On page 14 of this issue, we feature the work of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, which is striving to help restore the environment through the preservation of ancient trees – those that have lived through decades, if not centuries, and have proved to provide strong, ameliorative characteristics. Such eco-responsibility is not new to the green industry, although in recent years nursery professionals have been challenged to defend their work as a new wave of environmental awareness has reawakened the general population. Looking back 50-plus years, we find that readers of American Nurseryman were just as cognizant of their responsibilities as they are today.

In the September 1, 1960, issue, E. Sam Hemming addressed the topic in is regular column, “This Business of Ours: Reflections on the Problems of Nurserymen.” The title of this issue’s column is, “The nurseryman and conservation.”

He writes:

The public does not particularly look upon the nurseryman as an expert on conservation, nor does the nurseryman generally think of himself as a conservationist. Yet in many phases of conservation he is an expert, and in a few phases he has the best of all insights.

It is the nurseryman who grows the products that are used in making gardens out of bulldozed new lands or in renewing areas that were once slums. His products are used to heal the scars made in the countryside by new highways and other construction. All reforestation is accomplished through techniques the nurseryman knows well. By merely growing his many beautiful plants he makes the general public conscious of plants, their beauty and attractiveness, their many uses and their importance.

Sees Fallacies

Perhaps the reason the nurseryman does not emphasize his place in conservation is that, through his insight into the behavior of plants, he realizes that some of the present thoughts on conservation are founded on false bases, and it is difficult for him to get excited about them.

He does not, of course, condone the careless destruction of plant life and other natural assets, but he realizes that a plant is a living thing, with a definite life cycle, during which it can be used and enjoyed and after which it can easily be replaced.

The nurseryman knows that it is meaningless to include such plants as dogwood and holly on conservation lists, for nature will replenish the supply unaided, and, if it were commercially profitable to do so, he could grow them by the millions.

Even the rare plants, whose natural increase is dependent upon nature’s furnishing precise ecological conditions, could be multiplied, in all probability, beyond their occurrence before the settling of the country.

Such plants as epigaea, fringed gentians and certain terrestrial orchids have always been rare, but if the same production efforts were directed toward these as are devoted to commercial orchids, they could probably be grown in quantity.

Every rare plant that nurserymen successfully introduce to gardeners rapidly goes through certain stages. The first of these is a short period of popularity and highly profitable propagation. Next, if the plant remains popular, it is soon overpropagated, and profits decline. Finally, it may become so plentiful that propagation is unprofitable.

Nature Keeps Fighting

The nurseryman in the operation of his nursery comes to realize that if there is anything nature abhors more than a vacuum, it is the absence of plant life from even a square foot of cultivated soil. His main difficulty in growing plants is not in propagating or producing them, but rather in keeping nature from beating him to it with some unwanted plant. This is true not only of annual and herbaceous weeds, but of trees. Even the afore-mentioned holly and dogwood come up all over the area where birds have carried the seeds.

The same rules apply when any natural area is abused or despoiled. While it is possible to ruin such an area permanently, it is actually difficult, for nature constantly fights to restore plant life.

Earlier in the article, mention was made of propagation for reforestation. A little calculation shows it is possible to raise 500,000 pine seedlings in a 20×50-foot greenhouse. These seedlings, when planted out, would cover more than 5,000 acres.

Certainly no one is more conscious of the soil and its importance than is a nurseryman. His concern in this regard extends not only to his own nursery, but also to any property which he landscapes. When he hears the conservationist say it takes a hundred years to make an inch of topsoil, he knows that this statement, true in nature, is only a half truth in soil dynamics.

The nurseryman knows that he can take run-down land and, with the expenditure of a very considerable sum of money and labor, rehabilitate it to full fertility in five years. Often on landscape jobs, by radical substitution and correction of deficiencies, he can rehabilitate poor soil in one season.

In actuality, conservation is an economic problem, rather than a natural or a physical one; in time, no doubt, it will be brought into its proper perspective.