The neighborhood plant swap

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.

More about...Home & Garden

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
19 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
11 years ago

Very clever idea . . . the information swap is probably just as valuable as the plants.

Mulried
Mulried
11 years ago

Thanks for the great post, Kris!
Have you tried testing your germination rate between damp paper towels? Just throw a few seeds between two damp paper towels, roll them up and put them in a plastic bag (to trap in moisture). Then place the bag in a warm spot, and check them in a couple of days!
This way you’ll have a better idea of how they’ll do in your garden.

Wilhelm Scream
Wilhelm Scream
11 years ago

It sounds great! How did Rhonda get that many people to come, though? I wouldn’t know that many gardeners that I could just email like that… Did she put up posters or anything similar?

mr121mr
mr121mr
11 years ago

I wish I was your neighbor!

gfe-gluten free easily
gfe-gluten free easily
11 years ago

Boy, does that sound like a great experience for all! I love what you took and what you brought home. 🙂 Off to read more about inverted wine bottle hose guards …

Shirley

Sierra Black
Sierra Black
11 years ago

What a cool idea. In my neighborhood we did a seed swap before we started planting. Once the plants come up, people are often giving away seedlings, but there’s no formal system for it. I may have to try this at home!

Troy
Troy
11 years ago

nice mini in the photos background!

Beth @ Smart Family Tips
Beth @ Smart Family Tips
11 years ago

The swap sounds like a lot of fun. I’d love to have something like that in my area.

Kris, can you provide more info about the inverted wine bottles? I’m intrigued.

Ditto on the Mini. Good looking car. 🙂

Amanda Fazani
Amanda Fazani
11 years ago

This sounds like a wonderful idea (especially the posting on Craigslist for the leftover plants!). I wish I knew enough people to email in advance and arrange a plant swap. But you have given plenty of ideas, so I may contact the residents association (with more contacts and clout) with your idea instead.

Another ditto on the inverted wine bottles! Please share this little secret with us!

Bill the Splut
Bill the Splut
11 years ago

This is not about the post, just a great, catchy song I remembered that you might want to pass on to your readers as a motivational aid. My Key to the World, by Heaven 17. It’s about overextending yourself on credit cards. Opening lyrics: “I’m working every hour but I’m heading for a crash. I’m sick of living fast and running short of cash! Tell me what’s so bad about wanting to feel so good? I want a better life and I’d like to buy one if I could!” And it’s from 1983! I’m glad I heard this years before… Read more »

Lea in Oak Grove
Lea in Oak Grove
11 years ago

Two more dittos: I wish I was your neighbor, and I’d love to hear the details of using wine bottles as hose guards. Post, please?

Rhonda
Rhonda
11 years ago
I would like to take credit for the wine bottle hose guard but I saw it a couple of years back on the metro garden tour.

Instructions are as follows:

First, consume wine (this is the best part), then wash out the bottle and wait until the ground is moist. Next, invert the bottle and insert into the ground neck first wherever you need a hose guard. Repeat as needed and if you need any help with step one let me know.

Jamie
Jamie
11 years ago

I love exchanges!! I hosted a Book Exchange Afternoon about a month ago. Three weeks prior to the day of the exchange, I sent out an email to friends and family and posted an event page on Facebook, asking people to bring a minimum of 3 books to exchange (people brought a LOT more than that) and a snack to share. We had about 5 people ‘donate’ books prior to the party, and had about 25 people come over with books in hand to exchange. It was fun to watch everyone jump to see the ‘new’ books whenever someone new… Read more »

oldernwiser
oldernwiser
11 years ago

Sounds like a fun afternoon, Kris! I found this recipe/method for seed starting on the FAQ section at http://www.gardenweb.com: http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/pepper/2002074906031735.html Also, be sure and check out the Winter Sowing form at gardenweb: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/wtrsow/ A great way to recycle some old containers (since you said you were already thinking ahead to fall-why not think ahead to winter?), and try to do some seed starting without having it in the house! Plus, they are a great source for free seeds! Another fun forum over at GW is the Soil/Compost/Mulch forum where we’ve been having fun discussions on using free/household stuff to make… Read more »

Donna
Donna
11 years ago

I’m not even a gardener and this makes me want to run out and get some plants. I love this idea. Getting together with others who are into gardening or whatever theme the get together has is such a nice way to exchange ideas not to mention plants. Thanks for sharing.

Kate F.
Kate F.
11 years ago

Along the same lines, I do a regular soup swap with a friend. About once a month we get together at one kitchen with recipe, ingredients and tupperware for one batch of soup. We make each soup up, catching up and gossiping while we cook, and then split up the soups into tupperware so that we each take some home.

We usually take home about 6 servings each of the two soups that are freezable and have fun along the way.

kigsland
kigsland
11 years ago

Wine bottle hose guards – just say NO. If it breaks, which it will if you have kids or your husband hauling the hose around….glass in soil is a big no no..once it shatters you can never get all the little shards out…they will be there for years haunting you. That’s why green houses don’t use glass any more. Alaskan Gardener

Deb
Deb
11 years ago

I cannot believe what a fantastic idea this is. I wish I had thought of this when I was living in town, I was a gardening nut and spent a small fortune relandscaping my property, even though I hunted for bargains and went to charity plant sales. GREAT idea, and how much fun!

The book swap is also another fabulous idea & a great social get together as well. Good job, people!

Liz M owner hyperlocavore
Liz M owner hyperlocavore
11 years ago

We’ve built a site to enable folks to yard share, plant and seed swap or start a neighborhood produce exchange! Come on by it’s free!

shares