Even if your garden is tiny, the cost of buying plants from a garden centre can quickly mount up. But you needn’t spend anything to have pots spilling over with colourful plants — if you know someone else with a garden.
Taking cuttings is quick, won’t harm the original plants, needs no special kit and costs zero. As summer comes to an end this is a great time to save seeds, take cuttings and divide plants to make more.
From geraniums to poppies, love-in-a-mist to mint, here’s how to get your hands on free plants even if you’re a total beginner.
Whether white, pillar box red or in-your-face pink, pelargoniums are the quintessential city plant, thriving in pots on windowsills and balconies.
If you find one you like, choose a stem that doesn’t have a flower or buds on the end and cut it so it is about 10cm long.
Store it in damp kitchen roll until you get home. Using a sharp knife, cut the bottom end of the stem just below a leaf and then remove the leaf.
Suspend the stems in jam jars of water on a windowsill so the bottom end is under water. Roots will soon form.
After a couple of weeks, you can transplant the seedlings into small pots and overwinter them on a kitchen windowsill. Next spring they can go outside — or stay inside as house plants.
Hardy geraniums are city troopers that will flower for months, quickly covering bare patches with colour and knitting other plants together like a magic glue.
If you know someone with a large clump of these, especially if it is growing happily in similar conditions to your own garden, leap at the chance to bring some home.
Wait until it has finished flowering, then lift the whole plant gently with a garden fork. You can then split the root ball into two (two forks back to back work wonders).
Quickly replant half and water it well then put your pilfered section in a plastic bag to keep the rootball moist until you can get it home and replant it where you want.
Lady’s mantle, verbena bonariensis and rose campion are such popular plants I’d challenge you to find a London garden that doesn’t contain at least one. Look around the base of the plant and you will likely find its babies.
Dig up a seedling with a trowel taking care not to damage the roots and pop it in a plastic bag to keep it moist till you get home. Then just transplant it into its new position and water it in. Job done.
Just nick a bit
Some plants are so keen to spread that they won’t notice if you take a piece around the outside.
If you hanker after lamb’s ear, the silvery furry ground cover with strokable leaves, or want some fresh mint, dig up a section around the edge with a trowel.
As long some roots remain on it, it will grow on in a new position and soon spread. Put it in a plastic bag to keep it moist until you get home and then transplant it, watering in well.
There’s no need to buy seeds of classic cottage flowers such as love-in-a-mist, poppies, cornflowers, cosmos and marigolds if you have friends growing them.
At this time of year annual flowers like this have set seed and you can simply take it. Snap off the dried papery seed cases or heads and put them in an envelope.
When you get home, tap the seeds out, separating them from the case, and store them in a dry drawer.
One of those sachets of silica beads you get when you buy shoes or bags will make sure they stay dry. Next spring, sow as normal into your window boxes, pots or garden soil.
- Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell, with photography by Sarah Cuttle, is published by Kyle Books