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28 Oct 2021

A day in the life of a ... Propagator

Written by Ingrid van Oostrom, Propagator
A woman is in a conservatory beside some tall indoor plants. She smiles at the camera.
In this series we join colleagues across the Trust for a behind-the-scenes glance at the important role they play in caring for our special places. This time, we meet Ingrid who has been Culzean’s propagator for the last three years.

10 September

I open the gate to the North Walled Garden and feel excited, as I love the fog – it gives such an atmospheric feel to the morning. I’ve been waiting for cooler weather desperately. September is one of the most important months for me because it is the month for taking semi-ripe, half-hardy cuttings. Cool temperatures and clouds, especially in the mornings, are ideal, so I am very excited for today.

At Culzean we showcase our half-hardy plants in front of the Peach House but they can also be found throughout the park, especially at mid-terrace in front of the castle. It’s my job to propagate plants for Culzean. With regards to the half-hardy collection, my target is to create around 3,000 plant babies each year.

“It’s very satisfying to see them grow from tiny cuttings into beautiful plants – plants that are essential to the estate.”
Ingrid van Oostrom
Propagator at Culzean Castle & Country Park

Mind you, it’s also nerve-racking! It makes me extremely happy when cuttings root and keep growing happily until they are ready to be planted out in May.

First things first. I am also responsible for the glasshouses at Culzean and we aim for high standards so our visitors have a great experience. My colleagues open and brush out the Orangery and Camellia House, while I take care of the Vinery, Peach House, Propagation and Aluminium glasshouses. However, it is up to me to ensure all glasshouses are kept tidy, the plants are looking great and are adequately watered and fed. After opening the Walled Garden gates, I stop by Propagation first to do a quick water and debris check. I water the cuttings with an uptilted rose (sprinkler attachment) which creates a fine spray. This ensures humidity is kept high and the cuttings have enough moisture and are able to put energy into creating roots.

Now it’s off to the Vinery to brush, deadhead, water and harvest before visitors arrive. On Fridays I like to make sure everything looks great for the visitors over the coming weekend, so that my colleague on weekend duty doesn’t have to spend a lot of time in the glasshouses. In the Vinery we have a sales bench with an honesty box in the conservatory area. After topping it up with tomatoes, chillies, cucamelons, cucumbers, peppers and plants for the weekend, I am set for today. Because I know my colleagues have brushed the Camellia House and Orangery, and I know what state the glasshouses and plants were in yesterday, due to the cooler weather I don’t need to check on them today. Onwards to half-hardy cuttings!

In Propagation I turn on the radio (did you know plants love music? Luckily I do too!) and fill up half trays with my preferred cutting mix, consisting of perlite and compost. This creates a great environment for cuttings to root in because it’s airy, well-drained and holds on to enough water without becoming too wet. I water the trays and make my way to the half-hardy bed, armed with my secateurs and a moist bag to collect cutting material.

After collecting around 60 pieces of plant material, I prepare them in Propagation and stick the cuttings securely into a labelled tray, which is then watered. The tray is placed onto the covered cuttings bench, which has a heated cable running along the bottom. I record the date, the number of cuttings taken from the specific plant, and any other comments on my list. I keep taking cuttings until it’s time for me to go home, hoping that the cooler weather will last!

In the coming weeks, it’s essential to maintain a beneficial temperature and humidity level for the cuttings, to remove any debris ... and for nature to do its magic. Plants are fantastic, don’t you think?

What a day! I do LOVE my job.

I love this place

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