by Paula Steers Brown, Contributing Columnist. Photos by Bill Sherrod.
home treasures from a community plant exchange and get the whole
neighborhood involved in green projects.
Spread some colorful cheer this year —
share the fruits of your toil in the soil.
One of the great things about gardening
is that plants multiply, so after only a short while, it is time to divide
them and share with others.
Consider organizing a plant exchange or
a sale for your neighborhood, school, church or civic association. Arrange a
planting “bee” for a friend’s housewarming to personalize and beautify
the landscape. Throw a perennial plant shower for the bride-to-be who
already has plenty of kitchen gadgets, or host a tea to observe and
celebrate the annual return of a favorite stunning flower.
My friend Sheri used to host an annual
rite of spring that everyone eagerly anticipated — her Daphne Party. She
had a magnificent daphne odora planted in apparently the perfect spot — in
dappled sunlight with excellent drainage and protection from wind — and
its blossoms perfumed the area on all sides of it in at least a 30-foot
One of the many things we thought
charming about the party is that the hostess could not set the date very far
in advance because Mother Nature was the only one who knew exactly when her
perfect party decoration would reveal itself. A cold snap might delay the
opening or an early warming could move it up. The date to come pay homage to
the gorgeous plant, inhale its intoxicating fragrance, and sip tea in
English bone china would unfold in Nature’s own good time and not a minute
Mother Nature teaches us patience that
way. The first plumped buds opening meant it was time for Sheri to run out
and mail the pre-addressed invitations. Of course, we all knew the
invitation would be coming and it was eagerly anticipated. That is a beauty
of perennial plants — each one has its moment of glory in the garden,
which makes us look forward to that time with the fullest appreciation.
plants such as this evergreen Heuchera "Autumn Bride" can
be exchanged for fun or profit for your local school or community
Getting together in a garden sparks
interesting conversation and yields the fruit of shared gardening advice.
Especially beneficial is the knowledge gained from older, more experienced
gardeners who are willing to share their wealth. If you throw a party in
early spring when everyone is preparing their gardens, ask each person
attending to bring a favorite plant division and draw names for an exchange.
You might also ask the guests to bring a
photo of what the plant looks like in bloom with any tips for cultivation.
When my former neighbor Sarah married and moved to her house, she was given
a Flower Shower where each friend brought a favorite perennial for her new
home. Sarah bought plant markers and put the name of the plant on one side
and the name of her donor friend on the other. No matter what the name of
the plant is, however, it assumes the name of the one who gave it, so that
every year the spirit of friendship grows, literally, in Donna’s primroses
or Betty’s asters.
Sarah and I discovered that we had the
same wonderful old-fashioned plants in our 1920s-vintage gardens: Sweet
Betsy, rose campion, hardy glads, beautyberry, and spiderwort. We realized
this was because the original owner and her best friend/next-door-neighbor
had divided their plants over the years and shared them all. The ladies had
even insisted that the postman deliver the mail for both addresses to one
house because they opened it over their shared afternoon cup of coffee.
There was a wide walk connecting the side yards through a marvelous old iron
gate that always remained open — symbolic, we just knew, of the feel-good
karma that had passed back and forth for decades.
Exchange Seeds in Fall
If you want to have a party in fall or
winter, host a seed exchange. Harvesting seeds to share is a great way to
leave a part of yourself in a friend’s garden.
One of gardening’s most passionate
eccentrics, Miss Ellen Willmott (friend of Gertrude Jekyll), kept seeds of
the gray sea holly Eryngium giganteum in her pocket and would scatter them
around people’s gardens when nobody was watching. She was probably right
(although a bit controlling) in thinking that most gardens would benefit
from the plant’s pale-gray color and interesting texture. As ghostly
silver flower heads began to appear magically in gardens Ellen Willmott had
visited, the apt common name “Miss Willmott’s Ghost” began to
circulate as well.
Money plant, celosia, and hyacinth bean
vine or any of your favorites will be appreciated. When making out the
invitations, you could include Miss Willmott’s story or a poem about
flowers. A favorite quote of mine is Emerson’s, “Earth laughs in
flowers.” Bulbs can be exchanged at almost any time of the year. My friend
Betty recently gave out small oxalis bulbs as favors at her daughter Liz’s
wedding; now every spring their blooms will spark fond memories of our
shared joy and Liz’s flowers.
home your plant goodies.
Young children can be taught the value
of recycling and the miracle of life, and if hands-on parents don’t mind
getting those hands a bit dirty, funds can be raised for school, church, or
any community project with a plant exchange.
If dividing established perennials to
sell, dig them 2-3 weeks in advance so they’ll have time to perk back up.
Young children can even grow some of the plants for sale in recycled milk
cartons from the cafeteria. Nasturtium
and four-o’clocks seeds are easy for little hands to handle. A favorite
perennial plant for children to divide is wooly lamb’s ear for its soft,
Potting soil can get expensive, so ask
around to see if anyone has abundant leaf compost (“gardener’s gold”)
to use as a planting medium.
Novices may get turned on to gardening
when exposed to its surprises. At a school-sponsored plant sale during my
children’s elementary days, our committee had been given several young
crape myrtles, late bloomers that are dormant in spring. One patron bought a
poor pitiful stick just because she felt sorry for it and called it her
Charlie Brown Tree, only to be thrilled in summer when it erupted into
masses of hot-pink blooms.
For years since, Anella has told me over
and over how thrilled they are each summer to remember that introduction to
gardening. So start your own feel-good event and reap the benefits for years
© Paula Brown is a freelance writer
and lecturer on gardening topics. She lives in
, where she runs her design business, Imagine That.