Gardens are made to be shared – not just through sight and the other senses, but most importantly, through cuttings, roots and seeds that spread the joy and peace that only a garden can give.
I learnt that from one of the wisest people I’ve known – my paternal grandmother, Mary. She was a true plantswoman, among many other things. Some of my happiest memories are of running around her rose bushes, chattering to her while she marvelled at a bloom or fussed over a stubborn weed. It was in her various gardens that I got to know the smells of lavender and rose geranium, the feel of soft and furry lamb’s ear leaves, the taste of cherry guavas.
She would always be handing out seeds or cuttings from her garden. Simple yet beautiful nasturtiums were among her favourite flowers, and four gardens later, many of the nasturtiums in my garden have grown from seed that Mary originally gave me.
She seemed to gain such pleasure from knowing that a cherished plant would now also be treasured in someone else’s garden. It struck me, even very young, that this was a true generosity of spirit.
Some of my happiest memories are of running around her rose bushes, chattering to her while she marvelled at a bloom or fussed over a stubborn weed. It was in her various gardens that I got to know the smells of lavender and rose geranium, the feel of soft and furry lamb’s ear leaves, the taste of cherry guavas.
So every time I take a cutting – for use in my own garden or to pass on to a special person – I think of Mary. And I like to think that she would approve of my attempts at propagation. In fact, I know that she would have many words of gentle encouragement.
Army of new plants
My system seems to work quite well. In a tucked-away spot behind the washing line that gets afternoon shade from the ngwenya tree (wild plum, Harpephyllum caffrum), an army of plastic pots brim with new plants. These cuttings are mostly from my own garden (I also raid friends’ gardens), and they include geranium and pelargonium, scabiosa, fuschia, daisies, lavender, rosemary, felicia, plectranthus and osteospermum.
All of these grow really easily from cuttings. Aloes and other succulents do, too, but they will usually grow from cuttings that are shoved into the ground; best to let them dry for a few days to avoid rotting, though.
There’s also row upon row of baby clivias, growing from seed. These will take about three years to get to flowering stage.
And here’s my “secret”: I cut the top off a plastic cold drink or water bottle, and invert it over a new, watered cutting. It forms a perfect mini greenhouse. You seldom have to water the cutting again. The plant takes care of that itself through transpiration: essentially, the cutting takes up water from the soil and then releases it into the atmosphere, kind of like sweating.
It’s quite a thrill seeing the water droplets form on the inside of the bottle and run down to sustain the plant. I remove the bottle when I’m certain that the cutting has grown some roots.
This method has increased the “strike rate” of my cuttings: four out of five, instead of two or three out of five, usually take. It lets me experiment with more demanding plants, like roses, and it gives me a constant supply of plants to fill empty corners, without having to spend a fortune at the garden centre. And one of the nicest things about it, for me, is that I give something meaningful to people I care about. Thanks to Mary.