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.

Gardening Journal – Entry 11

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Today has been a bit of a slow one – but much needed. It started with a beautiful sky show on the way to work, with a tangerine wash of colour filling my view all the way in. Grumble as I may about the clocks going back, I felt very luck to be able to catch that sunrise on my cycle today.

Today really was a study day, with us only leaving the depot for two and a half hours to fill some containers with soil. The rest of it has been spent behind laptops, trying to catch up on missed college work and get up to speed with our Learner Journals.

The containers we filled have been affectionately named the ‘COVID planters’, as they are technically new sites hat have come about during and because of the pandemic. They will be planted with small trees and shrubs and have socially-distanced seating arranged around them. From what I could see on the planting list, there will be a lot of birch trees collared by a ring of liriopes at the bottom. I also spotted some Osmanthus aquifolum on the sheet.

Much like a lasagne, when planting up a container with a tree, the layering is very important. Coincidentally, we got the order all wrong and spent ages shovelling leca out of the planters. We should have started with a layer of Terram (a geotextile that allows moisture to pass through but won’t allow bigger particles such as leca or soil to pass through and mix), followed by two bags of leca. Then, another layer of Terram was placed on top and we shovelled in the soil. To make sure the soil level was correct, I hopped into the containers and treaded the soil, to find any gaps and remove large air pockets, before filling it to the desired height.

As the trees are only being delivered tomorrow, when we’re studying from home, we did not fill the containers to the top and instead only filled them halfway. This will allow space for the rootball to be placed without double handling of the soil.

Tomorrow is all about catching up on the work I missed while my laptop was being serviced and I couldn’t complete classwork virtually. Wish me luck!

Gardening Journal – Entry 10

Monday 26 October 2020

I’m finally back! After a week off work due to COVID symptoms (the test came back negative, don’t worry) and being without a working laptop for three weeks, here is another Gardening Journal entry.

A lot has changed in the past four weeks. Spaces that were once a lush mass of green have an added depth as the russet, gold and crimson foliage reminds us of the beautiful variety of plants all growing together. On a more somber note, the clocks have gone back, making the morning commute into work a little less miserable. However, the change has stolen away our evenings somewhat. I’m still getting used to going to sleep at what feels like 11pm. I don’t even know if the clock changes help us, really, but that’s a different post for a different day.

This week we are without supervisor and although we had a plant to work to involving some lawn cutting and shadowing a senior gardener, all that flew out of the window when some turf arrived to finish a lawn. We had started working on it almost two weeks ago, however, we came short due to heavy rainfall damaging some of the turves. So off we popped with a van-load of turves and enough tools to sink a ship.

To lay turf you need:

  • Broom – for sweeping the area before and after the job (particularly in autumn and winter when there are always fallen leaves everywhere)
  • Large rubber rake – for removing fallen leaves and debris from the soil before laying turf
  • Wheelbarrow – to carry said tools, as well as to move the heavy turves without injuring your back
  • Flat-head garden rake – to tamp down the turves after you’ve laid them
  • Clappers – to pick up swept leaves
  • Scaffolding boards – to distribute your weight when standing on laid turf
  • Half-moon – to slice through turf when you need to cut it
  • Edging shears (this will make them blunt, so always use a dedicated pair for turfing) – to cut through the turf if the half-moon won’t do
  • Loads of green bags – for the leaves, debris and turf offcuts

The first step in any turfing job is to measure out the area. As the standard size for turves is 1m² (2m x 0.5m), you simply need to buy as many turves as the size of the site. For example, in the area we were finishing off, it measured approximately 9m by 2m. We counted the turves we used for this project and the total came to 18 turves, excluding offcuts.

The next step is to decide where to begin working. The two most important things to consider are how you can use the turves efficiently to reduce as much waste as possible and how you can avoid leaving smaller pieces on the perimeter of the space. Smaller pieces on the edge of the area are more likely to dry out and possibly go brown or die off entirely.

My method is to work from the outside in, as this guarantees that the edge will have enough large pieces to keep it moist. We were working on a slightly awkward space, which had a couple of jutting spaces and was not completely parallel. While I laid out the turf on the far edge, Laurence worked on the inner strip.

The edge usually takes quite a lot longer to lay out, as it needs to be as straight as possible. This can often mean re-rolling the turf and repositioning, as the turves as so heavy that any tugging or pulling can tear, stretch or weaken it. Once the first pieces is correctly positions, the second can be lined up at the end. The idea is to work in one direction and weave your way up and down the site, as this will create the striped effect usually achieved using a mower with a mower roller.

All the edges of each turf (except the side on the perimeter of the site) have to be ‘knitted together’. This involved getting the turves close enough together that there is a slight overlap. Then you can lift the two pieces and effectively drop them into a perfect, joined position. This can then be tamped in either by giving the seam a good punch or using the flat-head garden rake to smack it in. Needless to say, laying turf is a good outlet for anger and frustration.

Sometimes the turf will need to be cut once you get to the end of the strip. This can be achieved through laying a scaffolding board along the line you want to cut and using a half moon to slice along it, creating a clean, precise line. For trickier areas, it may be necessary to use the edging shears.

As the site was not parallel, the final strip in the middle became wider and wider towards one end. After a certain point, the distance was too wide or the turves to fit in lengthways. As such, as I turned them to the sides and lay them that way, making sure the longest piece was laid on the edge, to it wouldn’t dry out.

The end result was something we were very proud with, especially as it was only the second time we had ever done it! All newly laid turf looks a little like a patchwork, but in a week or two it will look lush and the seams between individual turves will begin to disappear.