by Nikolai VEKHOV, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), Russian Research Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage named after D. Likhachev, RF Ministry of Culture
At all times the gardener's trade was one of the honorable and rare professions. The "fashion" to have such specialists in estates, in modern phraseology called phytodesigners, came to Russia from the West in the 18th century. The national school of phytodesigners was formed approximately 150 years ago. However, the development of industrial ornamental floriculture and park dendrology in our country became possible only after getting new plant varieties and when studies of imported exotic plants were put on a scientific basis.
The Soviet government adopted a program of improving the appearance of built-up areas in the first half of the 1920s. Park development (the term appeared in those days) became one of the directions of that program. It gradually turned into a profitable sector of the national economy, using the latest achievements of dendrology, gene engineering, selection, plant geography and other spheres of biology.
In 1924, on the initiative of the future academician Nikolai Vavilov a famous geneticist and plant breeder, the All-Union Institute of Applied Botany and New Cultures (today the All-Russia Institute of Plant-Growing named after N. Vavilov, St. Petersburg)* was set up. Hundreds of scientific experimental stations were formed within its structure in all natural zones of the country. The Tula Acclimatization Station (since 1928 the Forest Steppe Experimental Breeding Station) based on the former Artsybashev estate in the Tula Region is one of them. The point is that a representative of this family, Professor Dmitry Artsybashev (leading researcher of the above-mentioned institute), who started to collect decorative and beautifully flowering species of trees and shrubs from every corner of the globe, tried to preserve for science the extensive collection and existing achievements in park development and introduction of foreign cultures.
Nikolai Vekhov, grandfather of the author of this paper, was the first director of this station. He was one of the outstanding national plant breeders and the creator of a number of ornamental species of lilac, mock orange, catalpa and nutwood. He introduced several thousands of hardy-shrub species and developed methods of formation of a mass planting stock for park development. At the same time he worked at the department of Naturalization, Fruit Growing and Market-gardening of the Institute headed by Artsybashev, which received seeds, seedlings and cuttings from different botanical gardens, nurseries and forest areas, from the well-known plant breeders and leading world companies, which grew material for planting on an industrial scale.
In this connection in 1924-1927 an extensive work was launched on production facilities for park development. The set task, namely, breeding of new species for this industry, called for formation of a bank for the appropriate initial material and creation of mother material nurseries and "schools", i.e. special points for "breeding" of seedlings. It was also planned to extend areas for oversea herbaceous species and complete creation of the arboretum started by Artsybashev. It was there, in the conditions
* See: V. Dregavtsev, "Serving the Common Good", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003. -Ed.
of forest steppe of the Russian Plain, in the zone of risk farming, on the height exposed to winds with a year-round precipitation deficit, that one could understand, whether one or another exotic plant was good for future introduction and breeding work.
The arboretum, as a storehouse of the gene pool for selection, was founded at the site of arable land. Vekhov started its development from putting into life of the idea pointed out by Artsybashev back in 1924: he planted this territory with oats (its branched fibrous root system breaks up soil to small clouts, scuffes it and improves the water and air regime), and then planted annual trees of ash-leaved maple A (Acer negundo). They turned to be resistant to local conditions, i.e. they were able to stand moisture deficit, delayed thawing of snow and formed a protective layer during several years, necessary for subsequent planting of other exotics unusual for our climate. At the same time, larches, birches and other native species, planted along the perimeter of the station, simultaneously with small oversea "migrants", formed a green fence on the way to all-penetrating winds.
In 1929, roads, glades and areas for planting of planned cultures (in the style of the formal garden) were laid out in the territory of the arboretum. The exotic plants were divided into sections according to the geographical principle, namely, forests of Northern Europe, North-Eastern Europe, Central Europe and Southern Europe, forests of Siberia, Far East, North and Southwest Asia, and Japanese-Chinese-Himalayan, Eastern and Western American forests (later on after 1935 the main collections were supplemented only by a relatively small number of new species).
The said protective layer was removed before planting of species, which did not require it, and it was preserved for species sensitive to light and cold but it was thinned out, preserving only a small shadow. Later on it was grad-
ually weakened every year by means of selection of ash-leaved maple up to its complete removal in 5-10 years. These trees were used for park development in nearby villages and a district center—the town of Yefremov.
Inside of each section of the arboretum, the species were placed separately or in small groups (according to Engler's system*). This novelty was introduced in the following way: the trees were moved 4 m away from the road to broaden the field of view and to enhance a decorative effect. As a result, the distance between the trees reached 10-11 m, and there were planted shrubs in the formed free spaces (4 m wide strips of land). The total length of the whole network of pathways and alleys made up almost 4 km, and visitors could see a wonderful life of beautiful plants, which found their second native land there.
The arboretum covering several tens of hectares demonstrated to its visitors approximately 1,500 species and forms of trees and shrubs of wild flora. The plants, whose introduction started almost 80 years ago under forest-steppe conditions are still referred to as central—nuts (Juglans), hawthorn (Crataegus), briar (Rosa), Silver fir (Abies), spruce (Picea), larch (Larix), Douglas fir (Thuja occidentalis van douglasi), cedar (Thuja), pine (Pinus), birch (Betula), oak (Quercus), linden (Tilia), maple (Acer) etc.—they make up a "gold reserve" of the station and a gene pool for future works. Many of them felt at home in this country for the first time and later on were planted in other similar farms and botanical gardens, and also in other countries. Back in 1934, the sta-
* Adolf H. G. Engler-a German botanist and the author of the most perfect system up till now, which describes families and genera of all known plants; corresponding member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1888), foreign honorary member of the USSR Academy of Sciences (from 1927). -Ed.
tion became the first among similar national farms by scope and results of acclimatization work.
Some collection plots of land were laid there for species, which crossed easily in nature and produced hybrids unfit for preservation of pure collections, but possessing decorative properties extremely attractive for park development. This is how colorful expositions appeared, which were famous throughout the Soviet Union at that time. One of them included tens of varieties of briar, cotoneaster, spiraea, barberry, honeysuckle, hawthorn, Rosales order and others. The second exposition presented varieties of jasmine, hydrangea, decorative apple tree, mountain ash, lilac, perennial flowers (peony, delphinium, anemone), etc. The third one included varieties of cedar, tulip, narcissus, lily, iris, columbine, phlox and aster.
Alongside with the creation of collections of tree and shrub species, which served as a basis for introduction, breeding and industrial planting, the search for a cheap method of fast production of a mass planting material was under way headed by Vekhov. He was the first in our country, who drew up a list of exotic shrubs and trees with recommended methods of producing planting material for each of them (abduction of shoots, separation of root cuttings and lignified shoots from ovule parents, different types of inoculation, combined methods, etc.). Cuttings and seedlings, seeds and seedlings were delivered from the station to many cities of the European part of the USSR and also for decoration of the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition*, the main exhibition center of the country, opened in Moscow in 1939.
By early 1940, the station, known at that time as the Forest-Steppe Experimental Production State Farm of Exotic Decorative Tree and Flower Cultures, became actually a developed enterprise, in terms of scope and results of work comparable with large-scale industrial production. At that time it was assigned to introduce new plants for park development. Thus, from the first years of its existence, a grand-scale work was under way there to grow decorative and finely flowering species on the basis of varieties of wild flora, possessing such qualities as drought and cold resistance, and the existing varieties of national and foreign selection. As a result, there formed nearly the best in the world collection of lilacs, barberries, mock oranges, honeysuckles and pine trees with the specified properties.
Many shrubs and trees grown at the station by mid-1950s passed the tests and were registered as high-grade
* See: A. Firsova, "Art Deco in Russia", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2010. -Ed.
cultures. Mock oranges were the first to be given the names of Moonlight (low-growing with denticulate leaves and double greenish-creamy flowers with a fine strawberry odor, different from other varieties) and Pompon (with compact globular fascicles of small double snow-white flowers with a nice odor of flowers) in 1941. They were formed on the basis of two species of wild flora from the big collection of the station, and a number of varieties cultivated in the second half of the 19th century by the French florists Victor and Emile Lemoine famous "trendsetters" in the sphere of decorative plants.
Vekhov greatly contributed to the formation of a collection of mock oranges, breaking into blossom one after another, and thus adorning gardens and parks for almost two months.
Besides, selection of lilacs started there from the first decade of the work of the station. For this purpose, both wild varieties and plants grown by the said Frenchmen (from 1870) served as a starting material. It is true that the French varieties suffered frequently in the conditions of the moderate climate from frosts and moisture deficit. Therefore, Vekhov and his colleagues selected primarily varieties, which were least subject to scorching in the bright sun of late May—early June, and resistant to a dry steppe summer. The planned and laborious work continued for many years, which finally resulted in zoning of lilac varieties to our climate.
In the 1950s-1960s, the station could already boast of many varieties (for example, Rus, Utro Rossii, Rassvet, Nezhnost, Pamyat o Vavilove, etc.). It is not accidental that young specialists from all quarters of the country tried to visit the basic enterprise of park development and get acquainted with its work experience. Vekhov, Dr. Sc. (Agr.) from 1935, also had many students, followers, and post-graduate students.
Many a decade has passed since the described events. Meanwhile, this wonderful farm is the only one in the country, where solely decorative and finely blossoming exotic trees and shrubs are collected. Moreover, it is the biggest national base for their introduction in the moderate climate of Russia and seed procurement. Among the regular customers of green products are the cities of Moscow, Lipetsk, Voronezh, Belgorod, Saratov, Balashov, Bala-kovo, Kazan, Samara, Tolyatti, Petrozavodsk, Naberezh-nyye Chelny, St. Petersburg and Krasnodar Territory.
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