Saturday, February 20, 2010

We had a grafting workshop Friday at the Arboretum....we're not angry, we're just concentrating

I used to think I was an A-List plant geek, not by virtue of my knowledge, but because of my fanaticism. Well, guess what? It turns out I'm B at best! When I was in Fern Valley I got an inkling of this. There are rhododendron adepts, Don Hyatt for example, who know the plants of interesting populations (Gregory's Bale, Hooper Bald, et alia) as individuals. There are a lot of these people. And they've propagated all those plants, and kept records. You can walk through their gardens or nurseries, notice a beautiful plant, and they can show you pictures and tell you stories about the parent. Apparently many of the plants are named and regular pilgrimages provide continuous histories of their flowering, growth, winter damage, or occasionally theft. I can only marvel.It's surreal to listen to them talk amongst themselves.

It turns out that the American Conifer Society is riddled with individuals who have that same working familiarity with hundreds (thousands?) of witch's brooms around the world, and who has propagated them, and how, on what, where, and their histories. Wow. We had the privilege of having one of those experts instruct us in the fundamentals of grafting. Bill Barger holds many positions in the ACS including webmaster, Regional President (of the Central Region), and I believe he's slated to become national vice-president. He can  surely graft...and teach grafting. I was awkwardly clumsy with my first attempt, somewhat better with my second, and after a few hours felt fairly comforable. I sensed that most of us were on a similar learning curve.

We had a couple hours of theory to start with including not only different techniques, but also who goes on whom, and when, and how to prepare. I took 5 pages of notes, and came away feeling, as I often do after being introduced to a new subject by a true expert, that I have acquired knowledge unfairly, or at least too easily. It's feels like stealing. This information isn't in the public domain, it's one man's accumulated experience. He offered it to freely...still... Bill has done a lot of grafting and he admitted that it's his favorite activity.  If the outline of his instruction was invaluable, and it was, his parenthetical asides were priceless. I'll happily sit through a two day conference to come away with even one or two new concepts. Friday I got 5 pages in a few hours.

None of us had ever grafted much, most of us not at all. After one day, I think we're functional novices and no doubt some of us will continue training. Apparently we did have a prodigy, Carol, a Conifer Collection volunteer, the only volunteer at the session. Chris Carley was already talking about followup training including a late summer session that would coincide with the best period for grafting Japanese Maples.

The art appeals to me more than the product. I like that precision is required, and knowledge of both techniques and plants. I sort plant people, not judgmentally I hope, into those who really seem to relate to and understand plants, and those who like them and have a good idea of their needs. Bill is clearly the former. I'm looking forward to seeing how my attempts fare.


Anonymous said...

Maybe all this knowledge can be passed on to the more people in the general public that might be interested. A class offering at USNA?

ChrisU said...

I don't think any of us have a level of proficiency that would allow us to teach. Yet. But that would surely be a goal for down the road.