Pass Along Some Garden Karma

| October/November 2005

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 symmetry.

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?)

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