Arne's journal

Propagation: Gardeners' Magic

There is something about the spring light that triggers an automatic reaction in a gardener to sow seeds and propagate plants. There have been days this week, when the wind drops, and you can actually feel the warmth of the sun, and know that the soil will be warming up too. Thoughts race forward to the summer and my mind fills with images of plants that I know I need to start sowing soon.

Until now at Allt-y-bela I've had no real space for sowing and raising my own plants, and I've missed the magic of seeing pots of cuttings and trays of young seedlings with all their promise of riches to come. So this year I have set up a couple of cold frames with soil warming cables at their bases, and am awaiting delivery of a small greenhouse. There are plans for a more elaborate greenhouse for the future, (always so many plans!), but for now I can, at last, propagate some of the difficult to get hold of, rarer plants I want to grow and sow seed of things I want to plant out in abundance.

Poised for propagation action, I've invited a friend, and brilliant nursery woman, Marina Christopher, to come to Allt-y-bela and run a propagation workshop for us and a small group of people. She gave a very inspiring short talk on the subject here last year, and we are really looking forward to her returning to give us a full day on the topic. 

What I particularly like about the way Marina talks about raising plants, is that she shares her own experiences with such clarity. Her scientific background and a naturally curious and questioning personality has led her to develop many techniques that are entirely her own, often subtly different from propagation techniques you might find in a book. For me these skills are most definitely best learnt or refreshed directly from an expert, in person, where all the senses can be involved; watching and listening, touching and feeling and having a hands on experience and the chance to question things along the way.

Meanwhile I'm starting to plan which annuals I'll raise for companion planting and cutting flowers in the kitchen garden, and the rarities that I want to ask Marina how I can increase. There are many websites and catalogues full of wonderful choices, but I particularly love the selection from Chiltern Seeds and their adage 'grow something new from seed' is very hard to resist when you look through the exquisite photos, mainly by Sabina Ruber. They have a very broad offering of unusual and tempting plants, many of which I plan to grow at Allt-y-bela. We have a few places left on the workshop with Marina on 31st March, so do get in touch and come along, whether you are set up with a large greenhouse for mass propagation, or like me, you have only a small area of glass, or even windowsills to raise precious plants.

Words: Arne Maynard

Photos: William Collinson and Sabina Ruber (courtesy of Chiltern Seeds)

To find out more about the Plant Propagation workshop on Tuesday 31 March at Allt-y-bela, click here.

For more information about Chiltern Seeds and their wide selection of seeds visit www.chilternseeds.co.uk

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Tulips and Dutch Masters

Whilst Steve has been busy planting the fritillaries, iris and tulips for naturalising in the grass, I have turned my mind to the tulips I plant later, in pots and in borders close to the house. I find it really useful to trial new tulips in the kitchen garden, it gives you a chance to see their true colours and characteristics, before putting them in combinations in borders and pots. If you grow them in rows, it makes them easy to identify, and you can lift them when they die back, and store them, cleaned and dry in named net or paper bags in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, ready for planting in a new position in the late autumn.

When they are grown in rows, like a crop, I also find it easier to bring myself to cut them for the house.

Last year I grew a collection of rare 'broken' and 'breeder' tulips in the kitchen garden. They were exquisitely beautiful, marbled and feathered, subtle and curious, and I'm keen to add more historic varieties. As cut flowers, in the dark interiors at Allt-y-bela, these gem-like tulips, looked even more like the mysterious and sumptuous ones of Dutch 17th Century still life paintings. There are more details about these tulips in my article in Gardens Illustrated magazine's October issue, and Andrew Montgomery took some wonderful, painterly photographs.

As ever with gardening, plants rarely flower exactly to a timetable, and in order that we could photograph all the tulips at once, for the article, we had to 'preserve' some. The members of the The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society are adept at this, having to keep their very fine blooms in perfect condition for their show in May.  So we followed the advice very kindly given by the Society's secretary and if you ever want to save some exquisite cut tulips for a special occasion, try this:

Fill a bottle with fresh water and add half a teaspoon of sugar.  Early in the morning, take the prepared bottle to the tulip out in the garden. Make a straight cut, and put the tulip instantly into the bottle, and store it in the fridge. We had too many for the fridge, so once they were safely crated up, they made the trip in the Landrover, to the very chilly cellar at Kristy's house.

This autumn I will replant these rarities alongside my favourite Tulipa 'The Lizard' in the enclosed courtyard by the front door. It is becoming more and more like a cabinet of curiosities and precious finds, with the low clipped balls of box on legs, like velvet cushions, acting as the perfect green foil to the flowering jewels. I can't wait to see these tulips next May. We will celebrate them to the full and I'll take great pleasure again in cutting a few for the house.

To find out about their annual show, have a look at The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society website: www.thetulipsociety.com They grow the finest varieties of flamed and feathered tulips, and the ones on show are of the most amazing clarity and form.

Having flowers in the house is such an essential part of Allt-y-bela, that I thought we'd delve a bit deeper into the world of the Dutch Masters, for more inspiration. I've invited The Garden Gate Flower Company to join me in giving a floral workshop in April 2015. For more details have a look at our courses for next year.

Photographs by Britt Willoughby Dyer

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