Gardening Journal – Entry 12

Thursday 29 October 2020

This was by far the most exciting day of the week, as it was our first trip the Barbican Conservatory. It was so lovely to have a change of scenery and do our very outdoors work, in an indoor environment.

We went to the Barbican Conservatory because, although we get plenty of experience working with machinery and doing ornamental horticultural maintenance, there are no facilities or tasks involving propagation at the depot.

We started by looking around the conservatory, which reminded me of a mini Kew glasshouse. It was full of tropical plants, ferns and banana trees. And how refreshing to be surrounded by so much greenery amid the brutalist infrastructure of the Barbican.

We then mixed some soil for the propagation task we were working on. This involved mixing four bags of John Innes No 3 (mature plant potting compost), a large bag of bark, a good few handfuls of perlite and a dash of John Innes seedling mix, to add drainage. Add salt to the rim and there you have it – the most disgusting cocktail ever!

To mix the various components, we made a pile on the floor, adding every ingredient in layers, before mixing by shovelling it over itself. Essentially, we moved the pile of compost across the floor until the mixture looked right and the perlite was evenly distributed throughout. Then, we shovelled it back towards the potting bench, where we shovelled it up onto the bench, ready for potting.

We prepared the pots before taking the soft-wood cuttings of the plant we were planning to propagate. We did this by filling the pots with soil and pressing down with a round pot tamper until it was at the right height (at the lower rim of the pot. Then we watered the soil and filled in any pots where the soil had sunk down.

We took stem cuttings of eight different Pelargoniums, including P. ‘Cola Bottles’, P. unique ‘Donatella Bluet Champagne’, P. ‘Robert’s Lemon Rose’, P. ‘Little Gem’, and P. ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’. We cut about 15cm from the terminal bud (using thoroughly cleaned secateurs to prevent contamination and spreading disease), making sure we took enough to plant eight good cuttings per cultivar. We placed a label in each bucket so we could keep track of which plant we were taking cuttings from.

Then – hot hort tip incoming – I used the sharpie I wrote the labels with as a dibber, as its the perfect size. You can have that plant hack for free. After that, I carefully removed all of the leaves from the stem, apart from the top three or four. You want to avoid leaving too many leaves on, as that is where transpiration occurs most in a plant and results in loss of moisture, which can stop a cutting from rooting and succeeding. To save resources, I used the label I had written when collecting the cuttings to label each tray of the Pelargoniums.

And that’s that! We cleared up, said some sad goodbyes to the beautiful, dry conservatory and headed out into the pouring rain.

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