by Janice F. Booth
NOV. 05, 2021
“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”
—Robert Persig, American author
Perhaps you still have a dog-eared copy of this intriguing book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, laying around somewhere. But I digress. Persig’s wise advice seems to apply not only to the world’s great and terrible challenges, but to our own lives, and even to our own gardens. I suggest we might improve our tiny patch of this world, this earth, by sharing our garden’s beauty and bounty with others, particularly with the season of giving fast approaching.
With autumn rolling toward winter, you might be thinking, “My tomatoes are finished; I’ve admired my last mum. What does she want me to share from my garden now?” Well, don’t be dismayed. I propose we look over our gardens, newly tidied and bedded down for the approaching winter, as a source of thoughtful and personal gifts. Which plants and shrubs might we share now with friends and neighbors? For example, those irises, now sporting a crewcut where slender leaves once swayed, might be lifted gently from the ground so their plump, sweet smelling Orris roots are exposed. (Did you know these roots are dried and used in the production of perfume and mouthwash? I didn’t.) But again, I digress. With a clean, sharp garden knife, you can cut through the fat root, dividing it into several plants, each with a leaf-stub or two. (You’ll be treated to the delicate, violet fragrance as you divide the root.) Replant your own iris in your garden. Then, in simple, clean, clay pots or colorfully decorated containers, settle the new plants in planting-soil. Be sure to thoroughly water these new plants and set them in a sunny spot out of the way of frost. In a few weeks you’ll see the new plants begin to stir. Each of these little dears can be given as a gift to neighbor or friend. You might design a small card that names the plant and how to care for it, include a tiny picture of a blooming iris. Expand
This process is asexual propagation, the parent plant is divided to produce new plants. In addition to dividing root balls, asexual propagation may involve cuttings from plant stems or even leaves. Last spring you may have cut branches of forsythia or pussy willow, immersed the branches in a vase of water, and been delighted when a delicate tracery of roots emerged from the cuttings. Well, you can do that now too. Take a sharp pair of shears into the garden and snip some dormant forsythia branches—those lovely, arching specimens. Set the branches in a vase or jar of water, and when roots appear, plant them as a cluster in a deep, narrow pot, watering lavishly at first. In the case of forsythia, willow, and similar shrubs, the note that accompanies the gift might advise the recipient to plant the young bush in the ground when spring arrives.
Succulents make pretty, shallow-dish gift arrangements, and they are easy to propagate from leaves. Think about aloe (such medicinal value for cuts and burns) and jade. They would complement one another in a miniature potted-garden. Again, using a sharp knife, make a clean cut of a healthy leaf or stem. Set the new plant aside without water or soil; trust me, roots will begin to appear. Once the roots emerge, arrange the aloe, jade, and cactus in a shallow dish, and place the plant-nursery in a sunny window. Do not overwater these fledglings. If you have chicks-and-hens in your rock garden, you can dig up the larger specimens and carefully divide their roots. Soon you’ll have 5 or 6 little chicks to share; arrange them with the aloe and jade. You might add some tiny pebbles among the plants for the rock-garden effect. Be sure to replant your mother hen so she can produce more chicks in your spring garden.
The alternative form of propagation is sexual propagation using seeds and spores. (I confess I have a poor track record when it comes to growing plants from seeds. I suspect I’m too impatient.) You can order seed packets for some quick-growing annuals or vegetables, then set the seeds to sprout. Think about marigolds or coleus seeds—or put them together. Their colors would be lovely in contrast. A castor bean vine might make a pretty gift too, and I’m told they’re almost fool-proof to grow from seed. Salad greens make a thoughtful gift for chefs and families.
Growing lettuce, sprouts, parsley, broccoli, and kale from seeds is easy, and their colors and leafy heads are attractive on a winter counter or windowsill. A cheery gift that might include a recipe for a new salad dressing, or even a jar of homemade dressing to accompany the greens. Expand
Here are a few helpful hints for your gift-giving project, ways to make the plant-growing process easier:
- If you’re starting with seeds, soak them in a bowl of lukewarm water. They’ll expand to twice their original size. When they do, plant them in damp soil.
- Dip cuttings in willow water; it can be purchased in a nursery or garden store. The willow is a fast-growing shrub because it contains 4 natural hormones that stimulate growth. Giving your new cuttings a bit of willow water provides them with those same growth hormones in tiny quantities. (You can even produce your own willow water if you have willows in your garden. The process involves boiling and refrigeration. Check out the recipe at gardentherapy.ca)
- Set a clear, plastic bag over your new plants in their pots. Keep them bagged until the plants really begin to flourish. The bag will retain moisture and warmth.
- Before cutting roots or branches for propagation, thoroughly clean the garden knife or shears with rubbing alcohol to remove any bacteria that might infect the fragile plants.
Start now preparing thoughtful gifts from your hands and your garden. Involve the young people in your household; they can make gifts for their teachers, relatives, coaches, and, in some cases, even friends.