Benjamin Whitmill (the Elder) on Gathering Cyons

Month of January
"At the latter-end of the Month gather Cyons for Grafts, from Pears and Plums, and lay them half-way in the Earth 'till the next Month, the grafting Season, which will make them take the better ; and if they are to be sent and Distance, it is best to stick their Ends in clay, and bind them together with a Straw-band." 

Month of February
"The latter-end of this Month is most proper to graft Pears and Plums of all Sorts ; and some likewise graft Apples and Cherries in the Cleft, tho' others defer Apples longer. The Cyons cut off from the Trees the last Month, are now to be used ; and that without having any regard to the common Notion of the Age of the Moon."

Benjamin Whitmill (the Elder), Kalendarium Universale 2nd edtn. (1733)

The propagation of fruit trees by grafting them onto rootstocks is a process that’s at least a couple of thousand years old. The technique was known to the Romans and the Greeks before them, there’s potential archaeological evidence of grafting vines in Mesopotamia c. 3,800 years ago1Barrie Juniper and David Mabberley, The Extraordinary Story of the Apple, ‘Archaeological evidence for grafting’, p. 112. By the eighteenth century it was a widespread practice – if the surviving print sources of the time are anything to go by – that was commonly used as a means of selecting and growing particularly useful and/or promising apples, pears and other types of top-fruit.

This extract is from an C18th ‘Kalendar’ or almanac, one of many such publications that offered general, year-round advice on small to medium-scale horticulture and agriculture for the landed gentry. Here Mr. Whitmill (the Elder) tells us that the end of January2Sorry, I’m a couple of days late, but you’ll be fine… is the best time to gather “cyons” (scions) for pear and plum trees for grafting. These days, you’d be advised not to gather plum scions in winter due to the increased risk of infection by silver-leaf fungus, and chip-, bud-or t-graft them instead during the summer months. Pears though are fair game for a bit of whip-and-tongue round about now.

However, Mr. Whitmill (the Elder) says that the best time to graft your new trees isn’t until the end of February. In the meantime, he suggests sticking them in the ground to keep them fresh. Again, these days you’d probably be advised to refrigerate them instead, wrapping them in a sealed plastic bag to keep them from drying out.

And finally, it seems Mr. Whitmill (the Elder) had no truck with biodynamic gardening techniques. The early eighteenth century was the era of the Age of Enlightenment, when many traditional theories and practises were being challenged and discarded in favour of newer, more scientifically rigorous ideas. Thus we find the old method of grafting according to the appropriate phase of the moon being scoffed at by Whitmill. Although I’m sure a few modern writers would heartily disagree.

How about you? Do you like to gather your scions early and then store them until you’re ready for grafting? If so, what’s your preferred method? Or would you rather take fresh scions just as you’re about to graft? Have you noticed any difference in success rates between then two methods? Do let me know, via the comments.


  • 1
    Barrie Juniper and David Mabberley, The Extraordinary Story of the Apple, ‘Archaeological evidence for grafting’, p. 112
  • 2
    Sorry, I’m a couple of days late, but you’ll be fine…

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