More experiments with cuttings


I just can’t get past the miraculous, intriguing, obliging nature of plants. The way you can apply your secateurs to the woody offshoot of an admired shrub, or perennial, or rocky alpine, almost anything in my experimental book, then stick it in a pot of soil and watch it become a new, individual plant to give away or keep seems so very egalitarian.

I am recently back from a visit to the south, staying with my parents, whose garden was basking in a novelty of warm September sunshine. My mother invited me to take a cutting of any plant I liked, and so I did.


I drove away with a bucket of rubbly soil containing a delicate self-seeded lilac-coloured flower (chip in with its name please, Mum), two tiny succulent leaves from some sort of alpine or semper vivium (ditto – I can rarely remember the names of plants) wrapped in moist kitchen roll, and a wobbling old coffee jar of water in which quietly perspired an acanthus shoot that had self-seeded in the compost heap, plus stems of what my mother calls ‘furry mint’.

Poor suffering acanthus in jar

En route to Edinburgh I called in to my grandmother’s for a few days. Her garden too was bathed in this wonderful golden sunshine, a bachanalian paradise of flowers and vegetables. I came away with cuttings of holly, catmint and a slim little hydrangea, plus the acanthus and mint still bobbing around in their jar of increasingly cloudy water.

Thriving lamia, which likes shady, moist areas.

Finally home, I potted them up and put them on a windowsill out of scent of the slugs, and thought of how nice they will look in our new garden, if and when it becomes ours, and wishing it was possible to do the same with furniture and carpets, to admire an elegant mahogany chest-of-drawers or silk rug and be invited to take a cutting from it. In Edinburgh I also potted up a stalk of lamia, a striking variagated dead nettle that has thrived in what used to be the wilderness on the backgreen. Lamia produces creeping stalks that root themselves as they grow, so I reckoned it would take hold quite easily.

Rooting stalk of lamia
Acanthus looking somewhat more optimistic in its compost

Look, this is all experimental. I have no idea if you can grow holly from cuttings, or if the tiny alpine leaves half buried in compost will turn into new plants. If I lose some of these along the way, so be it. By the way, I see from reading around the subject that experts make all sorts of recommendations about propagating trays, grit, basal heat, tying over polythene bags and whatnot. While not wanting to diminish this surely sage advice, my intuition is to keep things as simple as possible. I have used only pots and potting compost. Oh, and some rooting powder, because I happen to have some, and I like the idea of applying magic powder. My grandmother tells me she never bothers with it.

Out of reach of slugs…

10 thoughts on “More experiments with cuttings

  1. Good luck with your endeavours! It is an amazing fact of horticultural life. The lilac seedling looks to me like a Thalictrum. I should propagate more, but I never have enough time or patience to wait. Come to think of it I don’t have the room either!

    1. Thank you – I’ve Googled it and agree that’s exactly what it is. Another name for it is meadow rue. It grows quite tall, it seems, and is good for the back of a border. How lovely – I shall nurture it even more carefully now that I can see how pretty (I mean, even prettier) it’s going to become.

  2. Meadow rue! It’s so beautiful..I’ll definitely have to get some for my shade garden next year. Never saw it before, until I saw it in your blog. Thanks, Joanna!

    1. Goodness, it’s immense! I can hardly believe that my tiny wee plant (currently about 6 inches tall) has the potential to be 8 foot. Personally I’m going to take a bet that plants grow much bigger in the USA than they do in Scotland, and that mine will probably never reach such heady heights. Thanks for the clip though – a good tip about cutting it right down at the end of the growing season. It’s truly wonderful how much help and advice you can find on the internet.

  3. Thalictrum delavayii “Hewitt’s Double”, assuming it has come true from seed. They are huge when they are happy but here today and gone tomorrow when they are not. They like shade, but even more they like damp. I was astonished by the persistence of your little chap, it must have sown itself in that pot of rubble two years ago; I have never fed it and watered it only when I remembered. And to think of the ones I have fussed over and lost! The important thing to know about meadow rue is that it is a late starter, it doesn’t put up leaves until all the other perennials are well up, which makes it vulnerable to keen diggers and hoe-ers, and to being outflanked by vigorous earlier plants.
    The little red “alpine” is a sedum and right now I can’t find its full name, there may be a label beside it – I’ll look tomorrow. Sedum is the opposite to meadow rue, it likes sun and dryness, and this one at least hugs the ground. (Others can be quite tall). I bought it this year and I couldn’t be more pleased with it – it complements my black grass and is already spreading wonderfully.
    The woolly mint is Bowles’ Mint and the acanthus is Acanthus mollis, the unprickly sort as opposed to Acanthus spinosus which the RHS translate as Armed Bear’s Breech. I call acanthus bear’s breeches, ie trousers, surely a reference to the huge rumply leaves. Whatever do the RHS suppose bear’s breech means?
    Lastly your deadnettle. I promised not to correct your spelling but hope you won’t mind me pointing out that it is called Lamium maculatum, the spotted deadnettle, not lamia. I have a self-sown one in the very hottest, driest part of the garden, up by the incinerator. It has no idea that it is supposed to be shade loving.
    You are quite right to avoid polythene bags. I have never bagged up a cutting that hasn’t rotted.

      1. How wonderful to have a classical education.
        Closer inspection shows that your meadow rue is not double, and neither is its parent, both must be self-sown from the double one I planted some years ago. Double or single, it’s Chinese meadow rue and is nothing like as tall as the American version – 3ft – 5ft maybe. Lis’s video took a while to load and I didn’t see it till after I had written yesterday’s message. And I spelt delavayi wrong – it’s only got one i.
        The sedum is Sedum ‘Bertram Anderson’. The English name for sedum is stonecrop.

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