This is a guest post from Kris. Earlier this month, I shared the notion of SwapLucks. Kris recently participated in a similar event, trading plants with friends and neighbors.

Last weekend, my friend Rhonda hosted a Plant Swap. It was so successful that she’s decided to make it an annual event. Although this story is specifically about gardeners sharing plants, the process could easily be adapted to parents sharing kids’ clothes and toys, cooks swapping kitchen gadgets, or readers trading books…the possibilities abound!

Here’s how it worked:

About two months prior to Plant Swap Day, Rhonda sent out a “Save the Date” email with details and instructions. This advance notice was vital to the success of the event, because it allowed us time to assess our gardens, dig up “extra” plants and move them into pots for transport. For our area of Oregon, mid-April is the ideal time to be adding new perennials to the garden. Early fall would also be a good choice because that’s a prime time for digging and dividing overgrown clumps of bulbs or other plants.

The guest list comprised a variety of gardeners at different experience levels. Rhonda and several others are master gardeners, with years of expertise under their belts. Others are garden dabblers, looking to learn, and a few were total newbies with bare yards yearning for flower beds.

This mixture of people helped in several ways: new gardeners came empty-handed and so were willing plants recipients. In years to come, they’ll have plants to share! We seasoned gardeners were invaluable for identifying mystery plants and giving advice about plant habit and habitat. We brought plants that thrive in our area, and were able to recommend plants to meet certain requirements.

When we arrived, Rhonda had chalked alphabetical section dividers along the driveway. We organized our plants as best we could. Some plants were clearly labeled with common and/or botanical names; others simply had a tag saying something like “purple flowers” or “groundcover for shade”. In an ideal world, we’d know what every plant was, but the reality is that sometimes those mystery plants are the most prolific.

Rhonda had plenty of juice and coffee to go around and there were assorted donuts and breads for munching. We lounged around with the sun on our shoulders, sizing up the plants and introducing ourselves to the other gardeners.

When the swap officially began, everyone grabbed what first caught their eye, then stood back and talked with the rest of the crowd before making additional selections. People kept arriving with more plants to share, so at times it seemed we were barely making a dent, but over the course of about two hours, everyone had a trunk, box or basket full of beautiful free plants!

The vast majority of the offerings were perennial plants and herbs. From my garden, I donated thirty pots, including:

  • two kinds of coreopsis
  • Japanese anemone
  • rose campion
  • centaurea montana
  • mint
  • geum
  • purple flag irises
  • wood hyacinth bulbs
  • euphorbias

Although I went thinking I didn’t plan to bring much home, I couldn’t resist! I returned with more strawberry starts, columbine, marjoram, foxgloves, Shasta daisies, creeping phlox, white flag irises, sea thrift, lemon balm, and assorted creeping sedum and spurges.

Since it’s also time for crop-gardening to commence, I took my “extra” tomato starts and happily exchanged them for a cilantro, an artichoke, and a pickling cucumber seedling.

Rhonda also had asked her friends to bring seeds to share, and there were tubs full of lettuce, bean and other vegetable seeds, packets of seeds for flowers and seeds collected from last year’s plants. Some of these seeds dated from the late nineties, so their germination rate may be low, but the price was right! I came home with seeds for marigolds, peachy and scarlet runner beans, several lettuces, purple poppies and sweet peas to supplement my own supplies. It will be interesting to see what actually sprouts from these seeds stored under uncertain conditions.

People also brought gardening books and magazines that they were willing to part with, and garden accoutrements such as ornaments, pots and birdfeeders.

Even our enthusiastic group couldn’t clear the driveway completely. After the plant swappers dispersed, Rhonda posted an ad on Craigslist for free plants and she says they were all gone by dinnertime.

One of my favorite parts of the morning was getting a garden tour from Rhonda’s neighbor Lou. Her established cottage garden was deep in the flush of Spring’s new green growth. It was beautiful, and I can only imagine how breathtaking it must be in mid-summer. With every garden tour, I fall in love with a new plant: in her yard I decided I must have some of the tiny-fingered sedum creeping in the shady spots. Lucky me! She had brought some to swap.

As gardeners, we are always stealing ideas from each other; I also went home determined to use Rhonda’s idea of inverted/buried wine bottles for hose guards in several problem spots in my own flower beds. Thanks Lou and Rhonda!

Two mugs of coffee and several slices of zucchini bread later, I went home and planted my frugal treasures. Gardening can be an expensive hobby if you start with sizable nursery plants and have a big space to work with. The Plant Swap was successful on all fronts: I made new friends, was able to help new gardeners with their projects, obtained gorgeous free plants, and re-purposed 30 pots accumulated over the last few years.

I’m already thinking ahead to next year!

Photos by Lisa Smillie.

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