Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another. John Muir
Those of us who attended Keith Park’s presentation on Preserving the John Muir Sequoia experienced an insightful treatment of preservation horticulture in the real world. I was fortunate to have already learned of this preservation project at a National Park Service workshop at Fort Vancouver, WA last year. That workshop encouraged me to take a closer look at the Lord & Schryver plant collection that I oversee as the Garden Manager |Curator.
Much behind the scenes work goes into collecting, curating, and preserving the amazing collection of plants at Gaiety Hollow. Visitors to the garden have most likely noticed small metal tags hanging from the woody plant material. These tags hold accession numbers linked to a database that records the key characteristics of each plant, including the era in which they were introduced to the garden.
Plants age, become diseased, and sometimes simply up and die without any reason or warning. Maintaining detailed records helps curators track plant growth and anticipate future problems. Taking cuttings is a popular propagation method, however, caution is required as one can potentially clone the same pathogen that caused the specimen’s demise. Propagation by seeds is another avenue, although genetic variability may be an issue.
The Osmanthus heterophyllus acc# H0076 at the end of the West Allee is a good example of the Conservancy’s work in preservation horticulture. Billing records show that Edith and Elizabeth purchased an Osmanthus illicifolius (heterophyllus) in 1954. This is likely the same plant that is currently suffering at the end of the West Allee. It has tip dieback, yellowing foliage, and is struggling to find it’s place under the now much larger Osmanthus fragrans and the ever growing Holly Hedge. Fortunately, it put out a great crop of seeds this past summer so we have other options than cloning.
One benefit of collecting seeds is that if handled right, many species can be stored for long periods of time. Seed banks have been created that specialize in this sort of preservation. Seeds must be kept cool and dry to maintain viability for long periods of time. Saving seeds is a key aspect of preservation horticulture that gardeners can practice themselves. The Rae Selling Berry Botanic Garden is a famous example of a private estate garden turned botanic treasure. It eventually morphed into the Seed Banking program at Portland State University to preserve rare native plant seeds.
Whether it be sticking cuttings, making layers, or collecting and sowing seeds, preserving Gaiety Hollow’s plant collection is ongoing work as plants age, or new pests and diseases threaten the collection.