The Charming Tradition of Pass-Along Plants
“Hey neighbor, I’ll trade you two iris bulbs for one hydrangea cutting!”
Gardeners love to show off their garden, and why not? After all the planning, hard work, and money that goes into growing a beautiful garden, a gardener deserves a pat on the back and a few minutes in the spotlight. Beyond talking about it, though, many gardeners love to share their garden, happily bestowing cuttings, seeds, and bulbs from their beautiful plants to admiring friends, family, and fellow gardeners. While gardeners may share new plants, it is usually the heirloom plants most people want since those may no longer be sold in nurseries. Sharing these plants, known as passalong plants, has the same result as sharing a family recipe; it is a way to remember certain people, places, or events, each time you admire the plant in your own yard or prepare the recipe.
The modern conveniences we take for granted, such as sprinkler systems and yard services, were not available to early gardeners who also wanted to grow pretty plants. As a result, most plants were chosen for their ability to resist disease and tolerate harsh weather conditions, as well as for their beauty and fragrance. The plants that did well have proven their worth over several generations; they became known as heirloom plants and were passed along to newlyweds and friends beginning their own new gardens. As with the early gardeners, those who like to dig in the yard today are looking for plants that can add beauty to their landscape with little care, and heirloom passalong plants are the perfect choice. Devoted gardeners, such as the Texas Rose Rustlers, painstakingly seek out and save those heirloom plants that have thrived for years, some lovingly tended in gardens, others often neglected and nearly forgotten.
Roses are popular pass-along plants because they are relatively easy to propagate from cuttings. One of the most well-known roses in the South, the “Peggy Martin” is beloved not just for its fascinating back-story but for its tenacity and beauty. Plants that produce bulbs or rhizomes make great pass-along plants, as well. Daylilies, bearded irises, crinums, etc., are easy to divide and easy to plant. The Queen of the Southern Garden, the hydrangea, as well as the gardenia and camellia, can all be passed along through rooted cuttings, as can flowering vines such as clematis and Confederate jasmine.
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Keep a watchful eye during your travels, say hello to your neighbors and begin a custom of sharing plants. Something to remember though: there is an old gardener’s tradition that you should never say “thank you” for cuttings or plants. If you do, according to superstition, the plant will not do well and may even die. Instead of “thank you,” politely tell the giver that you will enjoy and take good care of the plant. For more information on this custom and other aspects of Southern gardening history, check out Passalong Plants, an entertaining and informative book written by Steve Bender (a.k.a. Grumpy Gardener) and Felder Rushing.