MAKING LIFE Once you’ve established some confidence, you can set about creating all kinds of living things.
Propagating plants is easier than you think and infinitely rewarding
Gardening is a creative activity. We’re trying to make beauty and fight whatever threatens it.
It is not surprising that there are hardly any dictators in history who were known for their gardening skills. If they’d spent their sowing seeds instead of reaping lives, the world would be a better place.
There are two different methods of propagation. Firstly, the generative one where you need a mother and a father to create a seed from which a plant will grow. That is basically the way most of us were actually made, apart from the fact that we didn’t turn into plants.
Secondly, there are the vegetative ways. This would include soft and hardwood cuttings, bulbs, tubers, tissue culture etc. All these will give you plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant.
If you take a potato for example, let’s say a ‘Rooster’; you would propagate it by using the tuber. That is vegetative and you can be sure that you will have the same potatoes again come harvesting time. You could also use the seeds that grow in the actual fruits above the soil. That is what breeders do to create a new variety. Potatoes grown from seed will very likely be different to the parent potato and you might not get your favourite ‘Rooster’.
Isn’t it amazing how even an oak tree starts from a little seed? Well, most of us wouldn’t really be into oak production, but the idea is always the same. We start life from seed.
Over the last couple of years, especially through the Covid years, many people discovered the little gardener in themselves and more and more schools are now teaching their students how to grow vegetables and flowers from seed, it seems we are growing back to the more essential things in life.
You need just a few things to start: Seed compost, some containers, trays or pots, a light and warm place in your house and, of course, seeds.
In many cases the timing is important as the plants must be planted out into your garden. I can guarantee that a sunflower, for example, won’t be overly happy to be planted out in the winter.
For a beginner it makes sense to use plants that are easy to propagate as in some cases it can take many months for a seed to germinate. That would be rather contra productive if you want to raise your children’s interest in growing pants.
Furthermore, some plants don’t like their roots disturbed and are better sown straight into their final growing space. Carrots would be one example of this, if their roots are disturbed this will cause some very odd shapes which might raise questions.
In fact, most legumes don’t like their roots disturbed and won’t thank you for that by growing odd shapes.
Some seeds need some sort of stratification; this could be low temperatures, heat or chemical reactions. Luckily most seeds we use in our gardens won’t need much of that and are relatively easy to grow.
Basics and beyond
One of the fasted germinating and growing would be ‘cress’. Within a few days you will see something happening and after two weeks or even earlier it can be harvested. Cress can be sown all year around and would even thrive on wet paper towel although taste wise it might not be very attractive.
Sunflowers are a great flower to start with. There are many different varieties of which some can grow up to three meters or even taller. A plant that will grow taller than your child and yourself is certainly impressive. Another benefit is that you produce some bird food. The downside is the time it takes to go from a little seed to a giant flower. In terms of gardening it is a very short time, four to five months, but for an impatient character it might feel like eternity.
If you do decide on sunflowers, place two or three seeds 2cm deep in a 9cm pot and keep it in a light place with a temperature above 15°C. Keep the compost moist but not wet; overwatering is the main cause of failure in plant propagation. It will take seven to ten days for germination. Generally sunflowers are very reliable, and once the shoots show you should prick out two, only leaving the strongest one.
Sunflowers don’t like their roots to be disturbed so be careful handling them when planting out. Alternatively you can sow them in bigger containers (5ltr or bigger) but you won’t get the same height and flower size.
Once you’ve established some confidence you can become more experimental and try some tropical or subtropical plants. Try to grow aloe or some cacti. If you have a tunnel or winter garden, grow your own tomatoes. There is nothing nicer than a freshly picked tomato. Once you’ve tasted a home grown tomato, shop bought ones become less appealing.
Go, sow and grow…. the limits are limited.
Frank Steffens, is head gardener at Drimbawn Garden in Tourmakeady. Drimbawn is a member of the Clew Bay Garden Trail, a chain of beautiful and unique private gardens that open to the public during summer to raise funds for charity (see www.clewbaygardentrail.ie for more). Each month an article by a trail member appears in these pages.