Days of pruning and propagating

The dahlia David Howard
The dahlia David Howard

When offered the chance to study and work in horticulture at Manea School of Gardening (MSOG), I fled the bright lights and rush of Milton Keynes and jumped straight into my new position as apprentice at the tranquil 2.5-acre site in Manea.

I was not a horticultural novice, but I knew there was stacks to learn and I relish the chance to get a well-respected qualification – a diploma from the notoriously passionate but pedantic Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

MSOG is one of few centres offering the course, and most definitely one of the most accommodating as they’re even providing me somewhere to live! Each month I will be penning some of my main tasks here and lessons learned...

After a luscious growing season, there’s lots of fruit pruning to do – but every fruit is different! With raspberries, it’s best to remove this year’s fruiting stems so new growth (which will support next year’s fruit) can be well ventilated; a strawberry can be pruned fairly drastically as fruit will form on new growth in Spring.

As we progress into Autumn, our attentions must turn to preparing new plants for next year – so I’ve been doing lots of propagating. When collecting seed, try to gather the ‘ripe’ seed (usually when the case or seed is brown in colour) on a dry day as during storage any moisture could cause seeds to rot.

Some plants have uneven germination to produce ‘waves’ of plants: a handy survival strategy. This is particularly the case with hellebores, so it is sometimes easier to let them seed and then transplant the seedlings later.

You can also propagate by cuttings; a light compost mix is best (though not too light, as that will produce a weaker root system). There is no mystery here; fairly frequent watering and removing leaves which would make contact with the compost (as this would encourage rot) should produce reliable results on plants from fuchsias and lavenders to pelargoniums. Quite often while I’m working, I feel the muzzling of a piglet. Yes, our cutie cutie kune-kune pigs have given us an expected litter!

Part of my time is spent on the course. My fellow students are wonderful company and it’s great to be with like-minded people. This year we’re a generally younger batch of pupils, but ages still range from me in my late teens through to people launching new careers far into their fifties.

While RHS qualifications demands high standards, the relaxed atmosphere, small class sizes, the dedication of our teachers Alan and Mary and ample time make the course very approachable.

We’ve been learning about plant identification, plant classification, pruning and garden design so far. Horticulture is a very intricate subject; there are bizarre concepts, such as plant genders (yes, hollies – Ilex aquifolium – are dioecious, meaning they exist as girls and boys) and plants such as dahlias who take genes from up to eight different ‘parents!’ All identification uses Latin plant names, so with fruit and veg good practice is ‘eating dinner in Latin’. Last night, for example, I had Solanum tuberosum and Ribes uva-crispa, or potatoes followed by gooseberries.

That’s it for the first instalment of my diary, now time for some Malus domestica…