Book of the Month for Oct 2014

Creative Propagation, Second Edition, Peter Thompson, Timber Press (2005); 359 pp, softcover, out of print, available used from $7.00 on Amazon

Creative Propagation
Jan Jeddeloh

Gardeners who enjoy gardening for the sheer joy of it inevitably end up as propagators too.  For some of us spreading the wealth is one of the main pleasures of gardening.  How can you not want to share that much admired plant with others?  As a member of the propagating gardening tribe I’ve collected many propagation books over the years.  One of my favorites is Creative Propagation by Peter Thompson. 

Thompson, who died in 2008, held an M. Sc and Ph.D in horticulture from London University.  He was head of Plant Physiology at Kew in the Seed Unit.  After leaving Kew he owned Oldfield Nurseries.  He is also the author of The Propagator’s Handbook, The Self Sustaining Garden and Seeds, Sex and Civilization.

Creative Propagation is written for the serious amateur.  This is not a book for your neighbor who wants to know how to germinate her marigold seeds. His seed science chapter offers multiple graphs of the methods seeds use to delay germination until the optimum time.  This level of explanation and attention to detail is evident throughout the book.  Flow charts and line drawings are the most common illustrations and are generally clearer than the photographs. 

So what plants are covered in the book?  Obviously no propagation book can cover the world’s plant species but Thompson gives it his best shot. Included is propagation information on alpines, cycads, ferns, carnivorous plants, aquatic plants, mistletoe and orchids.  His chapter on orchids and bromeliads include a method for germinating orchid seeds for home gardeners.  It would be most interesting to see the success of such methods.  Even lichens and welwitschia (good luck finding seed!) receive a brief mention. 

The book does have some quirks.  For bulbs he divides seed germination into seven responses with such rather unorthodox names like Regale Lily Response, Martagon Response and Trillium Response.  Most of us call these epigeal and hypogeal germination and double dormancy.  The information is valuable but the labeling is a bit odd.  He also uses the term lianes for what most of us call vines with the explanation, “The term liane is used in this book to provide a neutral term for plants free from the various connotations raised by the alternatives in different parts of the English-speaking world.”  I wasn’t aware that “vine” was somehow a controversial terms. Despite these quibbles the book is a valuable reference for the confirmed propaholic. 

If you’re trying to bring a beginning gardening friend into the propagating fold consider Thompson’s The Propagator’s Handbook, Fifty Foolproof Recipes.  This book is less technical and the layout is friendlier to the non-fanatic. 

Unfortunately both Creative Propagation and The Propagator’s Handbook are out of print but they are readily and cheaply available on the used book market.