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A New Way To Propagate Trees, According To An Old-School Computer Engineer

Jürgen Kanter isn’t a typical gardener. Earlier this year, while visiting his incredible garden in Drebkau– which looks like an 18th-century aristocrat’s forgotten country estate– he taught us his peculiar approach to propagating clippings from trees. Now pushing seventy, Kanter still spends six of his seven days a week out tending the plants in his East Germany garden while also finding time to make his own wine. On his day “off”, he goes on solitary bike rides, enjoying the peaceful companionship of the natural world.

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Kanter’s technique begins in a familiar place, with a clipping (about six inches) taken from a tree when it comes time for the tree to be pruned. First, he scrapes the bark off the bottom inch of the clipping to expose the living inner bark. Rather than dipping the bottom of cutting in a hormone solution (as is the conventional next step in tree propagation,) Kanter relies on repurposing a common garden feature: moss. He fills a pot with moss rather than soil, settling the clipping in tightly so that it can stand upright on its own. From there, Kanter resumes a more familiar approach to propagation, sealing the pot and the cutting in plastic wrap. Certain trees require a few weeks to root with this method; others need several growing seasons.

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Kanter’s unusual approach to gardening isn’t unexpected– his background and employment were far from the rough dirt of the earth, and have granted him a unique perspective. Though he grew up in Drebkau, a place where nature was always close at hand, he didn’t fully understand its importance when, at a young age, he inherited his current estate from his grandfather. His work took him out of his hometown of Drebkau and into a career as an IT specialist in the days when computers took up an entire room. But the older he got, and the more time he spent away from Drebkau’s wide fields and deep forests, the more he found himself thinking of the natural world, missing its presence in his technology-centric life.

Eventually, he moved back to his grandfather’s estate, transforming the 3000 square meters into a careful synergy of color and sight lines, divided by plump, groomed hedges and precisely-kept lawns. Trees are planted in a cascade that blooms in a careful sequence throughout the year. There are no accidents here; everything is calculated, programmed in the ancient binary language of sun and water.

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Most of Kanter’s friends are garden-lovers, and he often gives grand tours and passes along cuttings from his more prized specimens– reprogramming the natural order, bending it to his own purposes. Part of the fun of gardening is discovering your own techniques– finding ways to “hack” the data inscribed into plants– all the while enjoying the secret code that nature has written herself.

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