Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 23, 1972


Lecture 4, Part 4.6

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

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Contents of this Segment:

Growing from seed is much more economical and satisfactory than buying plants; Anemones; Lilies; Begonias; Economy of growing from seed.



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Villa Montalvo Lecture Series

Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 4,

The Totality of the Garden, Part 6



Just to say very briefly, that I am going to try to go very fast. And if you have problems, you know, pull me up. I wanted to discuss an enormous number of angles of the enchantments of gardens tonight. I wanted to discuss landscaping. I wanted to discuss knot gardens, and topiary gardens, and parteers, and pergolas, and layouts and things—we obviously shan’t have time.

I want to go back, first of all, to two matters. One is that there is a small book there called, Lucas: Nature’s Medicines. In that book is a whole fascinating matter, edited and supported entirely by the medical world, of a statement of herbs and their uses and their values, and a list of addresses of all the stores, in the different states of the United States of America, at which you can get tinctures, powders, herbs, and so on. Out of that book you will find the addresses near the back. So that little book, Lucas: Nature’s Medicines has that in. It’s a very, very excellent and wonderful compilation.

I want to go back, please, to the subject of seed growing. This wonderful place has, unquestionably, sown its own seeds of garden that’s going to bloom. And this is somewhat a little bit relative to the matter. It’s also relative to the whole enchantment of everybody’s approach in the garden. That you can buy plants from a nursery, you can send away for trees and shrubs and bulbs and lilies and everything else ad lib. And you can spend fortunes. And gradually you lose the magics and enchantments of the birth that takes place of the garden.

What I am alluding to, of course, is that you can grow almost every single thing that belongs to the garden from seed. And although, in some cases, it takes a little bit longer—few hundred years—it doesn’t matter. But the magic and enchantment that you derive from having grown your own trees from seed, from having grafted your own pear or avocado, having budded your own grape or your rose, is a magic inimitable. It’s like going to the store and buying a pound of tomatoes or having grown the whole thing in your garden. It’s another world. And if you think there is really any serious problem in it, you are very, very mistaken. It is far easier and far more satisfactory to grow your plants from seed.

Just as an instance: All those carnations were all grown from seed four years ago. They can then, each single variety that you like, can be reiterated by cuttings from the plant. But the origin of the matter is that they were grown from seed. This is the Enfant de Nice. Then there is the Rivera Giant. Then there is the Chabaud. Then there is the little Plumaris, or pink. And they can all be grown originally from seed.

And having grown a number from seed, you can say, “Oh, but I adore this one. How wonderful that one is. What a delicious scent that one has got.” And you can take cuttings from them, and you can have a whole bed of those. Indeed there’s one carnation here… when I can find it, which I can’t… that I grew something like… I have grown something like now five thousand plants from a cutting, one cutting that a dear lady in Santa Cruz gave me four years ago. And of course, the propagation is just endless.

Now, if you look at these anemones… You see all these plants, which are all reasonably connected with their origin, you can raise them from seed, and they will come true, but with variation on a theme. You can never be sure what colors you’re going to get, if you take the seed of these carnations, but you will get Enfant de Nice. And you’ll get a whole amalgamation of variety from them. And again with this anemone, it is so origin in itself, still, that all of these… As a matter of fact, we have been cutting twenty thousand blooms a day. And it all came from last year I sent to Mrs. Parks—they were the only people I was able to get it from—the original stock of the anemone De Caen, Monarch De Caen, the single anemone. Which, out of very few flowers, the single lasts better than the double; the double is St. Brigit. The single anemone actually lasts longer and better than the double, which is a very rare matter.

Now the single has this wonderful big eye. And it has this huge voluptuousness of emanation of color, which makes it one of the best cutting flowers that there is, lasting for two weeks in water, and a great delight. Now it is so still origin that I took, from this one hundred corms that I bought and planted, I culled and took my own seed, which is a kind of cotton wool emanation when it blooms. It’s a wonderful, mad seed that suddenly flies off on the breeze and makes everybody sneeze. And from the seed of those one hundred corms, I allowed no more than two blooms per corm, and took the seed from, and we planted twenty-thousand corms from October through to January.

And as a result of that, we are able to cut twenty thousand blooms a day. And that will actually go on until the end of July. And then those corms will go into dormancy, will be lifted and stored and planted again three months before their wanted time for blooming, which should be in the winter, of course. That’s when you want the blooms. You can begin these to bloom at the end of November or the beginning of December; simply plant three months before that.

Now what I am getting at is that any of these… All these were raised from seed. Sweet peas all raised from seed, the Papaver… And we have thousands of lilies of which you would pay a dollar a bulb, if you bought them. We have thousands of lilies of all varieties: from the Candidums, that is the Madonna lily, through the Regales, through the Tigrinums, through the Auratums… And you simply buy $0.50, $0.60, $0.80 for a packet of seed. And you have a thousand dollars worth of bulbs blooming in two years, sometimes in less, sometimes in more.

You see it’s a huge world of propagation that the cost is almost nil. You can raise thousands of trees of the rarest kinds from a packet of seeds. If you look up Mr. Park… Park imports from all over the world: tree and shrub and rare plant seeds. And you’ve only to send to them a nice little letter and say, “Dear Mr. Park, We think you’re a wonderful firm. Please send me a packet of seeds.” And they probably won’t even charge you! And they will also sometimes, if you need it, give you notes on what to do. But the magic of the whole of this…

And you see, when you’re going to set up a fabulous thing like a communal garden, which everybody is going to enjoy growing things that they don’t know very much about… For instance, all the Rex Begonias… They’re very expensive to buy, and you can simply get a little packet of seed. You can’t see them; it looks like dust. And you sow them. And after three months under glass you begin to wonder whether you’d better buy some more seed. And suddenly the whole thing is a tiny invisible green lawn. And from there you prick-out and grow.

And the whole thing becomes a magic because the whole invisibility of nurseryman and growers, who always pretend, like doctors, that their whole world is a secret, it suddenly becomes visible to you and you realize the magics of it all. And it is magics, of course. And you also learn, in this way, from growing from seed, you learn all the characteristics and the personalities of these plants, which you don’t learn otherwise.

Another matter, of course, is that you will find by looking up these terrible catalogues that sell everything ready for the garden, packed in a kind of thing they call “soil with seed sown,” this monstrosity...





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