One Friday about a year ago I arrived at the gardens to find the bay tree missing. Yes, missing. Cut right down to the ground. Around the place big long branches of bay leaves. Janet swears “It’ll grow back much better for it”, but I’m not convinced. What’s done is done in any case, but that’s ever such a lot of bay! There’s only so much soup one community garden can make. So I set about chopping it up great branches putting leaves into any bags and boxes I could find. Shops and restaurants up and down the mountains became the lucky recipients of these glorious gifts from the gardens. A few months earlier I’d learned about propagating trees with the wonderful Bill and Lisa Mollison at their property in the wild and woolly north of Tasmania, where occasionally they run glorious practical courses, check out their website http://www.tagari.com/.
What if from the apparent devastation here, our tree returned and with it, the children of its heavy prunings!
First step was to prepare ‘willow water’. Willow doesn’t spread down the banks of our creeks and rivers through sheer force of will. It contains a powerful plant growth hormones, which is good, because firstly I’m told Bay trees are quite hard to propagate and secondly several gardeners remind me its a bad time of year to do this and they’ll never grow. Let’s see if the magic of willow water can help then. There are a couple of willow trees down the creek and a couple of places where a willow fence has conveniently sprouted suckers. We harvest these and chop them up, strip the leaves and give it all a good stir into a bucket of rainwater.
As it is, this is my first propagation practise and I don’t much mind what happens, I learned a skill I’m excited to share. I round up a few plant pots to stack like the bottom half of a bunch of Russian Dolls and pour soil in between them, firming it in as we go. I fill a few more little pots with soil from the gardens and we’re ready to begin.
From the branches we have I chop fairly randomly from the top of the branch counting about 4 nodes, or places where twigs or buds are sticking out from the branch. I take most of the leaves off and leave either a single leave or a half leaf or in one case two half leaves. I pop each twig in turn into the willow tea and prepare the next one. By the time I get to the last one – I do a dozen or so, the first one has been soaking in the willow water a good 10 minutes. So, this is placed half of its length going into the pot, two nodes above ground and two below. mmm tea, definitely time for a cuppa. There are a few cuttings in pots behind the shed and I leave mine with them, its a sheltered shady spot and perhaps gardeners before me have made this a casual nursery.
So its a year later. I’ve checked on the trees oh not very often. Perhaps it was the willow water, or maybe Fred has been kind enough to water them now and then, but there are cuttings still alive. Not many, about 4 all up. The other pots have vanished, so whether they took and they’re being enjoyed elsewhere or died I may never know. As it happens I know gardeners at exactly four community gardening projects in the mountains, Winmalee, Lawson, Lithgow and a budding community farm in Mt Tomah. So in honour of the Laurel Nobilis the ancient and noble bay tree and its role in making yummy soups every week at the community gardens, we’ll be sharing these with our gardening friends.
This week we’re propagating bay and our beautiful perfumed roses. We mulch an enormous length of path, with a little extra help from Franklin. Work is underway on new beds along the other side of the creek and broadbeans are coming up everywhere.
Soup this week is cauliflower, its the brassica season we pick spinach, kale, firey mustard greens and beetroot leaves.
Next week – a streamwatch update