This is no time for lollygagging. If you have beaten the weeds into submission, staked all contenders for flopping or drooping, watered and mulched, then there are still verdant treats which await a keen gardener. The solstice means more daylight hours than darkness. Living in England I spend a dollop of the day with hose or can, watering containers in the warm drizzle. When I get tired of this, I find that midsummer is a fine time for taking softwood cuttings. I use small plants as gifts, bribes or social niceties. There is nothing altruistic about the practice; if my original dies, I’ll come panting round to your door, to beg a bit back again.
Euphorbia mellifera (Canary spurge, seed pods)
I have a pleasing collection of white Hydrangeas. If I spread some of these about the garden, the repetition will bring a harmonious echo to the design. I’m not paying another twenty pounds a pop for “Hayes Starburst” or the oak leaved H. quercifolia and I’m prepared for a goodly wait. Out with the pots, scissors and cutting compost. The latter is as sterile as possible and poor in organic matter, which is the stuff that encourages rot. Vegetative reproduction ensures that the new specimen is exactly the same as the parent, so pick a variety that performs well. The method is a race between a spreedy stalk taking root, or languishing and dying in a pitiful puddle of slime or furry ball of mould.
Lilium (Asiatic lily) “Blackout” & “Black Cat”
Take some four inch (ten centimetre) terminal stems, bearing no flowers. The cut should be made just below a leaf node. Trim off excess foliage with a sharp knife, leaving two leaves on top. If these are large, cut them in half. Dip the cutting in water, then in rooting hormone powder if you have any and you can find it in the disaster zone that is your shed. Using a dibber or finger, make a hole down the side of the pot full of soil, place the cutting therein and firm it down. Three is one of my lucky numbers, so a trio of shreds of green in each container go forward to meet their fate. Water well, then place a polythene bag over the top, without it being in contact with any part of your snippets of hope. Place the pot in a cold frame or similar, out of direct sunlight. Remember to check for moisture levels and signs of decay in which case, evict the culprit without mercy.
Cynara scolymus (artichokes)
In two to four weeks you will know if you have been successful. If yes, pot on the plants individually when rooted and if this is a present, choose which of your children you love the most, to receive your bounty. If it is a spectacular specimen, perhaps think about the proof required that you are their favourite parent. It’s not too late for them to dig trenches for sweet peas. If your efforts at striking are initially fruitless, try again but keep your failure to yourself, unless you are a greater person than I. Years may pass before a burgeoning bush results, plastered in blossom. Consider snatching morsels from Pelargoniums (geranium) and Osteospermums (Cape daisy) which will need frost free overwintering but should give faster results, as part of next year’s show. Once you get into the swing, nothing is safe. You’re going to be too busy for sun bathing.