A Propagating Workshop with the Barnes Arboretum

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Located just outside Philadelphia, the Barnes Arboretum is a beautiful and educational garden of over 3,000 plant varieties that surrounds the original home of the Barnes Foundation art collection. We visited this spring as the trees were just beginning to blossom, and recently stopped by to enjoy one of the many workshops offered at the Arboretum throughout the year. At the latest workshop, attendees had a chance to hone their propagating skills with horticultural expert Bruce Keyser. We caught up with Nicole Juday, head of educational programming at the Barnes, to learn more about the event and see what's on the calendar for fall.

terrain: Tell us a bit about workshops at the Arboretum. What types of programs do you offer throughout the seasons?

Nicole: We work with the most talented design and horticulture specialists for our workshops, which are usually day-long programs or a short series of weekly sessions. Our goal is for participants to come away with a new skill that they can apply in their own gardens. We just finished a container design series taught by a gardener at Chanticleer, where students got to design their own container plantings in the Chanticleer style, as well as a day-long workshop on identifying and using hardy ferns, which was really fun.

terrain: We learned a lot at the recent propagating workshop! Can you share a bit about the event and its leader, Bruce Keyser?

Nicole: You might think that all plants start with a seed, but some species of woody plants won’t come true from seed or don’t germinate easily. So, we like to start these from stem cuttings. This is generally a simple technique, but each type of stem will form roots a little differently, depending on whether the wood is soft or hard and the time of year. Bruce has taught at the Barnes Arboretum School for over 40 years and is the best propagator we know. He can root anything! He taught students how to build their own sweatboxes (mini greenhouses to help plants root), and techniques for propagating a variety of shrubs and trees from cuttings. Everyone brought home a bunch of plants they started. Once they’re rooted, they can be planted and will be substantial additions to the garden in a few years.

terrain: What plants did attendees have a chance to propagate?

Nicole: Workshop participants propagated some classic shrubs such as Taxus cuspidata ‘Emerald Spreader’ and Spirea nipponicum ‘Snowmound,’ but they also got to take home cuttings of rare collector's plants, like Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow,’ Lonicera korolkowii (known as Blueleaf Honeysuckle), Clethra barbinervis, and Rhododendron ‘Janet Blair.’ 

terrain: What role does the sweatbox play in the propagating process?

Nicole: Plants need their roots to draw up moisture and stay hydrated during transpiration. A sweatbox keeps the air around the cuttings humid, so that the plants being propagated don’t lose too much moisture and wither before new roots have a chance to form.

terrain: Which upcoming workshops are you especially looking forward to? 

Nicole: In September, artist and Landscape Architect Jeffrey Charlesworth will be teaching a workshop on how to create beautifully illustrated garden sketchbooks, and Landscape Architect Jules Bruck is leading a garden design workshop called Design with Confidence!, in which students will learn how to use design principles and landscape graphics to resolve existing problem areas in their gardens, or to establish new gardens. We’ll be resuming our Botanical Illustration series in the fall as well.

Plan a visit to the Barnes Arboretum and see the full calendar of upcoming workshops.

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