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Magic Cuttings

Monday, October 8, 2007

Salvia coccinea (red) and S. guarantica "Black and Blue" (ultramarine). A hummingbird fiesta.

I know that all too soon, summer will be gone. Heck, it's gone already. Finally, after a sweltering September, the nights are crisp again. I can't remember a hotter September--days in the 90's, nights in the 60's. October: even worse. Everything is fried to a crisp. Took Baker on a hike yesterday and he took off after something and came back overheated. There was no water to douse him in where we were so I found a hose and drenched him. But they're promising a cooling off for tomorrow, and the sun has this wine-rich quality that, even when it's hot, isn't. The light is pellucid and penetrating; the heat somehow false.
Every year, I've fallen into the trap of taking my cuttings too late. I wait until October or, worse, November, when the plants are practically dormant, when their hormones are not flowing any more, and I take cuttings, and have a heck of a time getting them to root. Duh. You take cuttings when plants are actively growing. My plant friend Gordon told me that. So this year I took my cuttings in early September, and as I write they are already throwing out roots.

I'm a plant hoarder. There are plants I have decided I cannot live without, and I carry them over in the greenhouse from year to year. One year I lost ALL my fancy-leaf and miniature geraniums in the greenhouse, 28 varieties, to a power outage on an 8-degree night. It hurt. But the mercurial electric heat has now been replaced by good ol' gas, and we put a drip valve on the gas line, and we haven't had an unplanned gas outage since. And so I take cuttings.
I cannot live without heliotrope. Smells like cherry vanilla pie. Ergo: Must have it. So, apparently, must this clearwing hummingbird moth. Heliotrope roots well from cuttings, though I usually wind up digging up the whole plant, cutting it back to about 4" tall, and keeping it over the winter that way. Heliotrope is very forgiving. This time, I rooted cuttings. My three-year-old plant is getting too darn big for the greenhouse.
Here are some of this September's cuttings, already dipped in rooting hormone. Did you know that rooting hormone has pretty much the same chemical makeup as angel dust? Well, it does. Maybe that's why it's getting so durn hard to find in the grocery store any more, kind of like cough medicines that are a precursor to methamphetamines. I can't be bothered with either angel dust or meth. Life's too good, too full of beauty and possibility, and too short for "recreational" drugs.
The cuttings, ensconced in their rooting planter. I put Saran wrap over the top for humidity for the first week or so, until they settle in and stop wilting.Dinner outside, with hibiscus and parrot. A touch of tropicalia in the waning light of summer.

In the fall of 2006, my friend Mary Alice brought me a large peach-flowered hibiscus. She apologized for its size and the lateness of the season, but said, "I walked up to it and it spoke to me. It told me it was meant for you." And it occurred to her that I had a greenhouse where it could live over the winter. All true. I kept it over the winter, and it got about three feet tall and took a gallon of water every day. Come spring 2007, I breathed a sigh of relief, took it out of its pot, and set it in the lower garden. It's now as tall as my chin and covered with huge peach blossoms. Needless to say, it's not coming back in.

At the start of the winter of 2007, my horticulturally-inclined friend Jason took a few cuttings of this hibiscus, because we both knew it was going to get too big for the greenhouse. He grew it over the spring and summer, and gave it to me this August. Oh, thank you, Jason, for all the wonderful plants you brought me. You are theRooting King, the King of Salvias. Here's its first blossom. And mine. Come spring, they'll probably both be looking me square in the eye.


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