Pass Along Some Garden Karma

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Container Gardening Essentials

The satisfaction of a bountiful garden at summer’s end is a fine
thing, but when those plants embody memories of loved ones and
other gardens and gardeners you’ve met along the way,
“satisfaction” seems too pale a word. Let’s talk, rather, of
passion and joy and a grand tradition among gardeners — the
pass-along plant.

As someone who has recently moved and has dirt again after more
than five years of gardening strictly in containers, I’m
overwhelmed at the generous spirit of gardeners. When I admire a
spectacular plant in a neighbor’s yard, more than likely the
response is “Want one?” A snip of scissors and an outstretched
hand, and then I have a cutting to take home and nurture to
maturity in my own garden. Next year, when a visitor admires it in
my garden, I can say “Want one?” and pass it on. And the
gardening-karma train chugs on its way.

Karmic questions aside, an array of practical aspects abound in
this open-handedness. The most obvious benefit is that you always
know where to get another one should you lose that plant in your
own garden, whether to fickle weather, foraging rabbits or
stampeding kids. That’s insurance, and a lovely kind of

Don’t forget the value of public relations: Herbs are the best
bribes. Even if the recipient isn’t a gardener, maybe he or she is
a cook, or has migraine headaches, or likes your mint tea and lemon
balm cookies. By giving him or her a useful little herb, you’ve
contributed something positive to that person and he or she likes
you. Now how useful is that?

We gardeners are oftentimes scroungers, particularly when
starting a new garden or bed. Who wants to buy expensive
fertilizer, for example, if you can find someone who has it to
spare? I must admit I cultivated a friend with horses by taking her
little pots of herbs, while casting a calculating eye at her
enviable manure pile. It worked, and I now have an unlimited supply
of fertilizer to heat up my compost pile, as well as a new friend.
Every time I take a few bags of manure, I leave a little herb on
her porch. (Lately I’ve been eyeing some flat rocks strewn about
her pasture, thinking about my need for some garden stepping
stones. See how I am?)


The moral of this story is that containers are as useful to me
now as ever. I’ve saved every single plastic pot and recycled them
endlessly, so I always have plenty of containers for seed
germination and rooting cuttings. I keep a few empty containers in
the trunk of my car, just in case someone wants to pass any plants
my way. I root many cuttings because I enjoy the process and want
to learn which herbs can be propagated this way, because it gives
me lots of inexpensive plants for my garden, and because it gives
me plenty of extras to pass along.

To take a cutting, choose a plant that is healthy and growing.
Fill a container with potting mix and insert a pencil to form a
hole. With a sharp knife or scissors, cut a stem about 3 to 4
inches from the growing tip (not a woody stem). Remove the lower
leaves, dip the stem into a container of rooting hormone to coat
the end, then stick it into the prepared container. Firm up the
potting mix around the stem and water well.

Keep the potting mix in the container uniformly moist, best
accomplished if it’s placed in a bright, protected spot out of
direct sunlight. This is a waiting game, as some herbs root from
cuttings more readily than others, and some just rot or shrivel up
before they ever strike a root. But if you see the stem starting to
form new leaves and shoots, you know it has roots and is ready to
plant or pass on.

Unlike the anonymous plants on banks of flats outside discount
superstores, pass-along plants have associations and stories
attached to them. When I walk through my new garden in the morning
with my first cup of coffee, it already seems peopled by friendly
spirits. I like to imagine that somewhere here in this garden is a
pass-along plant that started in the Garden of Eden.

Kathleen Halloran, former editor of The Herb Companion, is a
freelance writer and editor who lives and gardens in Austin,

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