The Founder of Home Orchard Society
2005 Today is the anniversary of the death of the founder of Home Orchard Society, Larry L. McGraw. His obituary stated that pomology was his passion for more than 50 years.
Pomology is the science of growing fruit. In an effort to preserve fruit trees in the Northwest, Larry began collecting scion wood specimens in his twenties. He founded the Northwest Fruit Explorers, which was an organization that acted as a clearinghouse for fruit information and fruit growers in the Northwest.
During his retirement, Larry worked as a horticulturist for the Oregon Historical Society. One day, Larry discovered an envelope that contained apple seeds that were a hundred years old. The letter inside the envelope referenced Marcus Whitman and his orchard.
Marcus Whitman was a doctor who led a group of settlers West to Washington State by Wagon Train. His wife was named Narcissa, and she was very bright, a teacher of physics and chemistry. Marcus and Narcissa were part of a group of missionaries. They settled in an area now known as Walla Walla, Washington, and apparently had an orchard.
Beyond that, their time in Washington was not fruitful. They attempted to convert the local Native Americans to Christianity but were unsuccessful mainly because they didn’t bother to get to know or understand them. Their only daughter drowned when she was two years old. Narcissa’s eyesight began to fail.
When the Indians came down with measles, they blamed the settlers; specifically blaming Marcus since he was the town doctor. After almost all of the Indian children died, the surviving Indians launched an attack on the settlers and killed Marcus and Narcissa in their home on November 29, 1847. The event became known as the Whitman Massacre.
The seeds that Larry found were one of the last pieces of the Whitman legacy. Larry's attempts to germinate the Whitman apple seeds were unsuccessful.
However, Larry did successfully obtain apple trees from Russia for his Portland Orchard. By 1973, Larry had over 300 varieties of apples growing in his garden. Two years later, in May of 1975, Larry hosted a meeting with a group of other orchard growers. It was the official first meeting of the Home Orchard Society.
During his lifetime, Larry taught thousands of people how to prune and graft fruit trees. During his 50 years of researching apples, Larry estimated that he had come across over 2,000 different apple varieties from all over the world.