Monday, June 23, 2014

A rare plant mentor.

Boyd Kline, ca 1977
I have had more than my share of mentors, beginning with my brothers-in-law (and of course my parents), and Paul Maslin. Although over the course of years I probably only spent a sum total of a few weeks with Boyd Kline, his influence on me is surely equal to any others that  I've had. I was in my late teens when I first requested a catalog from Siskiyou Rare Plants. I don't know how Boyd and Lawrence divvied up the new prospects, but I ended up with Boyd. I wanted Lawrence (who did the ferns and woodlanders--and bulbs). Of course, Boyd did bulbs too (I didn't know that back then) and was much the more assertive of the two: if he decided he liked you, you got his full attention. and that made quite a difference in my life as you shall see...

Boyd passed away this month: a fuller obituary written by his son can be found on the NARGS website

I have often said I am a graduate of the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery correspondence school of horticulture. I ordered from the nursery spring and fall--for many, many years actually. I memorized their catalog--researching every new plant that showed up every year. I think I ordered almost everything they offered at one point of another--all of which seemed to grow (a surprising number have become rock garden classics, and even landscape plants via our partnership). Everything Boyd and Lawrence did was unprecedented at the time, and just plain "dandy" (a term Boyd liked to use).  Every order I would get there would be a long and chatty note from Boyd, in his gorgeous script, asking after this or that (I guess I sent similar chatty notes when I ordered). And there would be an un-Godly number of "Bonus" plants--I always wondered if he did this with everyone. What do you think?

I would like to convey something of the man: his folksy, cheerful way. His omnipresent smile, his boundless energy and positive vibe. His phenomenal grasp of plants, nature, people. His gentle heart.

In late June of 1977 Boyd drove out to Colorado and he, Paul and I spent a raucous week or so careening througout the Rockies. At camps here and there Boyd would regale us of stories about Marcel LePiniec and the other great Siskiyou plantsmen, of his life in the Postal Service and his real life at the Nursery. He took tons of slides, which he put into a program that he gave at an American Rock Garden Society (not NARGS yet) study weekends--spreading word that there were plants and horticulture in Colorado.

Our correspondence flew more rapidly and the bonus plants proliferated, and my knowledge of alpines and steppe plants ballooned through this mail order bromance: it is hard to express the magic that I would feel when I'd see the hefty box on the porch, and unpack the fragrant plants, one by one--lovingly grown, lovingly packaged and delivered with such promise. And then would come months of study, observation and delectation...plants that traced to Peter Davis expeditions in Turkey, obtained from Kath Dryden, and all the greatest plants people of the day in Europe. The choicest alpines from the Himalaya, steppe plants from the Caucasus, Mediterraneans and all manner of Western Americans. Tradescantia longipes from the Ozarks (descendants of which Mike Kintgen just propagated at Denver Botanic Gardens). Let's not begin, or I shall never stop...

A few years later he and Lawrence sold the nursery--to my horror. I was out there the year they did so, and met Baldassare Mineo and Jerry Cobb Colley, who mollified me with their enthusiasm, and subsequently  took  the nursery to new heights, albeit in a different way. Boyd assured me it was for the best--he'd done it long enough. And besides he could now concentrate on plant exploration.

Boyd took an ambitious expedition to Kashmir that resulted in another fabulous presentation (and a huge collection of Paraquilegia grandiflora seed (some of which I grew). The correspondence dwindled since the packaged no longer came through his hands (although Baldy and Jerry were now communicating regularly with me!). The years passed: I visited Medford several times over the decades--and we took a field trip or to to O'Brien, and a few nearby spots, and I wandered the magical precints of the home on Franquette Street I had wondered about so many times...chockablock full of trasures.

Around this time Boyd's wife won a million dollar lottery. This didn't seem to change things appreciably, but we all wondered if it would. I got occasional notes from Phyllis Gustafson reporting on Boyd's health, and word from Baldy: I called a few times. I even got a warm letter and email pictures from Curt, his wonderful son. Boyd was busy all this time, exploring locally, growing plants and having a good time with his family. Our communications tapered off.

I intended to go back and visit recently: Paul Bonine has offered to show me the Siskiyous, and I must go there with him or Sean Hogan--two avatars of the younger Boyd if there ever could be. I don't know if I have sufficiently underscored that over the course of a few decades, with very little in the way of face time, Boyd effectively delivered the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Horticulture for me: at least that what it has provided for me professionally in terms of career path.

I shall return to Medford one day, and when I do I shall certainly drive by the home on 522 Franquette--and would like to visit his grave. I shall certainly marvel at the lofty Sequiodendron in the front yard, planted the year his son was born. The same year I was incidentally. it's a very big tree today.

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