Friday, March 27, 2009

Pass-Along Plants

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.


  1. Linda, what a lovely post. (And, noogie noog, the little baby sedum "cabbage" buds always make me smile!) My garden also has predominantly plants I've gotten as divisions or seeds from friends, clients, and seed swaps. After a local nursery stopped holding the swaps, I've been hosting my own for the past five years. I like walking by a plant and saying "Oh, that's from Sara and that's from Aunita and..." I also think passalong plants are particularly hardy because they've already been growing in one's local climate/conditions and are obviously adapted to it! Happy Friday!

  2. ... um I meant "plant swap," not seed swap, though I have hosted those, too, just not locally! :)

  3. Thank you Monica! I was pleased and more than a little surprised to see all those sedum sticks actually rooted and survived the winter.

    I think it's fantastic that you've hosted plant and seed swaps with other gardeners, continuing the fine tradition of sharing that gardeners around the world have enjoyed for centuries.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. Linda, We are lucky to know generous gardeners! My beloved PPPP came from a gardening friend...she would laugh to see the fun we've all had with it! Thank you for this post...I loved reading about your garden friends, plant and gardener and the memories you brought to mind!

  5. Another trait that we gardeners seem to have is sharing in the form of Pass Along plants to others! I think it is wonderful how many pass along’s you have in your life. Each with a special meaning to you and a lifetime of memories for those which passed them along. I may not recall where I picked up this or that plant but can remember every plant someone passed along to me. They seem to hold a special place in my heart and are taken much better care of then the ones I purchase at a Garden Center. Special care for special plants from special people in our life… Aren't surprise pop ups wonderful?

  6. Indeed we are Gail! In general I've found gardeners to be among the most generous people I've known.

    Your PPPP is a perfect example of how pass-along plants are often among the most durable, loved, and storied - even legendary - plants in our gardens.

    So true Skeeter! It's been a long time since I've been the beneficiary of so many pass-along plants. It's a joy to have every one of them and the memories they hold.

  7. Great post! Nice pictures.

  8. Anonymous2:17 PM

    Some of my favorite plants in the garden were pass-a-longs from neighbors or friends. The sedum should be find, they really are quite adaptable to most situations I've found.

  9. That a great thing to swap plants,
    about half of my perennials are from my mother, and some from neighbors.
    Don't ya just love the crains bill geraniums? are yours purple or pink?

  10. What a joy it was to read this!! I spent last week culling my blogs, but I think I just found another to add to my favorites!
    I've got an entire "friendship garden" growing down the back that are plants that friends have given me and the rest of the yard is mostly "finds" I've made along my walks through the neighborhood. I just love it!

    Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope to see you there again!

  11. Thanks Kim and Victoria!

    Thanks for the tip Racquel. I have a Black Jack sedum in the same bed in a bit more sun than the newbies will get. (well, actually it's now a Matrona sedum - it reverted.) It grows slowly in mostly shade, and although it does tend to flop, it blooms nicely. If the autumn sun sedums bloom as well I'll be happy, especially since sedums do so well in dry conditions.

    Hi Cathy, gardening moms are great at sharing their plants! It's great your neighbors garden and share plants too.

    That cranesbill has very pale pink, (nearly white) blooms. I think it's a more wild variety - seems to spread more quickly than the other geraniums I have, and the blooms stand up taller above the plant than the rest of the geraniums here.

    Hi Tatersmama, aw, thank you! I'm glad you visited. I love Jen's new weekly feature blogs, andn I'm glad I came across yours through her post today. I enjoyed your blog and will be back!

  12. Anonymous7:06 PM

    You are the most grateful person I know. Seriously--you have a very sweet spirit. I think your garden would appreciate a good book written about them. I would buy it.

  13. Aw, thank you Anna - seriously, you just made my day. You're a sweetheart!

  14. I always love reading about the traditions of gardening and how our interest in gardening was nurtured by others. A lovely post, Linda, and I can't think of a better way to remember someone than through a lovely plant that comes back year after year.

    I always say I've only been gardening for 6 or 7 years, but that's not really true. Before I had much time to spend on a garden, I received passalongs from my mother, my aunt, and a few other special people. Most of those plants moved with me several years ago and now reside in my new gardens. I think of the people who gave them to me every time I walk by them.

  15. This reminds me of a former colleague who often shared not only plants but all her gardening advice. I eagerly soaked it up and loved weekends when she and I worked together. We'd talk gardening between actual productivity. I don't get to see her as much but there's several plants in my garden that remind me of her generosity.

  16. Hi Linda, this is such a well written piece on the generosity of gardeners and the persistance of plants. That does look like a pulmonaria, with a bud even, how wonderful. My older neighbors have given me so many things at this garden it would take several posts to name them all. I have tried to respond in kind but it is so little in comparison. That hosta is one of my favorites with the large white fragrant August blooms, I am guessing it is Royal Standard. What a way to begin a garden. :-)

  17. Thank you Rose. I wish I still had more of the plants from her in this garden. Divisions and seedlings from the plants she gave me were relocated to two different gardens during two different moves. But the last move here was in February, and the hostas had moved here the previous spring. Wish I'd taken more of the decendents from her plants when I had the chance, and the moral of that story is a gardener should never move in winter! You're lucky to still have most of those pass-along plants. Although they might not be the latest and 'greatest,' the pass-alongs are the sentimental favorities in my garden.

    Hi Melanthia, all that gardening talk with your collegue must have made the time fly at work. I had one job years ago where two of my collegues were avid gardeners. It was really nice having that connection with them, and we all learned a lot from each other. I lost contact with one of them, but still stay in touch with the other one regularly, and she's still gardening away!

    Good morning Frances, and thank you! That's the first time I've seen a pulmonaria sprout already budding! I'm already trying to figure out what cultivar it is - maybe Diana Clare. Probably too early to tell though.

    I think you're correct and the hosta is Royal Standard, or at least that's what I've thought for years - it's a fast grower, has the characteristic very shiny foliage and those large, pretty, fragrant blooms, and is very adaptable to shade or sun.

  18. I'm in love with sedums, by the way! They are a carefree plant. Our "elders" teach us so much about gardening. And passing on plants for us to try. My neighbor in back fits this bill for me. We just got back from a garden tour. We may be 25 years apart in age. But not in the love of gardening!

  19. That is so nice! What's a garden (or plants) if not to share it with others!

  20. Hi Brenda, I love sedums too! They are indeed very easy! Speaking of passing on plants, thanks so much for the hyacinth bean seeds! I'm looking forward to trying them.

    You are so lucky to have such a wonderful neighbor and gardening friend. It's been many years since I've had a gardening neighbor, and miss that.

    I couldn't agree more Rosemarie! And gardeners are a very generous, sharing sort.

  21. Thanks so much for sending me those wonderful seeds from Renee's seeds. What lovely packaging, I can hardly wait to plant them.


  22. Hi Linda, I agree that everyone who loves gardening have just a tad more generosity in their blood as we are so willing to share treasures from the garden. I'v been known to leave notes in mailboxes of strangers to ask for a trade..(my rose campions came that way). I'm sure your sentiments on those first pass along plants will touch your neighbor deeply. Have a great Sunday,

  23. Hi Jen, so glad you got them! We had snow this morning, so I'm glad I held off on planting them. I'm looking forward to getting those babies in the ground too! I almost to hate to open them, the packets are so pretty.

    I admire your resourcefulness Lynn! What a fun memory of your rose campions' beginnings!

    Hope you're having a great Sunday too.

  24. A lovely post, Linda ~ sharing is what gardening is all about! My garden is filled with gifts and, like you, think of each donor when their plants bloom ~ some are stunning treasures and some become pests ... like cute Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) ... and I'd think twice about planting them again since they have danced throughout my gardens:) I love my Celandine poppies but keep a watchful eye on them also :) Isn't spring grand!

  25. Very nice post :)

  26. I have given many, and taken few. I never seem to be there when plants are up for grabs.

  27. Thank you Joey.

    I hear you on the geranium and the celandine poppies! In the dry shade of our silver maples, not much survives, let alone thrives, and I can count on one hand the plants that have self-seeded in five years here (except the silver maples - hundreds of them seed themselves every spring. :( Still, I'll be watching them!

    Thank you Marie.

    I hear you Elizabeth - it's been a very long time since I've been the beneficiary of plant sharing. It's very good of you to share yours, and I'm sure it's much appreciated.

  28. My August lily (a large-flowered fragrant white one) came from my paternal grandmother. It's probably been in the family over 50 years. Many of our iris came from my husband's grandmother's garden. It's wonderful to have plants with a provenance in the garden -- it adds to a garden's richness.

  29. Hellow Sweet Bay, that's awesome! 50 years - wow! It's wonderful to have such storied plants in the garden.

  30. Linda, what a lovely post! Arent pass-along plants the best? Not only do you get a lovely plant but you get to relish the memories of who gifted it to you and when. Much better than nursery-bought plants !
    Let me know how the sedum does, will you? I've got a lot of shade under my cashew trees where some sedums will fit in really well.

  31. Thank you Sunita! They really are, and often do better than some of the newer varieties at the nurseries! And you're right, not only do you get the plants, but the memory of the person who gave it to you comes with it.

    I'll keep you posted on the sedums! I hope they do well - nothing else I've put there before has!

  32. Just sorting through notes of two years of plant events/talks and came across a recent quote by Felder Rushing "Anyone who doesn't have hostas, doesn't have friends." Meaning hostas are a popular passalong plant. :)

  33. Love that quote Monica! I think every gardener can relate!

  34. I lucked out yesterday, when I caught my neighbor pulling out heaps of plants so that she can put in a cement front yard. (GASP !!!!!!!) I scored heaps of lovely things and even though I don't have a clue what half of them are, I can't wait to see what will happen next spring!!

  35. oh no! I didn't know people were still doing that! I'm glad you were able to rescue those plants!


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