My first perennial garden many years ago was made up entirely of pass-along plants. An elderly neighbor who was also an avid gardener frequently invited me into her garden. We'd walk the paths of lovingly-tended shade borders tucked into corners of her yard, and I'd admire her sunny borders and their succession of blooms. Every time she invited me to visit, spring through fall, she sent me home with divisions and seedlings from her beds.
I was a young stay-at-home mom on a tight budget, and thanks to her generosity, before I knew it I had beds full of pink and white phlox and dianthus, yellow marguerite, sundrops, and daylilies, dainty feverfew and Johnny Jump-ups, ferns, hostas, and assorted other pretties. I will always remember how her generosity fed my life-long interest in gardening. Many years and houses later, I still have divisions in my garden from the first hosta she gave me in a place of honor front and center in our garden. She called them August lilies, and I always think of her when they bloom. Lots of things in my life and in the world have changed since then, but the generosity of gardeners sharing plants and information hasn't.
This geranium, which stayed green (er. . . red,) all winter, is so pretty with the fresh spring growth contrasting with the older foliage. While most of the other perennials in the garden are just breaking dormancy, this pass-along is the showiest perennial in the garden at the moment, and will continue the show when it blooms in May.
A client was enlarging one of her patios in late November last year. The contractors, at her direction, dug out the plants from the border around the patio, piling them up in a corner of the garden with nice, fat, healthy rootballs intact for us to choose whatever we wanted to take home to our own gardens. Although I was sorely tempted by all the beautiful grasses, they wouldn't have been happy in our shady garden. But the epimedium will like it here.
Celandine poppy seedlings were the gift of another client last July, and I'm happy to see they survived being transplanted in the dog days of summer. Initially they made their displeasure known, but seem to be settling in well now.
I've started a veritable forest of sedums - mostly Autumn Joy, from the garden of another client who suggested we might want to take some pieces home when we cut hers back last fall. I'm not sure how well they'll do here with so little sun, but since they were free, I don't mind experimenting. These cuttings were stuck in the ground in late fall. I didn't expect much rooting that late in the season, but sedum cuttings root so quickly and easily, most of them are back this spring. Tough, drought-tolerant plants, even if they flop or don't bloom in our shady bed, they'll fill in some previously-empty space in the dry shade and tangle of roots under our silver maples.
Several stokesias came from the client expanding her patio. I've wanted to experiment with stokesias here. But with so little sun, a limited budget, and so many plants on the list, it would likely have been a long time before I tried them since I think they prefer more sun than our garden provides for optimal blooming. These went into a spot that gets about three hours of morning and afternoon sun. If they don't bloom well here, they can always be passed along to a sunnier garden.
Other pass-alongs received late last fall were hurriedly heeled into the veggie garden until I could decide where to put them this spring. I needed to get them out of the veggie garden early since they were in the back of the garden where the trellis needed to go, and I wanted the trellis up before planting the peas. As soon as the sun had thawed the frozen soil, I started moving the plants, some of which were literally piled on top of each other when I hastily heeled them in late last fall. The last of them (or so I thought,) was moved last week, just in time to plant the peas.
Imagine my surprise when this sprouted in a row of peas! Now, I know it's been awhile since I've had a veggie garden, but I still remember what pea seedlings look like, and it's certainly not like this:
I had to disturb the already-sprouting-underground-peas in order to get this pass-along out of the veggie garden. It was well worth risking a few peas, which can easily be replanted, in order to rescue this buried treasure. I was pleased to find the substantial root ball still healthy and firm at the bottom of the raised bed, and happy it survived the abuse I heaped upon it when I accidentally piled some other pass-alongs on top of it to wait out the winter in the veggie bed. This one was large enough to be divided into four plants. You can't tell what a substantial plant it really is, since most of it was sprouting underground with several inches to go before reaching the surface. I'm about 99.9% certain its a pulmonaria, though I don't know what cultivar it is. I didn't know what it was when I brought it home, since it had already been cut back for the winter. Sometimes part of the fun of pass-alongs is figuring out what they are!
I'm grateful for the generosity of gardening friends and clients who've shared the bounty of their overflowing gardens with me, and enjoy sharing my own seedlings, divisions, and cuttings with them, in the rich tradition of a sweet elderly neighbor, my first gardening friend outside my family. I think of her often when another gardener shares a plant from their garden with me or I share one with them, when a surprise pulmonaria comes up for light and air, or when I can figure out what cultivar an unnamed, treasured pass-along really is. And I always think of her in the waning days of summer when the August lilies bloom.