Dear IGPS member

Whether you choose to use the Celtic, astronomical, or meteorological start date, spring is definitely now with us and, even better from a practical gardening point of view, summer time starts this weekend. We have both been busy with basic activities, Branka planting her potatoes and Maeve dividing herbaceous perennials, so no apologies for having a bulletin which concentrates on a selection of seasonal and practical topics.

Sowing Seeds
With all the restrictions we have been experiencing during the past year, it is hardly surprising that our Seed Scheme ably run by Debbie Bailey was a ‘sell out’ this year. Hopefully everyone will get good germination and have great success. Debbie tells us the inside story.
This year the demand for seeds has been phenomenal. Within a day of the Newsletter being delivered with the seed list and form, I had a deluge of forms in my post-box. The torrent of forms continued for a number of weeks and, by the end of January, I had more than twice the numbers of requests than at the same time last year. As I write close to the end of March and as the demand has dwindled to a trickle, the requests thus far have numbered over 200.  To put that in context, the total requests in 2020 were 72 and, in 2019, 82.  So far this year, a total of 5,000 seeds packets have been filled and posted off to all four corners of the country. I do hope that they have brought a little cheer to the recipients.

As ever the most popular seeds are the annuals, followed by the perennials. First to disappear were the Canna brasiliensis, the various Paeonia, Fuchsia boliviana and Dryas octopetala. Those annuals and herbaceous that have hundreds of seeds such as the Lunaria, Francoa, and Meconopsis are a godsend as I can spread them out amongst many requests.

In recent years, the donors of seeds have started to send in some herbs and even lemon tree seeds (organic).   As it has become more and more difficult to access seeds from the UK, perhaps another heading on the seed list could be included – herbs and vegetables?   Tomatoes spring to mind; I know many save their seed from year to year and often have some not-so-easy to find tomato seeds.

As ever, I am asking that you collect some seed and send it on to me for the 2022 list.  Without the generous donations from members, there would be no seed list. Currently we really do rely on a small pool of donors. Finally my thanks to the many members who sent notes, emails and text messages – it is a delight to know that you appreciate the scheme.           

Taking Cuttings
With garden centres and nurseries sadly still closed, many of us are trying to make the most of what we already have. Stephen Butler gives us some detailed and very timely advice about taking cuttings.
Spring and early summer are the perfect time to try softwood cuttings. Young vigorous growth is keen to grow, and there is a full season ahead for good establishment before winter. Softwood is this year’s new growth and is often still flexible, hence soft. Hardwood cuttings are taken in autumn/winter when the growth has become rigid, ready to face winter weather.

So, what can be propagated now? If in doubt, try it! Many shrubs will take, for example BuddlejaHydrangeaPerovskia for sure. Hardy or tender perennials such as VerbenaPelargoniumPenstemonAubretia are definitely suitable choices. Dahlias are very easy at this time of year: remove new growth at, say, 4inches long, leaving lowest inch with buds to regrow. Basal cuttings from low down on the stem, sometimes but not necessarily with small roots attached, are essential for some herbaceous plants such as lupins, DelphiniumAster, and Chrysanthemum. Trees – Betula and Magnolia – but now you’re into much, much trickier territory! If in doubt, try some; you may be surprised at how easy cuttings are.

How to do it? Use suitable compost, moisture retaining but with plenty of drainage. Many variations all work; I just add plenty of grit to peat roughly 50/50 or, if using peat- free compost, increase the grit to make it less nutrient rich, maybe 70/30.  Compost should be just moist. Use clean pots (less risk of fungal infection) and fill as many as you need. Fill the pots and tap firm, all ready.

Use a rooting powder, either commercial or home-made; I’ve never tried these, but some people swear by cinnamon, honey, willow water, aspirin, apple cider vinegar, and Aloe vera sap. There is a link there with willow water and aspirin of course (salicylic acid). Just dip the end of the cutting in the liquid or powder.

Cutting material should be very fresh; keep it in a poly bag with a splash of water if it is not being used immediately. Select healthy growth, nip off the tip down to a pair of leaves. Keeping about 3 to 4 inches of stem, slice the bottom off the cutting immediately below a node. Natural hormones in the plant are concentrated at the nodes to assist rooting. Remove the bottom leaves for about half the length of the cutting. Any large remaining leaves may be cut in half to reduce water loss. Please use a very sharp knife (careful now!) or secateurs. A good clean cut will heal quicker, and the callus that forms will differentiate into roots too. It can help if a wound is gently sliced at the side too, this causes more callus to form so more roots develop.

Dip into whatever rooting powder you have, maybe dipping into water first for powders. Some people say saliva works well too, and aids rooting. Great if not a poisonous plant, and if you only have a few to do. Not my choice though!

Insert the cuttings into the prepared pots – use a dibber to make a hole, a short piece of cane maybe. Gently insert the cutting so it is held vertically, the lowest pair of remaining leaves should be just above the compost, and use the dibber to really firm around the cutting. It needs to be solid in the pot or tray. Water them in with a rose on the can. Try not to crowd the cuttings too densely; if possible, keep the leaves from touching to reduce the risk of fungal infection. Watering settles the cutting even more firmly into compost.

Place on a heated propagation mat if you have one. This is useful but not essential. Keep the cuttings in a moist environment. This may be small frame on the greenhouse bench, covered with polythene or just shading material; it all keeps the atmosphere around the cuttings moister. If using polythene, be sure to ventilate daily; there is a fine balance between moist and too wet, rooting rather than rotting. If no greenhouse, a bright (but not direct sun for too long) windowsill will work, using a polythene bag to keep them moist, but daily ventilation will be essential for a while. Water if needed, maybe mist if too dry, but never too much of either, a careful balance needed.

Depending on the plant, you should get rooting in a few weeks. Pot on when necessary. Many, like the dahlias, will be strong enough to plant out in the garden this summer. Others will need potting on into small pots to overwinter. If not rooted enough, leave till next spring before potting on; over-potting causes roots to rot very quick in too wet compost over winter.

Enjoy, there is almost nothing as much fun as propagating your own plants!

Rosemary Maye made a short video on exactly the same subject using penstemon as an example; this was on her Facebook page, The Insomniac Gardener, and she has very kindly shared it with us. Have a look at her video to see how to go about it.

Shop Online
While we cannot actually get into the garden centres and nurseries to indulge our passion and one of the by-products of Brexit is that most British nurseries no longer find it possible to supply the island of Ireland, many more of our local home grown businesses are offering mail order than in the past. There is an extensive list on the website – just click on the link below.

A relatively new nursery, Gortkelly, which offers mail order, is run by one of our members, Clare Beumer. She writes about some of her favourite plants for spring including some of the Irish cultivars she specialises in.
Narcissus ‘Fairy Gold’a delightful little daffodil bred by Dr Keith Lamb in 1942 at Woodfield, Clara, Co Offaly, is at its best now. Planted in a raised bed, it increases well and my stock is steadily building up so I can offer it for sale in the future.

Not often seen but flowering here since Christmas, Iris lazica ‘Turkish Blue’ has beautiful blue-purple flowers with intricate yellow and white veining on the falls. It was collected by Martyn Rix and Michael Walsh in 1968 and will thrive in well-drained soil at the base of a sunny wall.

Aconitum ‘Newry Blue’  is admired in summer for its spires of deep blue, hooded flowers but at this time of year I value its basal rosettes of shiny, finely divided leaves as a handsome foil for daffodils and other spring bulbs.

Also look out for:
Lathyrus vernus with its clumps of purple blue pea flowers; it is lovely with daffodils or try Epimedium ‘Pink Elf’, E. ‘Spine Tingler’, E. ‘Wudang Star’ and many more with their richly tinted spring foliage and airy heads of flower.
Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’’ is desirable with rich blue flowers for many weeks as is Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’ where deep purple- blue flowers contrast with silvery leaves.
Primula ‘Blue Riband’ is a gem with pure blue flowers while P. moerheimii is a diminutive primrose with velvety, wine-red flowers.

Admire the Alpines
Lots of sympathy goes out to our alpine enthusiasts who, for the second year running, are not able to exhibit their choice plants at the shows which would normally take place at this time.  Billy Moore from Dublin and Hilary McKelvey from Bessbrook have shared photos of the beautiful plants which are, like their owners, in lockdown at home rather than being seen on the show bench.
Cherish your Tools
Caro Skyrme has shared photos showing how tools and baskets which have been cherished and looked after over the generations can be things of great beauty. The tools are in the potting shed (she stresses that the spades are far more numerous than the number of gardeners!) while the baskets are displayed in her greenhouse.
“When I was young, I was given a little bit of old gardeners’ folklore about spades and forks and other tools not getting on with each other. This you might find amusing. They each have different functions and don’t like to be stored or hung too close together, so one should separate the forks and rakes from the hoes and the spades! Also, if you don’t take care of them they will ‘sulk’ and make the chores slower, but if you wash and polish them after use and oil them carefully and regularly, they will work with you and ease the work!”
Beauty of the Season
We finish with a beautiful photograph of a bowl of floating hellebore blooms; many thanks to Brid Kelleher for sharing it with us.
Till next month, on behalf of the officers and all our committees, we wish you a very happy Easter and good gardening.

Branka and Maeve

PS Come and join us. Over the next few months Maeve would like to move away from the bulletin to concentrate on the Newsletter so we are looking for someone to come and join the team. All you need is basic word processing skills and lots of enthusiasm for sharing information and connections with members. Please get in touch with us at