Firming in a Soapwort seedling

A tale of slugs and Soapwort

Growing Soapwort Saponaria officinalis is a new experience for me. I embarked on this project after I’d been crocheting in natural undyed wools during last year.

soapwort in flower by The Herb Gardener (see creative commons license below)
The Herb Gardener’s article on growing Soapwort was very useful

IMAGE: http://theherbgardener.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/growing-soapwort-saponaria-officinalis.html [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

After some research, I decided that growing some of this pure and natural soap source for myself would be a really good idea as it is ideal for gently hand washing any projects I made in natural wool. Soapwort is so gentle I have read it has even been used to clean the Bayeux Tapestry. At approaching 1000 years old now, obviously they don’t just pop that into the automatic washing machine!

I sowed my Soapwort seeds back in October last year as I’d read that germination would be helped by overwintering them outside. Many seeds are like that – it is called ‘cold stratification’ and helps to trigger the seed into growth. It must have just about been cold enough, despite our relatively mild winter, as one seedling germinated very early in the year. It grew on alone until early April when several more seedlings put in an appearance.

Soapwort seedlings
Happy, healthy Soapwort seedlings … and they continued to grow

There were about a dozen seedlings eventually, all looking very healthy and they were gradually growing larger. I was feeling pleased with myself at managing to grow another new plant from seed. Then, one morning in late April I went out into the yard to check them, “Aargh! Oh no!” Some were gone altogether. The remains of others were lying forlornly on the top of the compost. I knew instantly. “Slugs!!”

The four-and-a-half Soapwort seedlings the slugs kindly left for me!
The four-and-a-half Soapwort seedlings the slugs kindly left for me!

For some reason I had thought that slugs would not have had a taste for Soapwort since it contains saponins – that’s the substance that enables Soapwort to form a lather, just like soap. Evidently I was wrong! I looked around for any shifty-looking slithering culprits foaming at the mouth, but none were to be found!

“Could be worse!” I thought to myself. After all, I still had four and a half seedlings left! I took the precaution of taking the pot of remaining seedlings indoors. This was around the time I had become a convert to air-pruning plant pots, so there was only one thing to do. I set to work making two more air-pruning plant pots, for my remaining Soapwort seedlings. Soapwort can be grown from seed or by division of roots, so I decided to pot up two seedlings into each air-pruning plant pot.

Potting up a Soapwort seedling
Potting up a Soapwort seedling

If you’re interested in learning more about the concept of air-pruning plants to improve plant growth and finding out how I made my upcycled plant pots from recycled milk cartons (complete with their own snug fabric growbags), do take a look at the links to see some of my previous posts on this subject.

My remaining Soapwort seedlings - now potted up into their new air-pruning plant pots
My remaining Soapwort seedlings – now potted up into their new air-pruning plant pots

After potting up my remaining Soapwort seedlings into their new air-pruning plant pots I added them to my new plant shelf, alongside my Sweet Pea seedlings in their similar pots. Having discovered that slugs do indeed find Soapwort tasty, my next task was to devise a plan to try and put more distance between the slugs and the little Soapwort plants when I put them back outside in the yard.

My crochet plant hanger in jute yarn
My crochet plant hanger in jute yarn

My solution has been to crochet a plant hanger in the same green jute yarn I have been using to construct my crochet jute and willow garden screens. I will show you more on my crochet jute plant hanger soon.

J Peggy Taylor

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