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August 2004

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Taking shrub cuttings, charming self-sowers and the mark of Cain

I love propagating plants. In the spring seed-sowing fills centre stage - it is a satisfying way to acquire new plants and has the advantage that large numbers can be built up rapidly. As autumn approaches I turn to cuttings, a satisfying way to increase the stock of shrubs I already have. Naturally I concentrate on those plants which are not so easily available and which I find particularly attractive. It is some years since I propagated the lovely pink-flowered wall shrub Vallea stipularis and then as I achieved only moderate success - I will try a good few cuttings this time. Last year the stunning broom-relative Psoralea pinnata gave me a surprising one hundred percent ‘strike', most of which I unfortunately lost in the winter. I'm trying the Glasnevin discovery, Deutzia purpurascens  ‘Alpine Magician' for the first time this year. From an early age, I've been using a 50/50 mixture of peat and sand for rooting cuttings and have never deviated.

‘Self seeders' play an important part in this garden. While some such as the verbascums need more control than I usually exert, large numbers of plants such as Verbena bonariensis can create the relaxed atmosphere I like. Last year one new area I had created unexpectedly filled up with a mixture of the verbena and Verbascum blattaria, the airy blue-purple of the former cooling the bright yellow of the verbascum. I've filled in the area since then with more permanent, substantial planting and the charming picture is no more. I grow many campanulas in this garden many of which are monocarpic - flower once and die - and I rely on their ability to self sow to keep them here. I'm seldom without Campanula incurva, for instance, and if it sometimes absents itself for a year or two I hope that eventually it will return.

‘Self seeders' play an important part in this garden.

A more difficult operation for me is culling. In the borders and on the raised beds I find it somewhat difficult to make the hard decisions necessary and some vigorous clumps are defying me to take action. The pink cow parsley, Chaerophyllum hirsutum ‘Roseum', has challenged me for a few years now and a giant lactuca also has overstepped the mark by grabbing more and more ground for itself. The mark of Cain is on them both. I finally took action against the rambling rose ‘Albertine' one wet misty day in late July this year and its black-spotted mass no longer spoils my south-facing raised bed. I hacked into the tangle without any regrets even though it delighted me when I first acquired it thirteen years ago. A sycamore which forms part of a double line of defence against wind at the end of the garden is marked for demolition this winter. Previous experience has taught me that sycamores cause devastation in small gardens -  their growth rate is phenomenal, they extract huge quantities of moisture from the soil and scatter seeds with abandon and into the most annoying places. Yes, it has to go!



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