The importance of taking mint cuttings September 27 2014

I had an allotment once, we planted some mint. It went crackers. We didn’t know that you were supposed to keep mint in a pot so we just put it in the ground, and within 3 years it had reached just about every corner of the plot.

Me and Alice were delighted. We love mint and seeing as a lot of the things we planted did not grow quite so abundantly (or indeed at all) we loved the fact that it just grew and grew with the smallest of input from us. As beginner allotmenteers, when you’re putting hours in at the allotment for only mediocre returns, growing mint tops the list for ROI.

So here’s a classic from my gardening hall of shame. When I tried to grow mint in pots at home, I was surprised at what happened. The first year it grew a bit, the second year it started to look a bit sorry for itself. And this is it at the end of its third summer.

So what went wrong?

Well I just found out this week, that mint actually requires a bit of care to stay healthy. And the fact that our allotment mint grew so healthily and abundantly was probably due to all the new growth being created from the roots roaming free, rather than one poor old plant putting all its energy into producing leaves year after year.

I recently started a gardening course. It’s at The Garden House, a magical place tucked away in the centre of Brighton where you can learn a host of skills to get you up to speed in the garden. From learning theory in the first-time gardeners course to designing your own garden, there is something for every level of green thumb plus a selection of other flora related courses, events and pop up restaurants too. Want to make Christmas wreaths? Do it here. Want to learn to draw mushrooms? The Garden House have it covered. It’s run by Deborah and Bridge and you can see their range of courses here, they’re updated regularly so do check back often and sign up for their newsletter to be reminded of what’s coming up.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that in all the dozens of times I’ve been there I have always been given something tasty to eat, mostly homemade cake or flapjacks.

The Gardening Year takes place on a Wednesday afternoon and runs in terms. We learn by doing whatever needs doing in the garden and the course started last week with some weeding, some cuttings and tying back some rogue flowers. At the start of each lesson, we are split into groups of two or three and shown how to do a task. The groups then move around during the 2 hour session so that we all get a chance at each one, showing each other how it’s done, with Bridge and Deborah floating between the groups supervising and answering our questions. During the first lesson I immediately found a friend in Katherine. Both called out by Bridge for our inappropriate choice of footwear (it was scorching, we had both worn sandals, obviously), she declared us glamourpusses and immediately set us to work taking pelargonium cuttings, our unprotected toes safe from any dangerous gardening tools and the two of us giggling throughout like naughty schoolkids.

The course is ideal for the non-confident gardener. Instead of the often solitary chore of gardening for yourself, gardening becomes very much a team activity. You work hard on the task you’ve been assigned and every now and then Bridge pops up to tell you what a good job you’re doing. Perfect for someone like me who relies on praise to stay motivated.

There’s a lot of smiling, a lot of laughing and plenty to learn.

And after that digression, I’ll get to my point. This week we learnt how to take care of mint.

Apparently mint needs to be cut back (use secateurs to cut stems about an inch from the soil level ) at this time every year and you can cut slices of the root and replant them to make brand new plants. This not only gives you plants for free but helps the roots of your existing plants to stay healthy.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this weekend. I cut back my plants (even cut the healthy stems back – the leaves are perfect for late summer mojitos, one of which I’m drinking as I write this) and cut some chunks of the roots and repotted them. Each piece needs to have a node (which the plant will grow from) and a little bit of root. Plant the piece lengthways with the root facing downwards, cover with soil and water. And don’t forget to label them so you know which variety you’ve planted.

And to make a mojito, take a handful of leaves, some ice, the juice of a lime, a shot of Bacardi and a heaped tablespoon of caster sugar and shake vigorously in a jam jar. Top up with tonic water add a sprig of mint and a paper straw and you’re done.

Maybe growing mint isn’t such a chore after all. I’ll let you know how my plants get on…