Speaker: Geoff Hawkings
Date: 27th January
Year: 2016


Geoff retired in 2012 as Head Gardener from the private estate of Mill Court near Alton after 35 years working in greenhouses, vegetable and fruit gardens and herbaceous and shrub borders. His talk was about all aspects of simple plant propagation and doing things his own way.

His first slide was: The Joy of Sex – we wondered if we had come to the right lecture! What he meant was the joys of sowing seeds and propagating plants and watching things grow.

Starting with sowing seeds, those little packets of energy containing a lot of DNA from which when they germinate a shoot and root appears. They need moisture and warmth and some seeds also need light to germinate. Geoff spoke about different brands of growing medium, after tests he found Vitax to give the best results providing excellent aeration and water holding properties. Next he discussed different types of containers in which to grow the seeds.

He recommended 31/2 inch short pots and to fill them with compost, level it off and firm with a tool, don’t use thumbs as they leave hollows. Then sew as much seed from the packet as sensible on the surface starting at the outside where it is warmer, cover with vermiculite, press down lightly to make sure the seed is in contact with the compost and water with a fine spray or stand the pot in water till the vermiculite turns brown.

DON’T FORGET TO LABEL! Then place in a propagator at 20/22 0C and cover with a light plastic bag or fleece or both and seedlings should appear in 5 days which should then be put in a cool light place. Fine seed should be mixed with silver sand before sewing. Large seeds should be sewn half filled into cells trays or root trainer pots starting from the outside and gradually fill up the pot with compost as the seedling grows.

Hard coated seeds like sweet peas can be scarified ie rub a file on the coat but avoid the eye! Some seeds like trees/shrubs/alpines need a period of cold before they will germinate, this is called stratification and can be done in the fridge.

Geoff then told us about pricking out into cell trays or small pots which should be filled with compost and levelled. Take the seedling by the leaf, twizzle the root around and push it right into the prepared hole. Water and put into a cold frame or similar.

Plug plants bought from the garden centre should be planted outdoors in a fine tilth. He recommended planting the whole plug and thinning out afterwards.

When sewing seeds outside, sew in drills in fine tilth, water the drills once or twice, sew, cover and firm. For carrot seed Geoff recommended that the seed is put in a plastic bag with wet vermiculite.  When the seeds germinate, sew in drills as above firm and cover with micromesh.

He then went into simple propagation. He uses 41/2 inch pots, 50/50 perlite with compost for water retention and warmth and a gardening or craft knife and secateurs. When cuttings are rooted the roots come through the bottom.

His first example was a fuschia cutting. A 4” stem is cut beneath the leaves, leaves are cut off and those left reduced in size, pop the stem into the side of the pot, water and cover with plastic bag on an east facing window till rooted.

He described how to take leaf stem cuttings from African violets and leaf vein cuttings for begonias.  Hard wood cuttings should be taken in winter, an 8/10” stem, cut below a leaf scar should be put in a long pot or directly into the garden in a slit trench with one bud above the surface.

Use the same method for lavenders which take easily, and semi ripe cuttings should be taken when the plant has new shoots. Geoff finished his very interesting and instructive talk with a few words about herbaceous plants, for autumn flowering plants now is the time to split the clumps a pruning saw may be needed, spring flowering plants, split in the autumn.

Geoff’s shared wealth of knowledge will certainly be of use in helping us increase our stock of plants and provided us with useful insights into the world of making more from our plants.

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