you will be most successful of all.
Fifty years ago, it would seem, process was more in the forefront of our vision than it is today. I mention this after receiving a copy of the 1947 edition of the “Sunset Western Garden Book,” a best seller for 50 years, but whose content has undergone significant revision from one edition to the next. In the 1947 edition, in the plant encyclopedia section – that’s where each plant, with its growing requirements, is listed – a valuable piece of information not found in later editions is included techniques used for propagation of the listed species. In 1947, apparently, plants were more widely propagated by home gardeners than they are today. The value in learning how to propagate – from seeds, cuttings or divisions – is that you invariably become keenly aware of the soil and water requirements of a particular plant as you nurse it from seeding, rooted cutting or bulb to mature specimen. Unfortunately, the 1947 edition of the “Sunset Western Garden Book” is out of print. Not only did it give propagation guidelines for each plant, but it suggested a grouping of compatible species for each plant, a much-needed tip for novice gardeners.
For years, a manual has been sought that would put the gardener, of whatever level, in close touch with the processes of propagation. An excellent publication, simply called “Plant Propagation” (DK Publishing, 1999), has at last appeared, with techniques for propagating more than 1,500 species of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vines, ornamental grasses, vegetables, cactuses, orchids and ferns. There is even a detailed description of how to grow mistletoe – a plant that grows as a parasite on tree branches – from seed. This is probably the last book on propagation you will ever buy.
I was especially impressed with the attention paid to the propagation of California natives such as flannel bush (Fremontodendron) and California lilac (Ceanothus). Flannel bush is a wonderful background plant, with scads of yellow flowers, that requires absolutely zero water once established. The California lilac is the first native plant to bloom in the spring – in all shades of blue and white.
Hedge solution
Robert Wallace, the renowned arborist from Canoga Park, informs me that he has discovered a wonderful tree with which to make a tall, dense evergreen hedge. It is the Hillshire juniper, Juniperus virginiana “Cupressifolia,” which grows as a dark green, compact pyramidal tree to a height of 20 feet.
“Cupressifolia” means “cypress-leafed” and reminds us of the disease prone Leyland cypress, for which the Hillshire juniper would make an excellent substitute. No tree is more elegant than the Leyland cypress with its perfect, conical growth habit and fine, flattened leaves. However, within the first 10 years of life, the Leyland cypress is nearly always stricken with and then killed by coryneum canker fungus.

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