On the generosity of gardeners

Gardeners are lovely people. Of course, all sorts of people are lovely, and in my experience, spinners and knitters are just as lovely as gardeners. But gardeners have a definite upside in the loveliness stakes here – they give you things.

Um – mind you, so do spinners and knitters; they just don’t turn up at the kitchen door with great trays of wool. What am I saying? Sheep farmers have been known to, once they realise you’re interested – they turn up with unwashed fleeces, and not trays so much as trailers. But there’s a link of course: growing things. It makes you generous. And then you give your friends clumps of Japanese anemones, albeit with a health warning (and yes, Pen, I am still keen, even if I have ripped up a lot more than you originally gave me)…

I had a lovely surprise along these lines last weekend. Firstly, it was sunny and that’s certainly a surprise; secondly, Karen of The Artist’s Garden and Dobby (of the helpful comments) turned up with trays. Big trays!

What you see here are 21 hellebores (!) and several pulmonarias. I love pulmonarias, and the garden is sadly lacking in the hellebore department, so that was wonderful. And then there were these:

Three Verbena bonarensisises, a black cow parsley and a sneaky Helleborus corsicus in with one of the verbenas. I was particularly glad to see the latter as my giant hellebore clump – originally given to me, in its turn, years ago by my mother and successfully moved several times – has suddenly decided to die right back to one pathetic stalk, and if I know my garden, that will go too. I do like it, and I would have been sorry to see it vanish altogether.

I rather like the idea that a plant that was a gift has been succeeded by another plant that is a gift – a sort of hereditary generosity of spirit, perhaps. I kept a record for my last garden,  a list of plants and where I’d bought them, or who had given them to me. Sometimes it also included comments (‘Geums? Here? Died 2000’), and I only have to look at it now to be reminded of people and places.

And then to see a plant you’ve been given accommodate itself so quickly to your garden, and suddenly start looking really happy there –

well, it’s just perfect. Thank you so much!

So why are gardeners so generous? Is it simply because they like to share, like to spread their enthusiasms and favourite plants? Or is there another reason? I know Pen, Japanese anemone donor extraordinaire, was quite glad to get rid of some. She didn’t like the idea of just chucking them in the brown bin (she certainly didn’t want to compost them – yikes), but she did want to be able to get to her front door. And there I was, saying ‘How lovely, I’ve always wanted some of those…’.

I’m sure it’s not self-centred, though. I think the natural generosity of gardeners – not to mention a certain bet-hedging tendency when propagating – just makes us overproduce, and if anybody wants a tray of sage cuttings, I’m your woman.

Even if they do look cute with the raindrops on.

What do you think?

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44 thoughts on “On the generosity of gardeners

  1. Pauline Mulligan

    I totally agree with you, gardeners are the most generous of people! I think almost half my plants have been given to me by friends, some because I asked for a little bit, others have just turned up with loads in the car. This was so helpful when first starting the garden here and now I feel it is my turn to pass plants along to others that are just starting out. Also of course, if your plant dies, you know where to go to get a bit back!!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Your last point made me laugh – how true!! (Though I have a feeling Pen isn’t going to be after me for Japanese anemones, mind.) Isn’t it lovely when you’re starting out? I wish I knew someone like that round here – I did manage to give a friend lots of Geranium mac. album last year, but she’s wise to me now – because I do have one or two Japanese anemones in search of a new home…

      Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    I identify with this one totally, not just on the generosity of gardeners in general but but of jane and Karen in particular as I was a beneficiary too and very wonderful it was. I love the idea of one gifted plant being replaced by another too! I would love some sage plants. Do you have any desire for some oriental poppies? Dusty pink with nearly black centre. Gorgeous but multiplies for me!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I think I remember them saying that some of their plants had found their way northwards!
      I will put some sage cuttings aside just for you – they’re from two plants, a bronze and a yellowish variegated one (the bronze – purple, really – is particularly lovely)… Oriental poppies sound fab – swapsies?

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth Musgrave (@gwenoldy)

        oh yes please! I am running a course about herbs in June and need some to sell (it is for a charity I am a trustee for called The Blackden Trust so not just me profiteering). Any other herbs you have will also find a good home!
        How many poppies?

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          I’ve got a few too many rosemary plants as well – in need of repotting, but looking good – and a few lavender cuttings. I’ll bring them with me. Mmm – poppies… not sure. ‘A few,’ she answered, adding ‘define few’. Maybe five or so?

  3. wellywoman

    I think gardeners love plants and hate seeing them being thrown away. I’m always dividing things and seeing if anyone wants them. My problem is I don’t know enough people who are interested in gardening. I know, strange isn’t it some people don’t like gardening, they really are a strange breed. I’ve started taking plants up to the allotment in the hope someone will be up there and take them off my hands. I love being given a plant as a gift. When I was at college we would often swap plants. I have an Acanthus that I was given by someone who has sadly now passed away but every spring when I see it pushing through I always think of him.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      How can people not like gardening? Sigh… actually, I know some people like that round me (which is a bit anomalous in such a rural environment, but they are emigres from Manchester). Their one aim is to cover everything in decking. I think migrating plants to the allotments is a great idea – much more likely to encounter like-minded (i.e. sensible) people there. Last year I even contemplated the idea of a plant swap – bit like a seed swap, but with all the excess that you’ve managed to get to germinate. As it is, I’m already lavish with things like my tomatoes. Which reminds me, I must go and thin them out..

      I have many plants that have come from now-deceased gardeners – it’s a lovely way of remembering them. But it’s sad when you lose a plant like that – one of the reasons why I was very pleased to get that Hellebore. And I wish I could find the sweet woodruff that came from a good friend and wonderful gardener, who died of cancer far too young. BUt her ginkgo is still going strong…

      Reply
  4. Crystal

    I agree with you too. When I first started gardening, friends gave me plants, some of which I still grow today. And now I just can’t throw plants away, I always try to find someone to give my spares to.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I can’t either… and it’s just coming round to the time of year when people avoid me in the street in case I give them tomato plants (apples, in September). I really MUST go and thin them out!

      Reply
  5. islandthreads

    what a lovely surprise Kate, when I moved to Scalpay (small island off Harris) a neighbour gave me cuttings and small plants from her garden many I was able to bring here, no one here has given me plants as no one gardens much here, intersting what you say about the Manunion incomers here it’s the opposite most of the locals never garden but most of the incomers do, I have given a few cuttings and plants to my neighbour who does a bit of gardening and to the post lady who sometimes does my round as she is interested but not much time, I brought plants from my parents old garden which I love as they remind me of my Dad, Frances

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Isn’t that strange? Mind you, when I was growing up in Sutherland very few of the older people people had flower gardens as such – veg, yes, they were part of the croft, but not often flowers though there might be the odd ancient rose bush. I think it’s a legacy of the time when land had to earn its keep…

      I particularly treasure those plants that remind me of people – lovely way of gardeners just carrying on.

      Reply
  6. Dobby

    Hi Kate. As a novice gardener, when I saw all the hellebore seedlings, I just had to see if I could get them to grow on as it seemed sooo wrong to just chuck them in the brown bin. Have noticed today that I have hundreds more. But I think I have run out of people who want them, so they will brown bin bound unfortunately.
    When I re-landscaped my garden 2 years ago, Karen was very generous and still is. Now, I love Japanese Anemones and haven’t got any ….. do they like damp conditions?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Hellebores are so generous, and it does seem a shame. Could you not find a charity fair or something and donate them? Having said that, I’m now trying to find homes for my rosemary over-optimism and I can’t, so maybe it is the bin. Or the compost heap.

      Japanese anemones like ANY conditions. I will happily pot some on for you (but maybe you should be careful what you wish for)…

      Reply
      1. Dobby

        Hi Kate
        I will have to see what I can do with the hellebore seedlings, but I don’t hold out much hope.
        I know Japanese anemones like to spread themselves about. Mum used to grow them and they remind me of her. So yes, I would love some please.

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          No problems! Give them a couple more weeks to show themselves properly and I’ll happily let you have some. They’re likely to be pink, though I did have a few whites last year. What I’ve got left all depends on what I ripped up, and I can’t remember… we’ll see…

      2. Dobby

        I am here you know and can read everything you have written about me! I know exactly where I am going to out them.

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          We just want you to be prepared and, as Pen said to me when she gave them to me in the first place, you know what you could be getting yourself into!!

  7. Lyn

    One of my friends gave me a cutting-grown Ceanothus a few years ago and it’s now a big shrub. The other day she asked me if it was still growing well, because she can’t seem to get cuttings to strike from her original plant. So now I’ll give her some cuttings and the circle will be complete. I love that.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I think there must be a Ceanothus thing going on, because this happened to me too – well, sort of. My mother gave me a cutting which flourished in the shelter of my London garden, and then hers blew down in a storm (very shallow rooted). I gave her a cutting back – I’d forgotten. Don’t know if either is still there now, but it would be lovely if they were!

      Reply
  8. outofmyshed

    Hi Kate, Would be a (very happy) candidate to take some sage cuttings off your hands if not living so far away! Love sharing and receiving plants too and have many cuttings and plants gifts happily growing in my garden. Luckily we have a veg growing community project in my area, so my numerous strawberry runners that I couldn’t bear to throw away will almost certainly find homes at our next neighbourhood get-together, along with some Tulbaghia divisions and mint cuttings…..Anyone?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Rats, that’s a shame! (mind you, I can do mint cuttings, thanks…)

      There’s a rather active but elderly horticultural society here which would be a great place for a plant exchange, but – well, it’s not what they do. Maybe some of us, ahem, ‘others’ could join up and subvert the flower show / tedious talks about their holidays regime…

      Reply
  9. hillwards

    It’s such a lovely thing; about half the plants in our fledgling garden were gifts from my mum and dad, mostly from their garden. I have a shrubby purple-leaved clematis coming my way on our next visit. Like wellywoman I don’t know many people to pass excess plants on to, but I love them going to a good home. We always pass some spare veg onto some neighbours who grow veg too, but for ornamentals we don’t have many homes. I have dozens of Verbascum chaixii Album seedlings that I’ve overwintered from an autumn sowing, but our garden will only take a handful! Apart from passing some on to my mum, I’m not sure what I will do with the rest. I have organised a seed and plant swap in our village for next month, so some will go down there.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      That’s lovely – I had the same from my mother when I got my first (unshared) garden. And I’ve even got some off them still cracking away, though I do regret the ones that haven’t made it because of incompatible conditions, or which have just come to the end of their natural, or which I’ve had to leave behind me.

      Verbascum! How fab… Every year I swear I’ll try and arrange a seed / plant swap here and every year life gets in the way. I’ll be very interested to see how your swap goes – has it been a lot of hard work?

      Reply
      1. hillwards

        I suggested the seed swap last year to our little village society, which I somehow was swept onto the committee of the first year we moved here. I think I am half the age of most of the other members 🙂 and it just does a few fairly standard events a year for the village, but besides the village show there is nothing else gardening related. Last year’s swap was quiet but hopefully the word will spread this year! We advertise it in a little village newsletter – that has already gone out this spring with a mention in it.

        It was very little work indeed though; I just drew up posters and put a few up locally, while somebody else on the committee booked the village hall and put up more posters around the closest villages and school. This year we’re going to get some of the village kids to stick them through letterboxes too, I think. On the day we just pulled out some trestle tables, provided tea and coffee, and let the swap take care of itself. It was rather fun.

        Hmm, are you going to the Malvern spring show this year, to do some surrepetitious handing-over of verbascums in the car park? 🙂 Actually if you do want some, they are still small enough that I could probably pack a few damp plugs in recycled packaging and send them to you: drop me an email with your add if you’d like some.

        Sara x

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          That sounds a bit like our society, but better. I must admit I don’t go along as when I first moved here I popped into their show. Silence fell, everyone turned round and stared at me, I croaked ‘p’nawn da’ and left at speed before I could be inserted into a wicker man and sacrificed to the Great God of Gardening. And I’ve not been back but now someone a bit different is secretary, so it might change. We shall see, though I suppose a few of us could join and subvert it from within. I really do want to get some sort of plant swap going somehow….

          (There is a plant sale in a nearby village, but it’s very much a sale. Good stuff, though.)

          I”m not Malverning – far too tempting – but I’d really love a couple of those Verbascums, what a generous offer! I’ll email you, so check your spam filter…

        1. kate Post author

          Now there’s a thought! I didn’t know any better then; I should have put on my best home-counties accent!

        1. kate Post author

          Well, since they didn’t speak to me, I don’t know, 😉 hee hee

          Maybe we’d better stop this speculation now (careless talk costs lives, after all)….

  10. Christina

    Plants given by generous friends almost always ‘do’ better than the plants one buys and it is so nice to think of the person as you admire the plant.
    I’d love some of your Verbascum! shame its not possible to get them from you.
    Christina

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Don’t they? I’m going to pop out now and mention that to the hellebores…

      I want some of those verbascum too – I’ve got just the place. But (sigh) I’m not exactly convenient either…

      Reply
    1. hillwards

      Ah indeed I’m not sure they’d survive the journey to you 😦 I’m sure I didn’t sow the whole packet though, perhaps I could send you the remaining seeds, they germinated strongly for me this autumn.

      Reply
      1. kate Post author

        I’m generally crap at germination, but I must give these a go if you had a good time with them. I shall look some out and leave it in the lap of the gods (though, mind you, where the heck I think I’m going to squeeze them in I do not know. The place I imagined them going now has an Angelica gigas in it)…

        Reply
  11. thenewstreet

    I agree that gardeners are generous – having my own garden and space to grow things also makes me want to give people plants and seedlings I’ve grown. I can commiserate, though, with not knowing enough people nearby who garden.
    It’s also lovely to have plants that remind you of people. I’ve got a little Rhus tree, taken from a sucker, that I’ve kept in a pot for the last ten years, and it travelled round all manner of student digs with me. It came from the garden of a friend (who wasn’t even a boyfriend then), who is now my husband! So we’re going to plant it in our new garden, me with a big smile, and him muttering about those bloody suckers it’ll send out…!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      What a lovely story about your Rhus – I do hope it flourishes (suckers or no suckers – just ignore the moaning). I don’t think I’ve got anything which is quite so meaningful…

      Mind you, some plants can remind you of particular events rather than people, and quite powerfully. I had a huge tree fern which I bought one sunny Sunday years and years ago from Colombia Road Market in London. It took two of us to lug it back to the car, broke the springs of the passenger seat, and I’ve moved it around ever since (with help from any passing burly men). And then last year it died… sniff. But when I think about it, I can still ‘see’ that morning…

      Reply
  12. Karen - An Artists Garden

    You are very welcome Kate, I love sharing my plants with friends 🙂

    I also find gardeners a generous bunch, I have just been on the receiving end of a wonderful clump of Hakonechloa macra “Aureola” (Happy!).

    I have to ask in which village is there a plant sale, and do I know about it?

    Umm, about the gardening club, do join, the best kind of subversiveness is from within, and anyway I need a friend there – I have been going 3 years, so I think they now recognize that I might be a member. One day they will recognize that I am actually a gardener too
    K

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      The plant sale is in Harlech, usually in May, It’s insane, worse than Harrods on the first day of the sale. Can’t believe you’ve never been, but if you blink, you miss it… after about ten minutes, all that’s left is old newspaper and people cleaning their wounds.

      Maybe you and I and Sandra can change the world!

      Reply

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