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There’s always something new to learn

June 10, 2022

AGS Trainee Bertie Swainston looks at some of the techniques they have learnt and gardens they have visited recently

Taking Dionysia cuttings

May is a good month to take some Dionysia cuttings! This is something that I have been very much looking forward to learning even since before I undertook this traineeship. As it happens, taking cuttings of Dionysias is relatively straightforward if you’ve propagated plants in this way before.

Tray of Dionysia cuttings

Tray of Dionysia cuttings

Make sure your tools and workspace are all sterilised before use. At RBGE the tray of pumice into which cuttings are inserted was also sterilised in advance with boiling water.

The propagation material was taken from the base of the parent cushion. This prevented the shape of the cushion from being damaged too much. Cuttings were then stored in a plastic bag to keep them damp. Any brown leaves that come away easily were gently removed by hand. Using a fresh razor blade and small square of glass, we cut away the other leaves at the base of the cutting. Both single stem and multi-stem cuttings were taken to see if this makes any difference to the succession rate. The prepared stems were then dipped in rooting hormone and placed into pre-prepared trays of pumice. The trays are kept moist and under lights in the Dionysia house.

Over at RHS Harlow Carr, Dionysia cuttings are taken in a similar way. The main differences being – a finer pumice is used. The trays or pots sit in trays of water water which prevents the pumice from falling out of the drainage holes. Also, more leaves are removed from the base of the cutting.

Taking lots of Dionysia cuttings at both sites has got me itching to do more and I highly encourage people interested in propagating their own at home!

Trillium research project

As you might remember, last month I started researching Trilliums at RBGE. A part of my project consisted in going around the garden with a list of all the different Trillium species and photographing them all. There is a national collection of the genus at Edinburgh and it was a privilege to be able to see all the differences between species of these intriguing plants. I can only imagine what it would be like to see these amazing plants in the wild!

Crevice garden at Branklyn

This month, I also had a fantastic opportunity to work for a couple of days at Branklyn Garden, a the National Trust for Scotland property. This is a magical gem of a garden and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to help out on their new crevice garden. It was interesting to learn how rocks should be matched to look as natural as possible and the amount of tamping down it takes in each crevice before planting. Huge thanks to all involved!

Work on the new crevice garden at Branklyn

Work on the new crevice garden at Branklyn - Bertie Swainston

At RBGE the usual tasks of weeding, pricking out seedlings, potting on, and applying nematodes have been ongoing throughout May. Plenty of watering  was also required due to extended warm and dry days. In the display house, I also helped refresh the planting in the sand plunge by bringing interesting, blooming specimens from behind the scenes.

In May, I also spent a week at Harlow Carr. During this time I got to collect and sow fresh seeds from the potted Hepatica collection. This is part of an ongoing propagation rotation to help keep the collection full. I also planted up my first public trough, positioning stones using some of the techniques learnt at Branklyn. Most of the plants I used, had been grown in previous years, from seed obtained from the AGS and SRGC seed exchanges. When planting, I tried to think about each plant’s position to help ensure a happy trough!

The weather was amazing during a trip Amy, Aaron and I took to the Himalayan garden and sculpture park. The garden had lots of colour and it was interesting to study the ongoing development there. One of the most floriferous Davidia involucrata trees that I’ve ever seen was in full bloom.

During my last week at Harlow Carr, the AGS spring show also took place. The show benches were stocked full of plants and looked quite impressive. It is always great to meet knowledgeable people at AGS shows and to catch up with familiar faces. And of course to buy lots of plants tempting nursery stalls.

And last but certainly not least, I am very happy to say that I have secured a permanent position as a Horticulturalist at RHS Harlow Carr. I will start work there once I have finished the AGS traineeship in September. I really look forward to working again in such a fantastic garden, with all the great people there.

Davidia involucrata flowering well during a visit to the Himalayan garden

Davidia involucrata flowering well during a visit to the Himalayan garden