Last winter I was shocked to read in a well-known gardening magazine an article which advised people against accepting garden plants from friends and neighbours! The argument was that some might be weedy, which is, of course, true. My first thought was that such an article must have been sponsored by some nursery association. Exchanging plants and seeds between neighbours and friends has been the basis of gardening for ages. The plants you get from other gardeners or in a plant exchange offer a great many advantages, even if you have to keep an eye open for possible problems.
|Sandwort (grown from a seed exchange)|
There is always a possibility that a plant you are given is invasive. That is why it is advisable to plant anything you are given in a separate corner of the garden, where you can assess it before you move it in with the others. Some plants are not invasive, but prolific like the iris below. I was given it by my friend Valérie. It is easy to control, but the clump triples in size every year.
The most obvious advantage of such plants is that since they are doing well locally (and they must be doing well, otherwise their owners would not be giving some away), they have every chance of doing well in your garden. These plants are adapted to local conditions. I have already talked about an Agapanthus that survives in my zone 5 garden (when Agapanthus is listed as a zone 7 plant). I got it from a neighbour down the road. Obviously, that specific cultivar is adapted to our area. What I could buy in a nursery would most likely not survive at Roche Fleurie.
Of course, one more advantage of such plants is that they are free. Not only are they free (or very cheap, when you buy them at a private garden), but you might be given a much larger clump than you would normally get.
People who have plants to offer often have a well-established garden. Some of these might also be old gardens with old-fashioned plants. Fashion exists in gardening as in anything else. Plants that were popular several decades ago, might no longer be offered in the trade or be difficult to find. Not because they are not worth growing but usually because they have been superseded by newer cultivars which are not always superior the the old varieties.
|Pheasant's Eye (a very prolific old-fashioned cultivar)|
You might also get from friends plants that are rather less common. I start a lot of plants from seed every year. My friend Glen does the same. Without trying, we usually end up with very different plants, and we swap. I have a species peony (P. mascula) which I got from my friend Dorion. She started it from seed. It tooks years to reach blooming size, but it eventually did last year.
|Greek and yellow foxgloves|
More often than not, you will not know the name of the cultivar you are getting. For instance, I have a lush, double red herbaceous peony that is shorter and blooms much earlier than other herbaceous peonies. I got it from a neighbour 30 years ago, and it is probably my toughest peony. It is one of my nicest. Perhaps some day I might even be able to put a name to it.
|Unidentified early peony|
The majority of our plants come from nurseries, and most nurseries do a wonderful job. But the real treasures come from other gardeners.
|An iris I grew from a seed exchange|