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lilaccuttingI planted a lilac bush this week, one which I grew myself from a cutting. I'm happy to say it brought back some wonderful memories of my old neighbour, Mr Craig. He was in his eighties when I first came to the village 25 years ago, and I would often hear his walking stick rapping on my front door (he always refused to come inside and preferred, instead, to chat on the deck, whatever the weather). Inevitably, he would be holding in his hand a scrappy bunch of sticks which he would thrust at me with a mumbled, "Here, poke these in the ground and see what you can get to grow."

I didn't, of course. I was too busy painting the house while simultaneously washing nappies and trying to write books. But last year, I had occasion to remember Mr Craig's instructions. It was not long after yet another of my New Zealand publishers had shut up shop and moved to Australia, and I was faced with a sudden decline in income. As always, when such calamities hit, my first port of call is the vegetable garden. I simply plant another row of potatoes and build another raised bed. But this time, I took things a step further and reined in my spending at the garden centre (it never amounts to much but there are savings to be made everywhere when austerity is called for).

So, one morning, I found myself walking round the village taking cuttings from any shrub overhanging a fence or from the gardens of neighbours with whom I stopped to chat. I brought my bunch of sticks home, crammed them, four or five at a time, into a pot of garden soil, and shoved them all in an unwanted spot in the garden. A slurp of water now and then was all the attention they got but, lo and behold, when I checked on them at the end of winter, some were sporting bright green leaves. I was thrilled enough to pull the weeds away from the ones that had 'taken', and pop them into the sun.

Since then, I've got the propagation 'bug'. I've learned that my strike rate will be increased if my planting medium includes a little fine river sand, and if I dip the cuttings into rooting hormone before planting them. (I've since discovered on the internet tips for brewing my own rooting hormone, which is what I'll be doing in the future.) I've also found, through a visit to the library's gardening shelves, that some shrub cuttings are better taken at one time of a year rather than another, and I've moved on from cuttings to layering, budding and grafting (I thoroughly recommend joining your local Treecrops Association)!

There's something wonderful about growing a bush or tree from nothing but an old stick. It's like a gift from the earth, like being given something for nothing. And when times get tough, isn't that exactly what we can all do with!

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