I suppose I can claim that I inherited my grandmother’s green thumb. Her little garden was full of potted plants and she hardly bought any of them. The quantity came from all the cutting and propagation she undertook over the years, especially with roses and orchids. She wasn’t too bad with fruit trees either, but she didn’t have the space for too many of those, so she stuck to her beloved orchids. I am no orchid expert, and probably never will be for as long as I live in Germany, so far away from the source of all the exotic varieties that I love. But I make do with what I have and nurture them to the best of my ability, and the same applies to the rest of my plant children.
There are some old family traditions that have been passed on that work though, and I really can’t explain how and why –
* coffee for gardenias,
* leftover tea (liquid) for violets,
* egg shells for orchids,
* ground (sea) shells for jasmine.
* And if you have bamboo, heliconia, and orchids in the garden, diluted urine works wonders. A friend in the Stuttgart area once asked me for a tip for his golden bamboo that was struggling in the garden. He had tried every possible fertiliser available in the market but the stubborn plant just refused to grow. I told him to pee on it regularly before watering and watch what happens. Aside from the fact that his neighbours thought he had gone completely daft, a year later he ecstatically reported that the bamboo has exploded in growth and was all over the place, reaching amazing proportions! Never use undiluted urine on the plants though; Daddy tried it one year on the precious cattleya orchids, thinking that the pure form would be healthier and ended up killing them within a day.
* have cacti that are also struggling? water them with diluted milk.
A botanist friend once told me many years ago, “Buy small plants, so that they are not too expensive, raise them well and then propagate them later on.” Hmmmm, easier said than done. I killed many a plant along the way, not knowing how, when, or where to cut properly, or even how to activate rooting. What did help, however, was shadowing the gardener in the various countries I lived in, as well as picking up whatever lessons I could from friends and relatives. My mother stuck to simple varieties, like bamboo and heliconias, muttering constantly at the rapid growth and ability to spread out. Neither she nor my father could ever measure up to my grandmother’s green thumb though, much as they tried. Daddy’s jasmine plant was legendary in the neighbourhood, and it broke his heart to part with it when they moved away. The person who bought their house promised to take care of it but the moment our backs were turned, the first thing that was pulled out during the renovation was the jasmine. Mommy, understandably, was livid but grateful to have at least one small offspring.
My mother-in-law hailed from a farmer family in the Black Forest, so her concept of gardening was more on the practical side. She opted for fruits that could be turned into jams, or herbs that could be freshly added to the meal, and in earlier years, a vegetable patch. The choice of plants in the garden were nothing exotic or overly complicated to take care of, but the garden was always full and neat.
When I moved to Berlin in 2017, I bought a few small plants immediately, for Feng Shui reasons but also to feel somewhat at home during my clamping days. It felt as though I hit the jackpot when I inherited the plant children of friends who moved away later that year, and have been propagating them diligently. In 2018 I added a fair share of succulents, herbs, and exotics, so far killing only the lavender, as expected. 2019, I decided yesterday afternoon, will be the year my plants multiply manifold through propagation. My little conservatory has become my playground and I find intense satisfaction in potting and re-potting plants. The two pots of Chinese bamboo I split into eight, and was on a roll, so I split a few others, taking care to add the rooting activator and throwing in coffee grounds for additional acidity. Only time will tell whether my decisions and methods were correct. There are never any guarantees in gardening, (which really should be spelled guardening since we are effectively guardians of the plants), and half the time I go on sheer instinct and internet research, but my mortality rate has been kept pretty low thus far.
It is only recently that I realise what great teachers plants really are. It is risky and scary to make changes, uproot, cut and separate without really knowing that the end result will be. But the initial apprehension is overcome once you accept that this is better for the plant(s) in the long-run. Propagation allows more growth, better expansion, and a fuller life. Adjusting to the new pot and soil takes time, and it is a process that cannot be timed or hurried. Each plant will do it at its own pace, paying no heed to the impatience of the external hands that seek to manipulate it. A nudge in the right direction is always welcome, but extreme conditions will overwhelm.
Patience and time, said the plants, give me space to grow and take root. I watch and learn, bowing to the forces I cannot control, finding strength and inspiration in them.