Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 9, 1972


Lecture 2, Part 2.9

An Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms

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Contents of this Segment:

Propagation of the strawberry; Must decide if the plant should be for fruit or for propagation, not both; Analogy to poultry reproduction; Must wait for the second and third year runners for best results; Remove runners from crop plants, blossoms from propagation plants; Runnerless strawberries propagated by crown division; Hybridization and retrogression of plant and animal stock; Taking seed; Reintroduction of origin plants in strains is advisable; Raising seed in the home garden.

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Villa Montalvo Lecture Series

Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 2,

Propagation, Part 9



The propagation of the strawberry is a huge and fascinating matter. The origin strawberries, such as many of the frese de bois and the alpines, being origins, are propagatable from seed and therefore make the best plants from seed, and can then be planted out, and even sown in beds and used that way. However, the two variations of the cultured strawberry are: the crown that does not make a runner, and the crown that does make a runner. And here is a huge, important rule that constitutes this matter: At all times you must go for culture. And I am going to talk about seed very shortly, taking your own seed, because it is such a huge and important matter.

But with the strawberry, at all times in the garden you’ve got to think of, “I want to do better. I want this to be more wonderful.” Just like your children, whom you adore and that you have a sense of possession of, that you want to be as perfect as children can ever be. It’s the same with plants. And if you allow your strawberry plants that make runners, for instance, if you allow them to have their crop, and to have family, you will not get the supreme culture of an improved plant over what you’ve got. If you want to improve on the strawberry plant that you’ve got, you have got to say, “There is a certain time of growth, and a certain technical method whereby I can improve this whole bed of strawberries.” And this method is this:

First of all, you’ve got to assess the life of the plant. And you must remember that it’s rather like a hen and a pullet. When you rear chickens and you have pullets (which, after all, is a seven-month bird) it begins to lay at seven months, and it doesn’t need to be with a cockerel to lay an egg, as you know. And at seven months, the pullet starts laying. Well, if you happen to have a cockerel with it, those eggs are fertile and they will hatch. They are useless as chickens, and are absolutely inferior to the bird that you’ve got, no matter how good the cockerel may be, or where it’s come from. Those chicks are going to come from an immature hen, a pullet. It’s not beyond its equinox.

At one year, that bird becomes a hen. During the year following, is the prime of its primavera. It is the time to put a three-month-older cockerel with that hen, and to hatch from the eggs. And you will get better birds than you have got, providing you cull the birds, and know what the birds are laying in the way of eggs, and what the incubation is. It is exactly the same with the strawberry plant. The strawberry plant that has come from a runner is not to be propagated from the first year. It is not at its zenith. The second and third years are the two years to take the runners. The fourth year, of which you can consider a strawberry bed to live, is already in declination and is not advisable. You have got retrogression. So the second and third year you have got to say to yourself, “I have a bed of a hundred strawberry plants. I want another bed of a hundred strawberry plants.”

What you must do is… You must cut your bed in half. And you must say, “That half I will have for strawberries this year. This half I will have for family.” And you won’t have either of the other on the other. On the crop, you will stop all runners so that you get good crop. On this, you will remove every blossom as soon as it appears. And when the runners begin, you will reduce all runners to two per plant, so that you have an enormous approach into those two. Everything of the vitality of the parent will go into those two. Some plants will give you fifteen and sixteen runners, and of course, they will be a retrogression.

Thereby, you will get one hundred plants from the fifty. And you will get an excellent crop from that fifty. And now you will have your new bed for next year. And so you can go on. And that is the propagation of the strawberry.

And the crown division strawberry, the one that doesn’t make a runner, applies the same except that it is a crown division and not taken from runner. That is, that at two years or three years you lift the plant and insert two forks, back to back, into the root part of the crown and tear it asunder. And you have got two plants.  And you do likewise  wherever there is a crown… more than one crown position on the plant, you may divide and get individual plants.

This applies to rhubarb, asparagus, and all such plants, and indeed practically all plants of the herbaceous, and all of those should be done at least every four years in the herbaceous divisions of propagation.

Let us go quickly onto seed, which is so important a matter. I imagine that everybody who gardens is aware that seed matters are becoming more and more and more complicated. Hybridization, of which the Greeks warned us of the dangers: That you may cross this with this, which is not an entirely natural procedure. And you may do it the once, and don’t try it again. Don’t go any further, because if you do you will start retrogression in some angle or other, for certain.

With your chickens that we’ve just been talking about, if you put a Rhode Island Red with a White Leghorn, you may separate your cocks and hens the day they’re born, the first day. You can tell the difference. And that those hens, those pullets that come out of that cross, will probably lay slightly more eggs than the mothers did. They will be a half-ounce smaller. And that if you cross them again, you will lose on both, for certain.

And this applies in the whole plant world likewise. You may cross once, and take what happens. But if you cross again onto a hybrid, you will start running into serious troubles. This is what the whole of orcharding has done today. They no longer graft onto origins. They graft onto what you would call cultured and hybrid stocks, and it’s run into endless, endless troubles. This is where flavor, color, scent, and all the beautiful things of origin vanish, go out. The strawberry of today, the tomato of today, the potato of today… You might just as well eat a turnip. And it’s because of this disrupt of propagative laws that has taken place.

Another matter concerning taking your own seed: one should always consider the vitality of origin. That at some period of your intense procedures of culture, your approach, your imagination in the world of culture—this with that because this is more beautiful and that is wonderful… the scent of this and the flavor of that put together. But what are you doing? What, adding culture to culture, culture to culture, and you have forgotten creation, origin. And you’ve got weaknesses. It’s like living in a town on cream and sugar.

So, at some time, it’s advisable to reintroduce an origin in your pollinations.  However, what I am really getting at is this. That the nurserymen of today are using methods of culture such as: the fertilization of chemicals, manipulation of soil whereby fertility is decreasing all the time, atmospheres are decreasing. The pollination of insects are being interpollinated by unnatural methods or methods not of entirely nature. And all of these matters are affecting the future of the family of plants that come about from the seed. That there is a slight retrogression. And that the seed is taken from the slight retrogression, and a further retrogression. And so it becomes an increase of downward.

You, with your own garden, can largely avoid this matter. By the manipulation of beautiful, cultured soil, excellent cultivations, of good practices, you can stipulate that you will grow your own seed in many cases, not in all, but in many cases. And you can even do it without isolations, providing sometimes, in some cases, you grow in different areas to your cropping area, sometimes. For instance, with the sugar pea, the petit poi sucre that you eat in the pod, or the sweet pea of bloom, either of these is retrogressing today at an enormous pace by extreme hybridization. You can take your own seed from these, and you can have an immediate uplift, in both your crop, the quality of your crop, the flavor, and the robustness, and certainly the nutrient quality. And the method you must apply is again something like that strawberry business. You must think of culture.




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