Autumn Cuttings

And so summer draws to an end, a sad thought for some but on the nursery we eagerly look forward to the arrival of autumn and winter.

Autumn is an invaluable time for planning and looking forward to the year to come; hours are spent carefully cleaning and storing seeds collected over the proceeding months, seed catalogues are perused for new varieties to trial and propagation plans are made for the gardens many borders and pots. It’s a fantastic time and extremely satisfying to reflect on the successes of this year and the potential of the next.

So high on the agenda this month is propagating anything in the garden which could be vulnerable to cold, wet weather over winter. Sissinghurst is a garden of layers utilising such a wide range of plants from hardy perennials to annuals and a myriad of half hardys which are integral to achieving its richness and depth. So it falls to me and my assistant Bridget to ensure we propagate all of the tender and half hardy plants found in the garden, so that they can overwinter as young plants in the glasshouses ready to triumphantly return to the garden next spring and summer.

Here is a selection of some of the plants we are propagating at the moment.

Regular readers of the blog will have seen Pete’s great post about Salvias some weeks back and will know Sissinghurst is crammed with a wide range of these stunning plants. We propagate almost 20 species and varieties of Salvia, growing young plants in the main glasshouse whilst storing mature stock plants in the longhouse throughout winter. My particular favourites are S. semialtrata for its exquisite foliage and beautifully elegant multi-tone flowers and S. uliginosa for its graceful upright habit and delightful light blue flowers, a superb plant for the back of borders but also equally useful in containers. Both are propagated by nodal tip cuttings, with S. uliginosa rooting easily within 2 – 3 weeks. S. semialtrata can be a little more difficult due to its softer foliage which doesn’t always react well to moist conditions but with a little careful management they will root within 3 – 4 weeks.

Begonia fuchsioides
A beautiful introduction to the garden this year Begonia fuchsioides is simply magnificent, bearing a profusion of flowers continuously throughout late spring, summer and into autumn. It has been a feature in both pots and the border in the lower courtyard and has proved to be a real asset.  A tender plant it requires protection once night time temperatures begin to drop below 10⁰C, but it is relatively straight forward to propagate from nodal tip cuttings. The key to success is removing all flower buds from the cuttings (including those which may develop whilst the cutting roots) and careful moisture management. The fleshy nature of the stems means if the compost is excessively wet they will rot easily, so keeping compost moist but not saturated and misting the foliage once daily will ensure healthy, well rooted young plants.

We grow several Cupheas for the garden, three of which are present in the Cottage Garden and give a beautiful ongoing display of pretty cigar-like flowers in shades of red and orange. Cupheas are native to South America and dislike our wet winters so to ensure their presence next year we take nodal tip cuttings which root in around 3 weeks. Due to their highly floriferous nature it is important when propagating to carefully remove any flower buds from the cuttings as leaving buds in place will lead to the cutting diverting energy to flowering instead of rooting. It can be very fiddly to remove the buds but it is extremely important to remove them as cleanly as possible as any damage to the main stem can lead to rotting.

Tibouchina urvilleana
A truly wonderful half hardy shrub which can usually be found gracing a pot on the lower courtyard steps. It bears stunning, large, rich purple flowers throughout summer and is graceful in its form and habit. Propagation can be tricky as due to the plants floriferous habit it makes little growth in the main flowering period. Finding enough material for cuttings can be a problem, so I normally keep stock plants in the nursery so that I can raid these for material rather than disturbing the superb garden specimen. Nodal tip cuttings will root in 5 – 6 weeks and we aim to take cuttings with at least two sets of leaves as leaf drop is common.

Phyla nodiflora
Phyla nodiflora is a superb low growing perennial originating from the Americas. Not strictly considered half hardy but it can be susceptible to very wet, cold conditions and as Sissinghurst is on clay we always propagate to ensure we don’t lose it. I love this plant for its delightful little pink flowerheads, its dense, full, mat forming habit and its general toughness and usefulness. Growing in the Rose garden on the edge of the main path, it withstands being stepped on and although thankfully ours have never been tested it is reported to be deer tolerant.  Propagation is incredibly easy as the plant will often do the job for you by forming roots on spreading stems naturally. We take nodal tip cuttings throughout the summer and early autumn, which will root in a couple weeks. If you’re looking for great ground cover and your soil isn’t too wet this winner of a perennial would be a fantastic choice.

Emma Grigg

During the months of September and October, the trial beds and Cutting Garden will be open on Thursday from 2-4.30pm. If you’d like to have a look at these behind the scenes area please do come along and have a look. Emma