Gardening: cuttings

Flower of the hour: Mahonia x media `Charity' (above). Why? Because the shrub, though gaunt in an Enoch Powell sort of way, has great presence. It is stiffly upright, formal and evergreen, with leaflets arranged in pairs along a rib more than a foot long. Spikes of yellow flowers, which smell of cowslips, burst in clumps from the growing tips of the upright branches. They start in November and sometimes last until February. `Charity' (`Faith' and `Hope' inevitably followed) was picked out from a line of plants growing in Louis Russell's Windlesham Nursery by Sir Eric Savill of the Savill Gardens, Windsor. It was one of many crosses that have been made between Mahonia lomariifolia which has the best leaves of the tribe and M. japonica which has the best scent. The original plant still grows in the Savill Gardens and is 14ft high and almost as wide. Mahonias flourish in sun or - usefully - in quite deep shade and need little attention apart from a thick mulch once a year.

The three most important guardians of Britain's historic parks and gardens - The National Trust, The Royal Parks and English Heritage - have joined together to set up a three-year programme to train the head gardeners of the future. Unlike other horticultural courses, this modern apprenticeship will lay great emphasis on the disappearing skills and craftsmanship which are essential in the maintenance of historic gardens.

Twelve apprentices, most of them between the ages of 16 and 21, have already been recruited. The first year involves 10 weeks of intensive course work at Cannington College, Somerset and 39 weeks of practical gardening in one of the properties looked after by the organisations that are sponsoring the scheme.

Jim Marshall, one of the National Trust's garden advisors said "This training in traditional garden crafts is essential if we hope to equip tomorrow's gardeners with the necessary skills."

For further information about the scheme, which is designed to redress the present lack of work-based training, contact John McKennall, Vocational Training and Development Advisor, The National Trust Cornwall Regional Office, Lanhydrock, Bodmin, Cornwall PL30 4DE (01208 74281).

Angus White of Architectural Plants, Nuthurst, Horsham, West Sussex is having a monster Winter Sale, with 20 per cent off the price of all plants and terracotta pots. There is a fabulous selection of plants at the nursery: ferns for cool conservatories, palms, spiky cordylines, fat juicy echeverias. White - as the name of the nursery suggests - is only interested in plants with presence. Architectural Plants is open Mon-Sat (9am-5pm). For further details phone 01403 891772. The sale continues until the end of January.

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