A Passion for Propagation
I’ve always found there to be an element of wonder and curiosity in sowing seeds and waiting for them to germinate; or taking a cutting and watching it seem to shrivel before it unexpectedly bursts into new growth; or grafting two stems together to observe them slowly fuse together. The ability of plants to regenerate, renew and reproduce is placed front and centre in the techniques of propagation – which seem to lie firmly in the overlap between art and science.
Seeds from tropical trees I propagated while working at the city forest
From the first time I began growing things, I became fascinated with the minute details of these techniques – and how each plant needed a slightly different approach informed by an understanding of its preferences, natural habits and characteristics. I started with the basics: softwood cuttings of houseplants like coleus; growing annual flowers and salad greens from seeds; dividing bunches of daylilies in my garden… Gradually, the more I read, practiced and spoke to more experienced growers, I learnt more complex techniques – air layering the citrus trees in my yard; grafting mulberry saplings (my favourite fruit as a child) in early spring; and germinating many species of tropical trees from seeds which each needed unique care.
Tropical tree seeds (Cassia fistula) a few weeks after germination
In high school, I sought out opportunities where I could broaden my skills and knowledge while practicing on many different plants. I volunteered in the nursery at my local city forest helping to grow native trees and shrubs for habitat-restoration efforts, and apprenticed at the Auroville Botanical Gardens in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where I learned how to grow collections of exotic plants. My love for propagation only grew (pun intended?) and with each new experience – be it a success or failure – I acquired a deeper understanding and appreciation of the plants I worked with.
Calculating seed viability by tests on damp paper towels
The wonderful thing about propagation is that there’s something in it for everyone. Whether you are a beginner or someone with years of experience, there is always room for more experimentation and growth. The Young Propagators Society was founded to unite people who are similarly interested – so that they could discuss, interact and learn from each other. The steadily growing self-published zine (distributed both in paper form and online) combines tips and tricks, interviews, articles and art – all with the common background of propagation. The recently launched YPS website allows members to share and communicate more directly, and aims to promote a global and inter-generational flow of scientific knowledge and horticultural skill. I have been able to ask other growers about the methods they use, the materials they employ, and the results they observe – and I have gained much from these exchanges. The YPS has also encouraged me to share my experiences with a passionate and nurturing community, and has ensured that we – as gardeners – continue to grow.
Nursery beds at the nursery at the Auroville Botanical Gardens
You can look up the YPS website here: https://www.youngpropsoc.com