GARDENER COLUMN: Pass-Along Plants | Home & Garden

SAUK COUNTY GARDENERS Jeannie Manis Sauk County Master Gardeners Association

“It’s exciting to see things reappear, plants that you’ve had for twenty or thirty years. It’s like seeing an old friend again.”– Tasha Tudor

I was excited to finally see my white peony bush bloom this year. It was a piece of peony that our former horticulture teacher, Phyllis Both, had given me the summer before she died. It came from the plant, which was originally a division of the peony bush her grandmother brought from Poland. This is an example of a pass-along plant – a plant that is easily propagated by seed, cuttings, or division and is usually difficult to kill.

The idea of ​​the pass-along system is not new. Most gardeners don’t like tossing a perfectly good plant on the compost heap when they have too many; they would rather “pass on” these plants to others. Pioneer women brought seeds, cuttings, and bulbs from home to help them plant their new gardens and remind them of home. During the Civil War, Southerners had to rely on pass-along facilities due to the blockade the North imposed on southern ports. For many of us today, a pass-along plant in our garden is a reminder of a specific person.

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I have numerous pass-along plants in my garden. I have evening primrose – oenothera speciose – in my garden and every time it blooms it reminds me of my grandmother – the one who first introduced me to gardening. The purple iris that smells like grape gum is from my mother-in-law. Master gardener friends from Missouri gave me a black gamecock Louisiana iris, a pink Japanese anemone and several unique daylilies. I have daffodils and beautiful lavender mums from my sister. My friend gave me several cannas that are planted all over my garden. I have a giant teal hosta that was passed on to me by another friend. Of course, the white peony reminds me of my dear friend and mentor Phyllis Both. Since I don’t know exactly which variety the hosta or peony is, I simply named these plants “Kent” and “Phyllis”. These are just a few examples of passing plants in my garden. Every time I see these plants, it reminds me of these people with whom I share a love of gardening.

I’m not just the recipient of plants that are passed on; I also like to share my plants with garden visitors. It’s not uncommon to find me walking through the garden, shovel and bucket in hand, ready to dig up something my visitors have been admiring. Last year I gave my daughter a piece of an orange iris that was originally passed on to me by a fellow gardener. It bloomed beautifully for my daughter this year, she called it her “crown jewel”. Mine didn’t flower; it was too crowded with the yellow false indigo – Baptisia – and the black-eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta.

There are a few “rules” to be observed when passing on plants. If you receive a pass-along plant, don’t say “thank you” or the plant will not thrive. Instead, you promise to take good care of the plant. If you are the one passing a plant on, especially to newer gardeners, be careful not to pass on anything that is considered invasive or aggressive in the garden. That makes me think of spiderwort, grape bellflower or trumpet vine. I know their nature, so I’m very careful not to share them with “newbies”. Also, refrain from dividing plants if your yard is plagued by jumping worms or other problems.

If you visit my garden during the Sauk County Master Gardeners Association’s 2022 annual garden tour on July 30, who knows—you might get a pass-along plant, too. To purchase tickets, visit and search for SCMGA Garden Tour.

For more information or garden questions, contact the University of Wisconsin Madison of Extension Sauk County office at 608-355-3250 or email


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