Training plants to do things they wouldn't do if left to their own devices requires only a little special knowledge, and it is a venture often both rewarding and entertaining.
Espaliering is one method of plant training. Usually fruit trees are treated in this manner, and grown flat against buildings or walls in a variety of forms. Common espalier patterns are fan-shaped, U-shaped, pyramid, gridiron and bush. Training is done by pruning unwanted growth and tying the retained branches to conform to the desired pattern.
The same thing can be done with inexpensive and quick-growing shrubs like forsythia and Japanese quince, or with
small fruit bushes like currant and gooseberry. Many garden books supply adequate instructions on the technique of espaliering.
Cascade chrysanthemums are another man-made form which can be stunning on a garden wall or in a wall bracket. Starting with a young chrysanthemum slip, stems can be made to become long, drooping, blossom-laden affairs by pinching off all but one pliant main stem. This is tied to a stick and gradually led over the rim of the pot and down the garden wall. Sometimes narrow strips of chicken wire are suspended from the pot for the stems to cling to.
Other variations of this idea are an upright wire fan, or an old umbrella frame stuck upright in a pot, over which chrysanthemums are trained. Examples of these are in the Royal gardens at Windsor Castle.
The simplest form of plant training is the practice of pinching back, which forces certain annuals to branch out into bushier growth. This is done by severing (with the fingernails) the terminal growth just above a pair of leaves when plants are four to six inches high. A slight delay in blooming results, which might not please the anxious young gardener. To offset this he could pinch back only half of his plants, thus having both early blooming untrained plants and later blooming bushy plants-an object lesson in itself.
Plants that benefit from pinching back are: calendula, carnation, marguerite, geranium, marigold, petunia, dahlia, phlox, snapdragon, verbena and zinnia among others. Never pinch back spirelike flowers such as delphinium, larkspur, foxglove, stock and celosia, whose main beauty lies in the first central blossom.
The most complex feat of plant training is undoubtedly in Japanese tree-dwarfing (bonsai). Chapter 20 discusses this in some detail.
When a young gardener's interest lies in experimental or technical directions, see that he has access to reference books that will supply him with specific information. He may also
need, at least in the beginning, a bit of adult supervision and encouragement.
Despite the wonderful progress already made by science there are still many unsolved mysteries in the field of plant Me. There are forces at work that still baffle scientists, growth factors that elude them. Hitherto unknown chemicals of vast importance are constantly being found in plants, new species are being discovered, and new varieties being developed. Future recruits for this important branch of science must come from today's youngsters. The awakening of a small boy's curiosity in current scientific problems and achievements in horticulture may lead him naturally to a career without need of aptitude tests.