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May 26, 2005

Confessions of a Plant “Ho”

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My gardening friends know that I’ll do just about anything for free plants.

Nothing gets my heart beating faster than the possibility of getting a plant, any plant, for free. Okay, almost any plant. Even I have my standards.

There are many ways to get free plants. The most obvious is by exchanging plants with a friend. Last week I visited my friend Susan to see her lovely gardens, and yes, because she has bloodroot, a woodland plant I have been coveting for quite some time.

I brought a along a couple pots of Ligularia “Othello,” and I came home with ideas for my own gardens – plus a pot of the coveted bloodroot. Susan also shared a pot of Heuchera “Plum Pudding” which she had just divided. Bonus!

There is a delicate etiquette to whoring for plants. There are times when I can be quite bold about asking someone for plants, without any expectation of me offering something in return. A good example of this is the arrangement with my friend Sharon.

Our sons go to daycare together, and last May, we were at her house in Ham Lake for Josh’s birthday party. Never having been in the far northern suburbs before, I was unprepared for her property, which has basically been carved out of the woods.

While everyone else was inside watching Josh open his presents, I was roaming through the backyard, squawking every time I saw a woodland plant that I had just spent $7.50 for the day before.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I cornered Sharon, and with a wild look in my eye, begged, “Do you have a shovel?”

With shovel in hand and Sharon’s blessings upon me, I filled up a box with ferns, merrybells, rue anemone, violets, and even a trillium.

This year, Josh did not hold a birthday party at their house, but Sharon invited us back again for the ultimate playdate: Graham and Josh played for hours on the swing set while Sharon and I tramped through the woods and gathered more woodland lovelies for my dry streambed garden. Which had a bed of lovely blossoms this past week. I loved the look the blossoms gave the area.

There are other times when an intricate dance is performed. When I visited my friend Marsha last week for my annual spring gardening lunch, I came with the understanding that upon finishing our tasty repast, my handy shovel would swing into action. I also came with pots of this and that to offer to her in return. Some plants she took and others she refused.

This year I was after violets in particular, and Marsha had several patches that had sprung up in places where she didn’t want them. And in a perfect gardening twist of fate, the aforementioned Susan learned that I had received yellow violets from Marsha. Now she covets them, and I am able to pass them along from Marsha to her.

Sometimes free plants come as a result of doing something good. I have assisted with a number of volunteer gardening projects in which the participants are able to divvy up any left over plants.

Sometimes free plants just appear out of the blue. A few weeks ago, I stepped away from my desk at work for a few minutes and came back to find a box with five unidentified tubers sitting on my chair. There was no note, no identification of just what exactly they are, just a tantalizing set of possibilities to watch and see what grows from them.

The benefits of to free plants are pretty obvious, the biggest being I don’t have to pay for them. When we finished our house and garden remodel a few years ago, we had lovely new raised beds but little money to purchase plants to fill them.

For years I had walked past a house in the neighborhood that has a massive mixed border along one whole end of the property. That year, I approached the owner and asked if I could have some plants when she was dividing her perennials. Thanks to Anita, I loaded at least four trays of plant material into the minivan and gave my new beds a cheap makeover.

You can also get plants from friends that you’ve always been meaning to add to your gardens but just haven’t put them high enough on the purchase list to justify. Last week Marsha also shared some tiarella with me. I’ve heard its praises sung by gardeners I respect, and I’ve seen lovely photos in books, but it has always seemed too expensive in the garden centers when there were other plants I needed more.

The other, more intangible, benefits come when you look upon your beds and see that the hosta you got from a coworker last spring made it through the winter or you notice that the liatris a former neighbor shared are in bloom. These plants are visual scrapbooks of good friends and good memories.

There are some basic rules to keep in mind when accepting or seeking free plants:

1. You’ve got to have a place for them. If you don’t know where you are going to put them, don’t take them. It’s even better when you can get a specific plant that you truly need, like the “Plum Pudding” I received from Susan. I have several in my garden but one died over the winter. I would have had to purchase one if not for her generosity.
2. Don’t accept (or give away) plants that are thugs and will eventually take over your gardens. I am still digging out Canadian anemone that someone gave me when we first bought our house 14 years ago. Ask why your friends are so eager to give their plants away.
3. If you don’t have the time to plant them, the plants will guilt you mercilessly. Who needs that stress?
4. What goes around comes around. If you have been the recipient of free plants, you have an obligation to share your own plants with those who need them. I often give away plants as birthday gifts to friends who are just starting out as gardeners. You can also donate them to plant sales at your school or other charitable causes.

As I write this, I have several flats of freebies waiting for me to plant them tomorrow. Some will go into my gardens, and others will be passed along to other gardeners and other gardens. They are plants with a purpose.

So while I will do just about anything for free plants, even I have my standards.

What’s happening in the garden now:
Brian chose the plant combination for his new perennial bed under the spruce trees. We were able to purchase almost all the plants we needed and got them all into the ground Saturday night. The garden will be series of rings extending from the trees out and includes “Great Expectations” hosta, “Metallica” Athyrium nipponicum or Japanese painted fern, “Stella D’oro” daylilies and “Beedham’s White” lamium. Watch for photos throughout the summer to see how the garden comes together.

In the ornamental grass beds, the prairie smoke are showing their pinky/gray bells, and the dodecatheon is in bloom.

The first early clematis is blooming along the chain link fence. Every year I add more vines to cover the fence and give us more privacy from the neighbors.

Here’s what’s blooming now:
Wild geranium
Woodland phlox
Jack in the Pulpit
Japanese anemone
Jacob’s ladder
Lily of the valley
Grape hyacinth
Virginia bluebells
Rue anemone
Trillium – both the nodding and the standard types
Merry bells
Prairie smoke
Creeping phlox

Garden chores for the week:
Continue to weed.

Bring up the plants I started from seed and start hardening them off.

Bring out the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

Plant up the new copper pots that will go in front of the pergola. I’m attempting to replicate an arrangement I saw in the White Flower Farm catalog. Other pots will go on the deck and the front stoop.

Plant tomatoes, herbs and annuals.

Prune the forsythia.

Dig up the yarrow clump under the magnolia tree.

Pot up plants for friends.

Vegetable garden:
The seemingly endless stretch of cool and rainy weather has been a godsend for my little salad bowl project. I have tried growing mesclun for several different years with no success. This year I must have finally purchased the right seed and got it planted at the right time, because I have had several salads this week by simply stepping out my back door onto the deck and snipping leaves onto a plate. I’m hoping that the plants will be “cut and come again” so I can eat salad greens all summer this way.

Seed Starting Update:

Verbena Bonariensis
• 4/16 - Two have finally germinated.

Celosia “Forest Fire” – Lake Valley Seed for 1996
• 4/11 – Had to knock off the seed coating of one of the seedlings so the leaves could open.
• 4/13 – 8 more seeds
• 4/15 – 3 more seeds
• 4/16 - potted up four seedlings that had their second set of leaves.

Penstemon “Sensation Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – One seed germinated. It looks a lot like the celosia seedlings.

Scabiosa atropurpurea “Cutflower Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – Potted 7 plants into peat pots in their own tray. I should have done this a week ago. A few have gotten very leggy. The smallest ones transplanted the best. One that had its stem roughed up a bit has died.

Sunflower “Autumn Beauty” – Fredonia Seeds for 2003
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Grandpa Otis” – Renee’s Garden for 2003
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots
• 5/7 – They have germinated

Morning Glory “Flying Saucers” – Livingston Seeds for 2000
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots
• 5/7 – They have germinated

Tithonia Rotundifolia “Torch Tithonia” – Renee’s Garden for 2005
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Scarlett O’Hara” – Burpee’s for 2004
• 5/8– Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Early Call” – Shepherd’s for 1998
• 5/8– Planted seeds in peat pots

And finally, our latest home project is complete. Brian provides a full summary, with photos, over on his Vikings blog on Friday (5/27).

Posted by maasx003 at May 26, 2005 8:01 AM | Gardens


The whoring for plants part of the post is soooo funny. Up until a couple of years ago, I have had a pretty unlimited budget as far as new plant purchases were concerned.

But recently, we have built a new house and made other major expenditures. I had to promise hubby that I would not buy ANY new plants for my garden. Well, I this was in the winter and I guess I wanted the other stuff - so I promised.

So this spring, I am a plant whore too. I'll have to adapt some of your techniques and carry a trowel and shovel in the truck with me wherever I go. LOL!

Posted by: Mia Goff at May 30, 2005 11:55 AM

Geez Jacki--do you have more hours in your day than I have in mine?? I don't even have a small child and still don't get as much accomplished as you do, of course, I am 15 yrs older, that proably has something to do with it--but I continue to drool imagining what your gardens must look like, I am going to Oklahoma tomorrow,hopefully be back in a week--so will try and get over to your place soon!!!! KM

Posted by: Cuz Karen at May 31, 2005 10:37 PM