Down to Earth: Tootie and the Plant Babies

She came with no real plant knowledge, but she had a quiet assuredness that everything would grow if given a chance.

| April/May 1994

Tootie came to work for me early one spring. “I love plants,” she said simply, “and thought you might want some help.”

I did indeed. At the time, I was managing a small landscape nursery, a retail greenhouse, and a landscaping staff of twelve for a private estate. Anyone who loved plants would be a valuable asset in the greenhouse, so I welcomed her.

Tootie (pronounced like the chocolate-roll candy without the “s”) came with no real plant knowledge, but she had a quiet assuredness that everything would grow if given a chance. She soaked up information about plants like dry soil absorbing water. I began to teach her the names of the 200 or so plants we grew, and I opened our shelf of reference books to her. For her, learning a plant name was like meeting a new friend, and I would often overhear her as she worked, talking to the plants and practicing their names.

I introduced Tootie to our propagation bench, where cuttings were placed, and she immediately took to the “sandpile”, as we called it. “Can all plants have babies this way?” she asked me. I explained that a wide range of plants can be rooted from cuttings. She took great satisfaction from turning snippets of greenery into rooted, growing plants.

Our propagation bench was 30 inches wide and 6 feet long, big enough to hold a few thousand cuttings. The bench had a comfortable work-level bed with 8-inch sides, set on 30-inch legs and built of treated wood. The bottom of the bench was a layer of 1/4-inch hardware cloth covered by plastic window screening. I had designed the bed myself, just as I had ­designed the bermed greenhouse that housed it.

The cutting bench was filled with a mixture of perlite and sphagnum peat moss in equal quantities to a depth of 4 inches. Misting sprinklers were located 15 inches above the surface, attached to a moisture-regulating valve. At regular intervals, the sprinklers emitted a fine mist that kept the medium consistently moist. I explained to Tootie that, when propagating from cuttings, the most important part of the process was to keep them from wilting for the first few days after they were inserted into the rooting medium.

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