RECENTLY I was invited back to my old secondary school.

It was 44 years since I last visited, but on entering the assembly hall I was immediately back in 1970 and the school disco with Ann Redhead and Sally Mills dressed in hot pants, dancing to Sugar Sugar by The Archers. It was also, you may have gathered, my first introduction to hormones.

In gardening we are aware of and use hormones to our advantage, principally in the propagation of plants from cuttings and January and February are perfect for taking hardwood cuttings from shrubs.

First you need to look for suitable cutting material, ideally only one or two years old. You can trace the age of a branch or stem by following it back from the growing tip. The younger growth will be more flexible, but also lighter in colour: as you trace down the stem you will find the wood becoming stiffer and darker. There may also be a visible junction separating each year’s growth.

The piece you select will be fairly rigid, not for nothing are they called hardwood cuttings. The tip is too flexible and thin so should be discarded. Cut a piece about the width of a pencil and 300mm/12” in length and make the cut horizontal below a set of nodes.

Now travel up the stem to another set of leaf nodes about 200mm/8” away and this time above the nodes make a diagonal cut off centre from the nodes.

The diagonal cut helps water run off the cutting and helps you remember which the top is. It’s a convention used in nurseries where the person taking the cuttings may not be the person potting them up.

Now fill a 150mm/6” plant pot with a free-draining compost; I use John Innes No2 with some extra grit. If you can find it, soil from a molehill with added grit works really well.

Place the cuttings, diagonal cut uppermost, around the edge of the plant pot – you will be able to fit five in comfortably and bury them so that half the cutting sticks out. Plant hormones now start to send signals to the leaf node areas.

We still do not fully understand how, but the cells in the leaf node at the base, and in the dark, respond by developing into roots, whilst cells in the upper leaf nodes develop into stems, the hardwood cutting recognising it has neither of these to survive. Label and place the pot outside in a light and sheltered area. Ensure the pot stays moist and check the nodes are not dried out by wind.

School discos are now balls, One Direction may be the band of choice, but it is reassuring to know that teachers and school support staff still find time to organise these events ensuring an enjoyable and unforgettable evening, is also a safe secure place for young people to understand themselves growing up.