Photo by Melody

Pass-along Perennials: Tough Plants You'll Treasure

By Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologistJuly 25, 2013
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“Pay it forward!” isn’t a new concept. Gardeners have known for years that their favorite pass-along perennials are meant to be shared, split, and shared again.

Gardening picture

After years of sharing a house with her in-laws, my grandmother finally had a home of her own. She loved flowers, but her mother-in-law's vegetable garden hadn't allowed much room for "foolishness." Her new farm yard was pretty stark, but it was hers.  Just as she was unpacking a few things for her kitchen, she heard a car coming down the dirt road.
The farmwife from the next place over pulled up to the house and didn't even come to the front door, simply pulled my grandma around to the back of the car. clump of green and white leavesShe opened the trunk to reveal a treasure trove - divisions of bee balm and irises, hostas with huge leaves and tall lavender blooms, all the textures and colors and fragrances my grandmother had longed for. 


Over the years, Grandma added lilies of the valley and peonies, clematis and climbing roses, but none were more treasured than that housewarming gift. I'm sure she thought of it every time she urged a visitor to accept a little "start" of some admired plant. I wonder how many central Wisconsin gardens still have an "Esther's Red Peony" orGarden scene with dusky lilac blooms gathered in a tall cup "Aunt Erna's Lilac."


Pass-along plants are treasured for the memories they carry. They bring with them a legacy of generosity and shared love for their beauty. They're also worth treasuring for their tried and true vigor. Fancy new colors or variegated foliage may catch my eye, but pass-along perennials form the backbone of my cottage garden.

 

Three of my favorites make an easy combination of heights and textures: Tall Garden Phlox, Coneflowers, and Hardy Geraniums.

 

pinkish blooms shading to violet edgesTall Garden Phlox, Phlox panniculata

"Felicia's Phlox" is my name for the beautiful blue-violet garden phlox that comes from my mother-in-law's garden, who brought it with her from her mother's home. It carries fond memories of my husband's mom and grandmother, both of whom shared the name Felicia. Volunteer seedlings are always welcome in Mom's garden, trio of blue violet 5 petaled blooms and she usually just lets them grow in whatever spot they've chosen. In spite of the shade from the enormous oak trees, it blooms on and off all summer for her.

In my sunnier yard, a small start became a huge clump in just a few years. I've taken divisions of it several times now, sometimes roughly carving off a chunk of stems and roots with a shovel and other times carefully potting up smaller "starts" so they'd grow good roots before being planted out. Recently, I brought a big pot of it back to North Carolina and installed it in Mom's new semi-formal garden bed.


close up of 5 petaled violet bloom veined with purpleHardy Geranium, Geranium

‘Biokovo' is an old fashioned favorite whose white blooms brighten half-shady or sunny borders. A newer variety, ‘Rozanne', is a pass-along plant for future generations, judging by the way it blooms all summer under pretty much any conditions. I've got some pink-flowering "Big Root Geranium" (G. macrorhizum) that SallyG shared with me; they've doubled in size since I planted them last fall!

cuttings with deeply cut leaves stuck in yellow plastic cups of potting mixGeraniums are easy to propagate. New little crowns of foliage grow out on stolons from the original plant, in much the same way that a strawberry plant sends out runners. Sometimes they'll root where they've touched the ground, and all you have to do is snip their connection to the mother plant and move them to their new location. Unrooted pieces can also be removed and potted up. If some of the stolon (the connecting "stem") is still attached to the crown, use it to anchor the little plant while roots develop.

 

pink-purple coneflower bloom with spiky center and drooping petalsConeflower, Echinacea purpurea

They've boomed in popularity with the introduction of many new varieties with double blooms or sunset colors. Still, the old reliable purple coneflower beats these new kids on the block hands down for vigor, shrugging off wet winters and blooming through dry summers. Readily grown from seed or division, these butterfly magnets are a must-have in any sunny garden.

Like many clump-forming perennials, division is easy with a closer look at how the plants are growing. Within the big clump, smaller clumps can be seen, distinct rosettes of stems and foliage. Each individual rosette can potentially be divided off as a separate plant. For fuller divisions, include several individuals in each section as you cut, dig, twist, or break it away from the original big clump. Wiggling and jiggling and tickling the roots apart helps each division keep as much of its root system as possible.compound blooms of delicate white and flaring hot pink


Where can you find these plants? Keep an eye out.
A neighbor, a friend, your Uncle Fred... somebody will have them growing abundantly in their garden, and hopefully they'll be willing to share. DG subscribers can use the Plant Trading forum to arrange swaps by mail. Notices of regional "garden round-ups" or "RU's" and plant swap events can be found in the Round-Up forum or in Regional Gardening forums

Whether you get them as a gift, in a trade, or even if you have to resort to purchasing some at your local garden center, I hope some of my favorite pass-along perennials will find a place in your garden.

As they grow, pass them on!

 

"Mouse over" links and images for additional information.  

Thanks to my youngest niece, Jessica L Nicolaus for the perfect macro shot of Geranium 'Rozanne'.  All other images by Jill M Nicolaus.


  About Jill M. Nicolaus  
Jill M. NicolausBetter known as "Critter" on DG, Jill lives in Frederick, MD, where she tries to fit as many plants as possible into a suburban back yard. The birds are mobbing our feeders lately, so Sunshine Girl and I have a job keeping the Flyby Cafe' open for business! This year, we put out a special feeder just for the squirrels, filled with a seed & corn blend. We still see them acrobatically snatching food from the other feeders, but at least now they let the birds get a beak in edgewise! (Images in my articles are from my photos, unless otherwise credited.)

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A Friends' Garden Oberon46 6 26 Oct 29, 2013 3:04 PM
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