A Peculiar Fight For Turgidity

The tame, too smug, I cry;
There’s no adventure in security;
Yet still my little garden craft I ply,
Mulch, hoe, and water when the ground is dry…

-Vita Sackville-West
The Garden; 1948

 

 

The other day I was looking up odds and ends when I came across a word I have never heard.  It’s a word that has been rolling around in my mind for days as we are in desperate need of it.  Turgid, or swollen in reference to plants means they have a healthy amount of water hydrating their cells.  Imagine a plant whose leaves are plump and stand upright they way they ought to.  That is turgidity.

Yesterday, I did something rather peculiar.   It hasn’t really rained here for weeks and the trees are beginning to droop.   Everything is looking rather dull and dry.  Even my precious maple my husband planted as my Mother’s day gift is looking sad.

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Anyway, I was doing my daily watering of the garden when it struck me how dehydrated my neighbor’s lilac bush looked.  Its bright green leaves had lost their luster and they drooped and sagged with drought.

My neighbor rents.  They keep to themselves mostly.  We hardly speak.  But through my keen observation I know they rarely look at that end of the house.  They do the bare minimum to take care of the old plants surrounding the property.  Funnily enough, the rose bushes and iris’s looked quite healthy and turgid, but the grand lilac bush of many years was struggling.

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(Above: My neighbor’s neglected rose bush rests its arm on their old meter.)

A thought came to my mind as I stood watering my own plants, and a sly smile creep upon my face.  Stealthily I crept over and threw my hose under its dehydrated branches – turning it on full blast.  I left it there for a moment while I meandered about, falsely pondering my own precious flowers.

Despite my efforts to be cool however, I imagined her watching my every move from her kitchen window wondering what the hell I was doing, and wishing I’d mind my own business.

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(Above: My neighbor’s lilac the morning after I gave it a douse of water.  As you can see it could use a little more.)

But I believe her lilac bush is my business.  It’s all I see out my kitchen window and its large green leaves distract from the poorly painted black and white motif of their asbestos siding.  I thought for sure it might die and they would neglect to tear it out for years – leaving it in the ground to rot and turn brown; much to my sorrow.
I refuse to look at death out my window when I can prevent such a disaster.  So I must utilize the hose and sprinkler for now until the rains come again.  Bring on turgidity please!!

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Spiderwort or The Unfortunately Named

It is sufficiently remarkable that a great and powerful noble should have accepted so frank a criticism from a peasant, little more than a child.  He was more accustomed to see such people tremble in his presence.  Such impertinence must have taken his breath away.  Besides, it attacked him in his most private feelings.

-Vita Sackville-West
Saint Joan of Arc; 1936

I like to learn things.  A “natural curiosity”, as my Grandma calls it, will keep one from being bored.   In fact, in my house, the word “bored” is considered a bad word.  It strikes me right to my core when my children say they are bored, because all that means to me is that they haven’t yet learned the ability to entertain themselves or they themselves are boring.

We have spiderwort plant growing behind our fence, completely neglected.  It was growing there when we moved in and we left it.  There was not much we cared to do with that plot of land anyway.  It is a scraggly, sloppy looking thing.  It just hangs there with its electric blue flowers that only seem to minimally dot the green foliage from afar.  I never thought much of it, in fact, I’ve always observed it as an ugly plant.  But as I’ve learned many times in life and in the garden, it is easy to make enemies of those we don’t know well.

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So let us get to know the spiderwort a little better, and perhaps from now on the sight of it won’t aggravate me.  We will perhaps satisfy our natural curiosity in doing so…

The unfortunately named spiderwort actually has many good qualities, and it has proved itself a very useful plant for centuries.

The word ‘wort’ originated in Middle English.  Middle English; think Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  ca. 1343-1400

“Whan that April With his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flowr…”

I could read Chaucer all day but alas, we must continue with today’s acquaintance.  The word ‘wort’ applies to plants or herbs used for medicinal reasons.  The root of the spiderwort are used as a laxative.  Brewed into a tea, they will help with numerous stomach ailments, including kidney pains and “women’s complaints”.

Its flower, the electric blue stars that smile with yellow stamens, can actually be eaten.  I can imagine it used as a decorative edible garnish for a summer dinner party in the garden. The sun sets in the background as your glass of Sauvignon Blanc politely sweats in the warm summer night air, while you get the pleasure of studying solely this flower at close range.

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Perhaps while you’re at it, you’d like to use its tender young leaves in your salad?  Yes, you can!   Forget the romaine, walk a little further to that forsaken plant round the corner and pluck some leaves to add something a little different; texture or otherwise.

Speaking of its leaves, the larger ones contain a mucus that can be used as a healing ointment.  This is also where the word ‘spider’ comes from.  If you tear a single leaf, this mucus-like substance will thread and stretch just like a spider web.

Well?  What say you?  Will you look on with disdain and turn your nose up at the spiderwort?  Or have you gained a new appreciation because you’ve gotten to know it better?   Personally, I’ll take the later response.  From now on it will remind me of the days centuries ago when Chaucer wrote of the great pilgrimage, and Middle English reigned in the world of literature.  Perhaps the peasant is the noble one after all.

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The Daylily: “The Lord Loves A Working Man”

They used to be regarded as a common old plant, almost a weed, when we grew the type which spread everywhere and was only a pale orange thing, not worth having…

Now there are many fine hybrids, which may come as a revelation to those who have not yet seen them.
They will grow in sun or shade.  They will grow in damp soil, even by the waterside if you are so fortunate as to have a stream or a pond in your garden, when their trumpets of amber, apricot, orange, ruddle, and Venetian red will double themselves in reflection in the water.  They will grow equally well in an ordinary bed or border.  They are, in fact, extremely obliging plants,  thriving almost anywhere.

-Vita Sackville-West
The Joy of Gardening; 1958

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I was more than a little distraught yesterday as I looked about my garden and nothing seemed to be blooming in abundance.  Abundance enough for me to cut a few flowers to use as a center piece for my Father’s Day table.   The Lilacs, I know, appropriately bloom on Mother’s Day.  It’s an easy find because I wait all year for those purple fragrant blooms.  But what for the father?  The roses have taken a little break it seems, and the hydrangeas are not quite there.

Without hope, I rounded the forgotten east corner of our yard and spotted them.  The orange trumpets that live but a day.  I’ll admit it was probably the first time I rejoiced at their sight.  They are too often forgotten by me.  A third rate flower as they seem in my mind.

However, I saw them and remembered years past when I, newly married and exhaustingly playing “Suzy homemaker”, would cut the blooms to beautify my table setting before the flowers shut themselves up for all eternity.

Seemed a waste of energy really.  I almost resented them for their lack of resourcefulness.  But that is nature, it often doesn’t make sense but it is miraculous and awe-inspiring all the same; to exert one’s energy and strive for perfection for just a day; for just a life.

In many ways we are like this.  Preparing a meal for the entire family for this day: Father’s Day past and present.  Us, the hosts and hostesses of the world; exerting all our energy and striving for perfection for just one little party.  Or rather it is like the father who works hard everyday so he can provide for his family.  Is that living?  I say yes.  Perhaps that is our only purpose; to exert and exhaust our energy for one eternal goal: survival for all.

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By our old house on the lake, daylilies grew in abundance.  So much so, that now, I truly believe if you hold one of the orange trumpets to your ear you might just hear the sounds of motor boats, jet skies and crashing waves, or perhaps the call of the kingfisher and the wings of swans as they flap across the sunset with their reflections below them.

So with this memory, and a new found appreciation for their hard work, perhaps I will rethink my forgetfulness.  I fixed myself a small bouquet; a rather handsome collection, much like our hardworking fathers.

I have a new appreciation for the Daylily today, like a new appreciation of a father whose obliging qualities are gradually recognized by their ever maturing children.  It is an obliging plant after all.  So, I’ll leave you now with the words of my own father who announced this wisdom as he went off to work every morning: “The Lord loves a working man”.

Indeed he must.

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Of Honey Bees And Red Clover

I loathe bees myself, one single sting sufficing to send me to bed, quite seriously ill, for nearly a week.  Yet I must admit to a romantic feeling for this self-contained world of little creatures, with their extraordinary arrangement of a life entirely their own, but at the same time, dependent upon what we elect to grow for them.  We cannot all grow wide acres of clover, nor can we compete with honey from Mount Hymettus in Greece, which is the best in the world…

 

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening; 1958

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(Pictured Above: Our hive this spring.)

When I was a little girl, my friends and I used to pick red clover during recess.  We’d pluck the little petals one by one an suck the sweet sugared ends dry.   We would giggle and show others what to do, and when the bell rang we’d toss the spent flowers on the earth to seed for future generations.

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Both the white clover (see in my post yesterday in An Ode To The Innocent Ones ) and the red taste sweet, but it is the red clover that we coveted most, and it is the red clover that is pollinated exclusively by honey bees.

When my husband and I harvest our honey in the summer we are collecting clover honey.  Clover honey not only tastes better than Fall’s harvest, which is primarily from the goldenrod flower, but it also will never crystalize with age.  Instead, its color will remain bright and shine like gold like it did the day you poured it.

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Yes, it can be dangerous.  My husband has gotten stung a couple times in the two years we’ve had bees, but for the most part, they are a gentle group.  If you do some reading and research and know your place, you’ll be alright.  Beekeeping is truly an equally fascinating and rewarding hobby.  It takes but a little amount of money to start a hive.  About $400 or so will get you all the supplies you’ll need and the bees, but you will be richly rewarded in forwarding years never having to invest another dime.

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Do consider starting a hive.  We need more bee keepers! We need more bees in order to live.  For instance, without honey bees we wouldn’t have clover at all, and I wouldn’t be here telling you how when I was a little girl, when I feared neither danger nor death, I pranced about in a field of clover delightfully sucking the sweetness out of life.

An Ode To The Innocent Ones.

Strange were those summers; summers filled with war.
I think the flowers were the lovelier
For danger.  Then we lived the pundonor,
Moment of truth and honour, when the bull Charges and danger is extreme…

…Strange little tragedies would strike the land…

…when wrath and strength were spent
Wasted upon the innocent…

-Vita Sackville-West
The Garden; 1948

 

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Clover is indeed an innocent plant.  Innocent as the children who gather it, innocent as the ones only looking for that lucky mutation; the four leaf, which will grant security in all its forms, and equally as innocent as the ones only seeking love and friendship.

One afternoon, on my walk, I came across a field of clover in the park.  Its cream colored patches smiled and blotted the green with different shapes and patterns reminiscent of the gardens at Versailles.  This beauty struck me, perhaps more so, because I found my neighbor sitting in the middle of one, while her daughter pranced about making a bouquet of the little flowers.

With innocence abound, its beauty was enhanced all the more.  So I took some photos before the dreaded mower, or the landscaper’s guillotine, with his ignorant blade of precision and correctness destroyed my view.

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Perhaps it was all the lovelier for danger.  Life is the same, when danger feels close and fear reigns, little reminders of beauty and innocence can indeed be all the lovelier to behold.  In times of war, we should seek not to remember the destruction and destroyer, but instead strive to remember only the innocent ones and their smile.

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Dedicated to the innocent ones of the Orlando tragedy.

 

 

 

 

 

History’s Peony: A Search & Rescue

Small pleasures must correct great tragedies,
Therefore of gardens in the midst of war
I boldly tell…

-Vita Sackville-West
The Garden; 1946

In this little beloved town of mine some take pleasure in knocking down the very old homes and building instead new homes of fiberglass and vinyl.   One of these very old homes, which was a rental property, had a clump of the most unique peonies I had ever seen.  They were pink with very few petals and a bright yellow center.  I regret I do not have a picture.  They sat sunning themselves by the porch stoop.  There were many flowers as the plant had to be very old.

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I’ve been told that the house was the general store for the neighborhood a hundred years ago.  Perhaps the store owner himself planted the peonies for his wife or wanted his customers to have a pleasant sight as they approached the store for their sundry goods.

Well, yesterday they knocked the house down; front stoop and all.  Imagine my horror as I listened to the demo trucks rolling over earth and concrete, not knowing the fate of those peonies!   When supper came and the bulldozers ceased.  I went over and surveyed the damage.

Everything was destroyed.  The grass and all the Hostas had been tossed about- landing willy-nilly all over the property.   But, alas remnants of the front stoop remained, and I knew under the earth next to that spot, the tubers might still be hiding.

From reading Vita’s many posts about peonies I know that the tubers should not be buried too deep.  So with a shovel, I sifted through the dirt carefully as if I was searching for the most delicate and rare fossil.  After about fifteen minutes my shovel scraped a single tuber, then another.  With the gentlest touch I brushed and dug to release the rest, and finally pulled up the most gnarly looking group of them I had ever seen.  I imagined the neighbor’s celebrating from their windows (Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched) as they finally realized what I was up to.

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Pictured above: A small portion of what I uncovered

My purpose would have been easily recognized from a distance, as this thing was about a foot and a half in circumference and twisted into many other tubers of varied sizes.  Talking to several neighbors, it seems these peonies were most coveted throughout the hood (don’t call it that), and some were kicking themselves for not saving the flowers before demolition began.  I separated most of the tubers and passed them around while I listened to their words of regret.

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In the midst of war between the historical and the modern, these flowers were spared.  Hopefully, they will produce their fragrant blooms of nostalgia once more.
We won’t know for sure until next year, but if these plants flourish they will be cherished by me all the more, for their journey was difficult and traumatizing.  I don’t know if any of the nutrients and energy remain for them to make it, but I have tried to give them a second life.  We can only wait and see if my efforts will flourish in the years to come.

Thank you for reading!

Please speak up if you’ve ever performed a “search and rescue” with plants.  Did they survive?  Thank you for your feedback.

Deadly Nightshade

This remedy she rejected, saying that she would rather die than do anything that she believed to be a crime or contrary to God’s will.

-Vita Sackville-West
Saint Joan of Arc: 1936

In one of my favorite books (I mean, if I was stranded on a deserted island (touch wood), this would be one of the books I would take) the protagonist tries to unsuccessfully kill herself with the deadly nightshade berry.

Memoirs of a Midget by Walter De la Mare caught my eye as I wandered about my favorite used bookshop Downtown Booksellers.  I intended to give it to my brother as a birthday gift, but as I read the first page I became so enamored with its story and prose that I ended up keeping it for myself.

It was like a secret.  Its title was practically unknown to all, and its author, equivalent to an indie rock group with just a small following.  Even so, it remains one of my favorites and I can’t understand why it doesn’t stand alongside the classics of Austen or Fitzgerald.

SONY DSC“Its bitter juices jetted out upon cheek, mouth, and tongue, for ever staining me with their dye.  Their very rancor shocked by body wide awake.  Struck suddenly through with frightful cold and terror, I flung the vile thing down, and scoured my mouth with the draggled hem of my skirt.” – Walter De la Mare; Memoirs of a Midget 

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I realize Vita would not have had much experience with nightshade, but I was riding along the Paint Creek Trail the other night and saw its scraggly vine creeping along the riverbank.  Its flowers were beginning to turn themselves into berries.  This is where the toxin alkaloid solanine dwells, and I was reminded of the passage above.

The toxin however exists only in the leaves and un-ripened berries, although I wouldn’t eat the ripe ones either.  The toxin can kill you if injested in large quantities, and it is known to cause problems in small children if eaten in any quantity.

Solanine contains properties which are anti-fungal and pesticidal.  This is the plant’s natural defense, making it entirely disease and pest resistant.  Can one of you rosarians please get some of this Solanine in a rose bush?   We’d never have problems again – Yippee!

An interesting fact; this toxin is also produced in potatoes right under the skin, so green un-ripe potatoes should always be peeled.  In fact, some of the toxin still exists in ripe potatoes!  You have to deep-fry them to eliminate most of it.  Boiling doesn’t do the job as well.

Thanks for reading!  Go out and get yourself a copy of that book!!

If you’ve read it, what did you think?

 

The Object Of My Disenchantment

There are few more repaying plants.   Rabbits dislike them; their flowering season extends through May and June; they last for a week or more as picked flowers for the house; they will flourish in sun or semi-shade; they will tolerate almost any kind of soil, lime-free or otherwise; they will even put up with clay; they never need dividing or transplanting; in fact, they hate it; and they are so long-lived that once you have established a clump (which will not be difficult) they will probably outlive you.  Add to all this that they will endure neglect.

-V. Sackville-West
In Your Garden: 1958

What Vita said is all very true.  So why have I been indifferent to our four peony plants growing around our house?  Let me explain, perhaps we’ll both learn something.

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For years I’ve been disenchanted by peonies, particularly our peonies.  I never paid much attention to other’s plants to correct my assumption that peonies are unimpressive in their flowering.  Their foliage was outstanding, but the blooms?  Almost nonexistent.   Our largest produced only four blooms this year, and another plant, only one, while the other two continually produce nothing every year.

Surprisingly, I never gave it much thought as to why our plants were at odds with the consistently generous plants of our neighbors.  However, it struck me last night when preparing for this post that we might be doing something wrong.  I read a little passage from Vita which states, “Never cut [them] down“, very seriously and in italics!  Then I realized our problem.

As I recall, for years we have been cutting them in autumn.  Now mind you, I didn’t give two hoots about gardening up until three years ago (I was raising toddlers), and even then, never paid attention to the peonies because they never produced much of anything.  But here was the problem:

My husband chopped them and I didn’t care because they never produced many blooms. So this cyclical pattern began where my husband chopped them every year and I sat back not caring because they never bloomed anyway. But they never bloomed because he was chopping them.  You see where we goofed?

 

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So this fall I will say no to chopping them down, and hopefully next year they will produce more blooms and I will acquire a new opinion.   I have however, always liked cutting them for bouquets.  They do very well, (lasting over a week) and will add fragrance to an entire room.   I have always liked this quality about them.  They smell wonderfully nostalgic to me-like sweet lemon, and remind me of Victorian front porches dappled with morning sun.

Thank you for reading…

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Ramble On…

He kept them sitting for hours over the dinner table, he who was usually so impatient to move away; he kept them entertained by anecdote after anecdote, reminiscence after reminiscence, observation after observation…

-V. Sackville-West
Easter Parade: A Novel
Copyright: 1953

 

Allow me, if you will, to ramble a bit?  Ramble like a climbing, rambling vine?  One that reaches and twists until its head is in the sun or in this case the truth?

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The Clematis, if planted with good support, such as a twiggy bush – like a rose or lilac, will grow well and fast.  If the support is not there, it will falter and stagnate.  I have also heard that it will produce more blooms if grown horizontally.  Take for example, my neighbors clematis which grows on our side of the fence, much to my delight.  It grows horizontally through the fence and rambles about itself, see the abundance of blooms as a result?

However, for my three varieties of clematis I have chosen other plants to support them.  I have two growing throughout my lilac bush, and I recently discovered a third I assumed was dead. See my post, The Living Dead, for a good lesson on this.  Perhaps I should have read my own post.  Anyway, I thought about transplanting it to the lilacs as well, but instead I simply left it alone and planted a yellow rose bush beside it.  This purple Clematis growing through my yellow Floribunda Julia Child rose will make a striking combination when they begin to flourish.

SONY DSCThe clematis found its way to the rose without any assistance from me.  It shot up from the ground erect and happy, strong enough to support itself, but as it grew too long, it slumped over and slithered across the garden like a snake in search of a branch to coil and climb upon.

 

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The honeysuckle (featured in yesterday’s post Honeysuckle Fireworks ) has done well for me, I am surprised actually because the first year is usually hard on my perennials.  I watch the newly planted with nail biting anxiety, and at the slightest inconsistency or yellowed leaf, I worry and fret.

It seems this year more so than others, I have subconsciously made bright decisions about troubled plants.  I will attribute this to all I’ve read in books for the past two years.  In the past, information that had enlightened me was soon forgotten.  This year however, my focus has been more acute and I’m able to recall garden truths on a whim as if someone besides me has thought of it.

One such example of a bright decision was the transplanting of our Holly bushes.  They were originally planted in complete shade and continually had spots on their leaves and weren’t growing.  So I dug them up and planted them on the west end of the house where the morning sun would touch them.

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I gave them a drop of fertilizer and destroyed all their yellowing leaves as some looked to have the dreaded black spot fungus.  Again, evidence to me that they just needed more sun.  Since bacteria and fungus is usually killed by UV rays I would think more sunlight would lessen the chances of the black spot coming back.  But I am no botanist, this is only my educated guess.  Either way, they are doing quite well. They are now producing beautiful, perfect growth rapidly.

Thank you for reading!

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Honeysuckle Fireworks

…it is not generally realized by the amateur gardener how many shrubs and climbers will lend themselves happily to layering.  It is possible to obtain quite a nursery of young, rooted stock in a short time, at no cost and for very little trouble.
Honeysuckles sometimes layer themselves of their own accord, so avail yourselves of the hint if you want to increase your supply.

-V. Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening
1958

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Honeysuckle.  Its name alone suggests a heavenly plant.  Indeed it is.   It took very well to my planting it in full sun and I gave it a sturdy support of our little pergola entranceway at our back door.

An avid climber, the honeysuckle will grow about four to six inches a day.  However, you must frequently check on it and guide its shoots in the right direction.  I often find the precious little things stretching their way under our deck, and I have to pull them out and wrap them elsewhere. This picture (above) was taken about two weeks ago.  You can see it was just reaching its goal, grabbing hold of our deck.

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This morning it has reach far and beyond as it naturally wraps itself.  There is no need to train it as you would a rose.  It finds its own way.  Independently emerging around every corner.   Reminiscent of the fairy tale Jack and the Bean Stalk, it stretches to the sky.  The treasures you’ll find as you follow its course are the firework display of blooms that smell heavenly sweet, and continually appear from June until the frost.  My variety starts out white and ends a honey colored yellow just before dropping.

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As Vita explains above.  Honeysuckle takes easily to layering, basically another term for propagation.  Simply cut one of its stalks at a 45 degree angle, and bury it in the ground with some sort of support so that it will not topple over.  Let it be for a year, and you’ll have yourself another plant to ramble up an entrance way or perhaps a  hedge of sweet briar like Vita did at Sissinghurst.

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Here
 are a couple different ways to propagate in detail.   I’ve seen this procedure done in books to many other plants.  In some cases a root growth will have to be applied.

Thank you for reading!

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