University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

Making More Plants
Ken Druse. 2000.  Clarkson Potter Publ, 256pp, hardcover.

One of the few plant propagation references devoted primarily to ornamental plants, it is also one of the few how-to books so artistically illustrated with photos. Award-winning and popular author and photographer Ken Druse has combined years of propagation experience, with over 500 photos both illustrating quite clearly the concepts and practices of propagation or over 700 genera and providing inspiration with artists eye. It is easily read, with clever chapter introductions and titles such as "Play Misty" for rooting cuttings with mist, "Too Closed for Comfort?" for allowing some air into the rooting chamber, or "Trouble in Paradise" for potential diseases. This book would be appropriate in the potting shed, on the coffee table, or for bedside reading.

Of course any such reference begins with a section on the underlying botany. Although most might yawn at this and skip it, you may not if you read his introduction paragraph. "It is not essential to learn about botany to garden well: it's inevitable. Why is the science of plants relevant to the propagator? For the same reason that the physician needs to know about human physiology."

The next third of the book has 4 chapters on seeds sowing: why sow? hunting and gathering, conditioning (preparing seeds for best germination meeting any specific needs, and finally sowing. An example of the marvel not found in more scientific texts, is in his description of "why sow?". "Sexual propagation comes down to the seed. Shake a few seeds into the palm of your hand and behold the essence of creation. This dazzling feat of packaging compresses all the genetic information necessary to reproduce an entire plant, plus opportunities for travel and, often, some sustenance for the journey."

Most of this book is on various aspects of vegetative propagation from cuttings to roots, and even "geophytes" or the group of bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes. Again, writing from the perspective of a layperson rather than a scientific author, "When we propagate plants from seed, we get to play midwife. Plants can also reproduce in ways that are harder for humans to relate to, generating entire new entities from bits and pieces." It's these "bits and pieces" he covers in succeeding chapters, even complex processes such as forms of layering are easily described and well-illustrated (if only it were that simple!). At the end is a lengthy A-Z list of genera and their propagation requirements, glossary of terms, resources, common name cross-reference, and good index.

Throughout the book is great, easily understood advice from the author as well as from the many experts he has consulted. Still have concerns about your ability to propagate plants? Consider some of his closing words. "To become a great propagator, you must have patience, but to begin to propagate plants, all you need is curiosity. There will be triumphs, and there will surely be misses in your experience. Even great gardeners have experienced failure." From one of our foremost propagators in the country now, he quotes "Been there, killed that." But look at the positive. "In propagation, just as in all kinds of parenting, sometimes it is necessary to let go. But I can truly say that I have never lost a plant without learning something."

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