I like buying plants, but not nearly as much as I like giving them away.  I think the difference is that when I'm buying something new, I'm never quite certain of its success.  But when I'm digging things out of my yard, I am passing them on aglow in the knowledge that they will be great.

The recipients of my chopped up, muddy and bedraggled gifts, on the other hand, often look slightly dubious about the value of what they are receiving.

I was thinking about the joys of giving as I was digging things up for the big fundraiser for the Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden Club this weekend, a perennial sale.

Since I'm taking out a relatively new perennial bed and replacing it with vegetables, I have a lot to share.  I was particularly happy that I managed to dig out a bunch of 'Pink Giant' lilies without breaking the stems off of the bulbs.  I also dug up gold-leafed tansy, Japanese painted fern, Solomon's Seal, sedum 'Autumn Joy,' a white astilbe, two 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain' roses–victims of a standardization experiment for which I really didn't have adequate sun, 'Endless Summer' hydrangeas, euphorbia polychroma, a lovely old-fashioned pale blue bearded iris, a white peony, pieces of my giant canna 'Tropicana' corm, etc. etc.–lots of stock.

I'm not, however, a total saint.  A neighbor recently asked me for a piece of my brunnera macrophylla  'Jack Frost,' and I will lop a piece off for him because he's an excellent neighbor who gives me interesting plants in return.  I thought, however, about digging Jack up and breaking him in four to benefit the school garden sale…and moved along before committing such violence on a beautiful and expensive plant.

So it's pretty clear that I don't pass along plants because I'm a paragon of generosity…any more than the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who come to my door are paragons of generosity.  What I am is a true believer, just like them.

I'm convinced that the plants I am giving away will change the recipients' lives.  I am trying to infect my neighbors with my own outsized enthusiasm in order to make new gardeners, and it's entirely selfish.  More gardeners inevitably means living in a more beautiful world.


  1. Oh so funny. My Jack Frost has been multiplying very happily, so I shared one with my neighbour. However I am expanding my flower bed and won’t be sharing anything with anyone for quite sometime now. And never my epimediums. No one has ever asked for one though. Completely underrated.

  2. Michele, how could you bear to part with any ‘Pink Giant’ at all? You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din – I couldn’t part with any of mine!

  3. Maybe you’re not a saint, but the generosity of a gardener is something others cherish and remember. Maybe a garden is like wedding regalia: incomplete without “something borrowed.”

  4. Susan, I can hardly shoehorn another ‘Pink Giant’ into my yard. They are so happy here that every group of three I planted five years ago is now a group of seven or eight.

  5. The generosity of gardeners may not make them saints, but it sure makes them good community members. I gave a few plants to the Bridge of Flowers sale and if it ever stops raining I’ve got a lot of god daylilies to give to the Greenfield Garden Club.

  6. There is nothing more exciting to me that ‘trading’ plants. I am still trying to fill-in my garden, but I always try and share my most successful plants. I need to find more friends that share my gardening interests. Currently I am the only gardener in my group of friends. Somehow they don’t appreciate white astilbes and black euphorbias quite as much as I do. I wish you lived in ‘my neck of the woods’!

  7. Does anyone want any dahlias?! Who really needs 200 dahlias? I will soon be leaving them on porches like zucchini.

    I’m a terrible person–I only give away plants that have worn out their welcome.

  8. This post makes me wish I had a yard sooooo much. As soon as my lease is up in December I am moving to a house with a yard. I want to have a yard full of plants that I can give away.

    I DO have an entire balcony full of tuberous begonias that I probably don’t have enough room for. But that is not quite the same thing.

  9. I almost cannot bear to thin out and throw away successful plants (it’s tough to make it in Colorado) and have given many away over the years. Generosity, sure, but mainly because I’m also in the “true believer” camp.

    That’s why you write about gardening too–that green evangelical impulse to spread the word!

  10. Michele, I love this post & totally agree. This spring I dug up bunches of Louisiana irises and propagated 4 varieties of mint to give to those friends who complain that they have a black thumb or just can’t grow anything. It’s refreshing to hear back that bits of my garden are thriving miles away in an otherwise empty, boring, clean-slate, St. Augustine carpeted yard.

  11. One of these days I’m gonna sit down and write the details about our incredible plant swaps. Ours are a little different than the ones our local garden clubs host or any I have read about in that we have no rules – it is total chaos and that is deliberate. It greatly lightens the load of work for the coordinator (me) and reduces the stress on the new gardeners that think they have nothing to offer. Over the ten years since I started hosting these parties, we have grown to over 60 people swapping and trading at least a thousand plants – some are valuable and precious while others are just your ordinary pass-along (I think some are weeds – but again, we have no rules). You don’t even have to bring plants to participate, anyone with an interest in gardening is allowed to join in the fun. The pot-luck picnic afterwards is as much fun as the plant swap.

    We now have a spring and a fall swap along with a mid winter seed swap. One of the best things that has developed over time is the way people use the swaps as a sort of bank for their precious family heirlooms. By sharing babies from their garden they always have a crowd of gardeners to pull from should they lose the original plant.

    PS – not to be a downer but if a plant is patent protected ALL PROPAGATION IS FORBIDDEN no matter who you are or who you are giving it to. The best way around this is to not pass along the official name with the plant as you share it. To announce to the world that you propagated Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is opening yourself up to phone call from a lawyer.

  12. Regarding: “trying to infect my neighbors”
    I have found that even if someone has been immunized in the past, just one surprising success can cause a total relapse. Keep fighting the good fight Michele.

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