So, the main purpose of my recent trip to UK (a mere month after my last trip!) was to attend a cutting workshop held by Derry Watkins at Special Plants Nursery. After an uncomfortable night in the softest beds known to man at a local hotel, I was feeling a bit ‘backish’, I believe gardeners are prone to bouts of severe discomfort when made blissfully comfortable. Anyway, I was at my destination, a small nursery somewhere between Bath and Bristol in the UK.
My first introduction to Derry was when she appeared from the Nursery area, a small, slight but robust lady, dressed in hiking trousers and fleece, short untidy hair and glasses. She exuded a confident no-bullshit American earthy swagger. Only five of us turned up for the workshop, which was held in Derry’s beautiful and light strewn home, sat at her big dining table we listened reverently as she imparted her knowledge. I liked her immensely and I don’t actually ‘like’ many people, preferring instead to mentally dismember them with extraordinary cynicism and disdain. Possibly why I don’t have many friends.. the ones I do have though, I consider to be worthy humans who walk their talk and aren’t full of shite. Derry is one of those, she is an actual gardener, with dirty borderline arthritic fingers, callouses, weathered skin, a face that is quick to smile at the ridiculousness of modern life and eyes that wink in a knowing way.
Her approach to propagation is one filled with absolute, pure enthusiasm, tempered with and rooted in blatant common sense. She didn’t patronise us, she explained the nature of taking cuttings at a scientific level, explaining why you have a higher success rate if you do it ‘like this’, stuff that you read in the RHS books, but don’t remember because they’ve bored you to death on the way by the precision detail they insist on.
Derry has a beautifully controversial idea of propagation.
- DO collect seed in nature, the plant has spent its entire evolution ensuring its seed is dispersed as far as possible around the planet, it would colonise the universe if it could, it is our job as a species to take seed and sow it where we live and share it further.
- Starve and almost thirst your plants through the winter, they stand a better chance of surviving the low temperatures. Cuttings taken at this time of year should not be potted on until Spring and just kept ticking over, particularly if you have no means to keep them actively growing.
- DO listen to her way of doing things, but DO make your own way of doing things that suits you, try stuff, fail, succeed, do stupid shit, learn and do it again and keep doing it.
Her prop area is very low-fi. No lights. A limed up misting bench, a small polytunnel well ventilated by keeping the doors open. There’s no babying of plants here, just good gardening skills, ensuring robust and hard as fuck plants at the end of it all.
The measure of this lady is the fact that she converses with you about plants as she plucks watercress from her pond allowing you to enjoy her garden before making you soup from the harvest, served with fresh, iron panned cornbread… and sends you home with cuttings aplenty, stashes of seed and shitloads of new ideas to try to up your game with. She is a proper human, doing proper things, in a proper way. I like that.