Passalong plants. This phrase, spoken in a comfortable Southern drawl, has a very inviting sound. Even more inviting is the concept it represents to gardeners. Having just returned from a visit to the Deep South, I decided to share this term, and what it means, with gardeners here.
Visiting the South gives you an appreciation of its unique gardens. They hail from a blend of cultures including American Indian, Spanish, French, African-American, English and German. Their styles are rolled into many different kinds of plantings that are less rigid than styles practiced in some other parts of the country. Add to that the natural friendliness of the people, and sharing plants from the garden was a way of life.
Most of us take for granted the excellent nurseries in our area. These are, in many cases, relatively new arrivals. Years ago, rural areas had no such businesses and people often shared their plants freely.
I must admit that I am a plant passer and collector. I often drag home plants from friends and willingly share starts from my garden. Cuttings in a film can from California, divisions in a Dixie Cup from Delta and slips in a milk carton from Sandy all have been additions to my garden over the years.
I am certain that my children feel much the way I did when my mother or grandmothers would stop to visit to a friend or relative. They would invariably end up dragging out the shovel and digging a clump or two of someone's favorite plant to start in their own garden, much to the embarrassment of their children and grandchildren.
After the plants were in the garden, they provided endless stories as to who had shared the plants with them and the anecdotal genealogy of who had passed the plants around in previous situations.
As I think back to those "bottle baby roses," the peony divisions and the endless cuttings of iris and other plants that have been passed around for decades in my home town, I have to think that these passalong plants were more that just sharing part of the garden.
According to the Southern tradition, you should never thank anyone for a passalong plant, or it will not live and grow. I have always thanked the giver for the gift and most seem to have grown just fine.
I have given some people starts from plants that subsequently died in my garden and I was able to get back a plant I had shared. Sharing is an inexpensive insurance policy against losing a favorite and unusual plant.
Many, if not most, local gardens used to be planted with passalong plants. Some old-fashioned plants are not readily available at all garden centers, or some are passed along for sentimental reasons so that everyone in the family might have a start of Grandma's rose or another favorite plant.
To qualify as passalong, a plant needs to be easy to propagate and well adapted to our local environment. Passing plants along is also a great way to meet new friends and neighbors and share your plants.
Divisions, seeds, layering, grafting and cuttings are the usual methods of propagating passalong plants, and fall is a good time for sharing them. Here are some tips for sharing the plants.
Divisions: The rule of thumb in plant divisions is that you divide the plant in the season opposite to when it blooms. That means that those plants that bloom in the spring and early summer can be divided now.
If you are looking for plants to share or for plants to get starts from for your own garden, here are some that need to be divided now. Set them in place, water them in well and they will reward you with some excellent spring color. Most of them can easily be planted over the top of your spring flowering bulbs once you get them into the soil.
Basket of Gold (Alyssum saxitile), candytuft (Iberis), cranesbill (Hardy Geranium), columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), dames rocket (Hesperis) and English daisy (Bellis perennis) are all plants that can go into the spring garden.
Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is not a plant that spreads rapidly but you might find a few starts to share. The same is true for leopard's bane (Doronicum orientale), fairy foxglove (Erinas alpinus), pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) and monkshood (Aconitum).
Some of the primrose (Primula) group are good passalongs, as are the soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides), Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla), arabis (Arabis caucasca), aubrieta (Aubrieta), phlox (Phlox douglasii and Phlox subulata) and the violets (Viola odarata).
Don't forget to share Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium), dianthus (Dianthus chinensis), lupines (Russell hybrids), Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) and even some types of wallflowers (Cheiranthus cheiri).
Some other plants that are easy to divide and share are Shasta daisies, coreopsis daisy, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, blanket flowers, daylilies and iris.
Seeds can also be collected and saved for spring planting or for starting early indoors or in a greenhouse. Passalong seeds include several old favorites like Oriental poppy (Papaver nudicanle), Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis), Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Johnny Jump-ups (Viola species), Pansy (Viola species not the hybrids), Silver Dollar (Luneria) and many others.
Keep your eyes open for and share some passalong plants. Once you have become an adoptive parent to those plants, your garden will take on a new and even historic meaning. Best of all, you'll have more to share next year.
'Greenhouse Show' on every Saturday
Join Larry Sagers and co-host Don Shafer for the KSL Radio Greenhouse Show on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.