Gardening Journal – Entry 13

Monday 2 November 2020

And just like that, it’s November, and another month has flown by in this simultaneously sloth-paced and urgently fast year. A second lockdown is looming and we only have two more days of freedom before we lose the pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops again. Nothing much has changed for me this year, as we have worked throughout all lockdowns and the pandemic in its entirety. We didn’t even take a day while the dangers and health risks were assessed – we were far too busy mowing those lawns and pruning the wisteria and supposedly keeping London on its feet. It feels so good and so bad to be ‘essential’.

So, back to work I went this morning. Unfortunately, just as the country lost its faith in the government (can you lose something that has already been missing for years?), the frame of my glasses lost the will to stay attached and snapped in half. It’s an upsetting moment for any 20-something on a meagre apprentice salary and with only two contact lenses to their name, but considering I was speeding along on a narrowboat at the time, it was far from ideal. Luckily, I was video calling my mum so I didn’t feel like a complete plonker as I held my glasses to my face and smashed into some bloke’s boat while I rummaged around for my last pair of contact lenses.

Thank goodness, my workplace provided prescription safety goggles to me and Laurence early on in our apprenticeship, so I’ve been walking around London looking like I’ve just swum the channel. London Fashion Week will emit a sigh of relief when they hear that an emergency box of contact lenses are arriving at work tomorrow and new glasses are currently being whittled, so I will no longer be terrorising the streets in my utility specs.

After spending the early morning at work organising my optometry needs, me and my supervisor planted the bulbs in between the winter bedding we planted a couple of weeks ago. It was my first time planting bulbs in a bedding scheme and I’m glad I had already planted about 150 in containers in preparation. My containers took about an hour to plant and really took the energy out of me. You can imagine how intimidates I was when I found out we would be planting 1500 bulbs between the two of us in a raised bed full of delicate violas and forget-me-nots.

Once I had figured out my trowel technique stab the ground twice, trowel up, lift and slot the bulb pointed end up into the slit at the bottom), it became slightly faster work. The important thing to remember with bulbs is the planting depth. The rule of thumb is to plant them at a depth of three times their height. For tulips, this is around 10 – 15cm. Today we planted Tulipa ‘Spring Green’, which is new to me and I’m very excited to see come spring.

All in all, it was an energetic start to the week and made me feel quite accomplished, while distracting me from the next four weeks of abnormal normality. Gardening is very good at doing that.

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.