growing things

DIY rooting hormone with willow bark

I had a couple of cuttings to take (it being that time of year), but wasn’t keen to get commercial rooting hormone to help them along. Someone at the EAT 2011 course in August told me that you can use willow bark as a rooting tonic, which makes a lot of sense given the notorious enthusiasm with which willow will root.

With reference to instructions for herbal decoctions and instructions for willow rooting tonic, I went for the most straightforward option: a fresh willow twig from the tree opposite the house, broken into 2″ chunks, put in a bowl, covered with boiling water, and left overnight. Initially there seemed to be no change in the water and I was a little dubious as to whether this would work. By the next day it had definitely taken something from the willow, and changed colour.

Jar of willow bark infusion, labelled with the date, expiry date, and DO NOT DRINK
Apparently it keeps in the fridge for a couple of months.

The cuttings in question are rosemary and thyme. I want backups of my current plants, as I plan to move the grown-up plants out of their pots and into the ground next to the (rapidly-growing) lawn. My concern is that the soil there is very clay, and lacks good drainage — not great conditions for herbs. In mitigation, I plan to dig a big hole and fill it up with a combination of garden compost, two-year-old potting compost (since herbs don’t like a soil that’s too rich), and a little sand to improve the drainage, before transplanting. But there’s definitely still a risk that the plants won’t survive. Hopefully if that happens, at least one of the cuttings will do and can be nursed up to replace the plan.

I took twig cuttings as usual from both plants, cutting diagonally across the stalk and stripping the leaves from the bottom half so they won’t rot in the soil. I then dipped them in the willow bark infusion before putting them in the compost, and for good measure, watered afterwards with a little of the infusion as well. Now they’re with the other potted herbs on the back patio, and I’ll see if they make it to next spring. (Green) thumbs crossed!

Two small plastic pots of compost on a bench, one with rosemary twigs in and one with thyme twigs
Rosemary and thyme cuttings.

the garden project

The Garden Project: creating grass

Along with my recently-moved-into new house came a new garden. Specifically, a south-facing space about 8m long by 5m wide (tiny by most people’s standards; pretty decent by local standards; and a huge improvement on the 5m x 1.5m balcony of our previous house). As of our moving-in date, it was entirely paved over, with a single and somewhat overgrown dog rose at the southern, shadiest end.

My overall intention is to spend a few months thinking, from a permaculture perspective, about a proper plan, and start to implement that in the spring. Indeed, ideally I’d wait a whole year before doing anything, but I think by the spring I should have enough information to get going.

However, there were a couple of more urgent issues:

  1. We wanted a patch of grass for the dog more or less immediately.
  2. I wanted some kind of plant-related quick win, to make it more like a garden and less like a very large pavement.

For the grass, then, we went for the quick-and-dirty decision-making process, which looked a bit like this:

  • There’s a patio at the house (north) end, which is solid concrete masquerading as railway sleepers(!). Doing anything with that will be time-consuming and expensive, so for now it stays. So no grass there, leaving the rest of the garden to be considered.
  • We wanted the grass to be accessible directly from the patio, so that it’s useful for humans to meander over and sit on, and so that the dog wouldn’t have to wend her way through the vegetable-growing part of the garden to have a pee. Given the north-south orientation of the garden, that meant a north-south strip.
  • There’s an old gardener’s maxim “west is best”; so I wanted to hang onto the west-facing side of the garden for the veggies.

By process of elimination, we wound up with the east-facing side (the western side) of the garden for the grass.

We started off with a test patch at the bottom of the garden. Unfortunately it turned out that under the ‘easy to lever up’ paving slabs, in a couple of places there were ‘much harder to lever up, and bloody heavy’ concrete slabs. Underneath that was an inch or so of sand, and underneath that, a layer of weed matting. (Under that, highly compacted clay, as one would expect in London.) P succeeded in getting up all the slabs and concrete on the test patch, and ripped up the weed matting. Since grass doesn’t like too rich a soil, we mixed in a lot of old compost with the sand, and dumped some grass and wildflower seed on top of it to see what would happen.

Answer: glorious green success.

This week, D took up the rest of the slabs on that side, forked over the sand and clay and spread a light layer of compost, and we spread more grass and wildflowers over the lot. Hopefully we’ll have at least a little greenery there before the winter sets in properly.

In the next post: pots and a raised bed, for late summer and winter vegetables. (Hopefully also I’ll have added some photos to this post by then.)