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’.
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.
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.
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.