Wednesday 18 October 2017

Spreading joy

Marie Staunton

Allow self-seeding plants to do their own thing and you can create happy accidents in your garden, says Marie Staunton

Everybody loves the odd freebie and if it comes in the form of a plant then all the better, as far as I'm concerned. Plants that self-seed are welcome in my garden any time.

I will always have a soft spot for cowslips because they remind me so much of my childhood. Even though I lived in suburban Dublin, they seeded freely all over the grassy area at the top of the road, which was once farmland and then became our teenage hangout.

Even as a moody teenager I found them hard to resist and to this day I actively assist their quest to grow freely in our garden.

Aquilegia is another of those cottage-garden perennials that loves to spread its cheery flowers around the garden.

If you allow it to, you might get the odd happy accident in the form of a bit of cross-pollination, which will result in some gorgeous shades of mauves and delicate pinks to brighten up the garden in early summer.

Some of these self-seeding plants need very little encouragement to do their job, but being overzealous with the hoe will do away with the new little seedlings, so less hoeing and more relaxing is the way forward.

Some plants need a bit of assistance to spread their seeds around, and cyclamen falls into this category.

It will seed around a bit, but if you want it to really get going in another part of the garden, then collect the little seed pods in July and let them dry out for a couple of days, before releasing the seeds from the pod into their new home.

The seeds tend to be bit sticky, so just scatter them around as best you can. This isn't going to give you an instant blanket of colour, but within three years you should see them starting to flower.

Cyclamen likes a bit of shade but it will get going in most areas of the garden. The trick is to avoid disturbing the ground after sowing so that you give it a chance to settle in.

In time, it will mature into lovely new plants just waiting for a chance to flower in early spring.

Forget-me-not is a beautiful blue-flowered perennial that can seed all over the place -- it's particularly lovely teamed with tulips for a real cottage-garden look.

It tends to look a little raggy when it goes over but is easily pulled out when other perennial plants get going in the borders.

My Nana was a dab hand at taking a few slips or cuttings from plants that took her fancy and she wasn't half bad at getting them to root -- most of the time she stuck them in the ground or left them on a windowsill in a jam jar of water, and roots appeared as if by magic.

Some people definitely have the knack and I learned from a guy called Liam Foy, who is, in my opinion, the best propagator of plants in the business.

Cuttings tend to like a bit of company in a pot, so put five little cuttings from the same plant in each pot, in a mixture of one-part peat, or peat substitute, to one-part sand or vermiculite.

If you can afford a mini propagator then this will help to speed up the rooting process, because they do like a little bottom heat.

If not, just water in the cuttings and cover the pot with a clear plastic bag, creating a tent effect -- you can use four small twigs to keep the bag off the cuttings.

This will provide heat and moisture and help the rooting process.

When taking a cutting, you are looking for a nice healthy plant. The length of the cutting will depend on the type of plant, but most tend to be around 10cm, or 4in in old money.

The trick is to remove the lower leaves, leaving that part of the stem bare before inserting it into the potting mix.

They are better left undisturbed for a while. If you are curious to see if they have rooted then lift the pot and look underneath it for signs of new roots.

Try not to tug at the cutting itself, or it will never root for you.

Whether you are allowing plants to seed freely around your garden or assisting them by taking cuttings or scattering the seeds for them, it really is a lovely way to increase the numbers of plants in your garden without having to spend a fortune. All it requires is time and a bit of patience.

I was lucky enough to get over to Chelsea Flower Show this year and what struck me was how naturalistic the planting was in comparison with previous years.

Designers were using 'normal' plants that we all know and love, instead of some of the more unobtainable and, to be honest, pretentious plants that only a handful of people could really afford.

The great things about both Bloom and Chelsea Flower Show are the ideas that you take back with you for your own garden -- it's all about being inspired and having a dream.

I've been flinging around seeds of night-scented stock in every tub close to the house, so that when I'm sitting outside taking my ease, waiting for dinner to be served up to me (dreaming again), I can at least enjoy the lovely perfume and imagine I'm on my holidays in some far-flung exotic island, sipping a pina colada and enjoying the moment.

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