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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Passalong Plants - The Book

Passalong Plants -the April/May Selection for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club.
By the time this book came into my life, my world was already filled with plants passed along by other gardeners, so Felder and Steve [we were instantly on a first name basis] didn’t introduce me to the concept, but they gave all of us a great name for what we were doing, validated our experiences and filled an entire book with objects of desire. We were introduced to some quirky yard art as well as some truly odd plants.

The two authors, Steven Bender and Felder Rushing talk about individual plants in a neighborly, anecdotal way, sometimes lurching over the line into Jeff Foxworthy territory, but with genuine horticultural information under the kudzu. I have no resistance to this kind of Southern- style writing, treasuring old paperbacks by Lewis Grizzard and Celestine Sibley, enjoying the YaYa Sisterhood, and loving movies like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes. If you can’t swallow garden writing served with a side of cheese grits, you may need a lot of iced tea to get you through the pages, but the plant stories are wonderful. I love my copy, sometimes rereading the book for fun, and sometimes using it as a reference for specific plants.

Many of the most tempting stories are about plants that won’t grow above zone 7, giving the Northern gardener a case of zone envy. Felder and Steve are currently considering a new book about Passalong Plants for colder zones, so if you live where camelias freeze, read this book first and hope they’ll write a companion volume in the future.
Last March, I posted about meeting Felder Rushing, and mentioned that my copy of the book was written-in, and stuffed with notes. The extra pages at the back of the book were blank when I bought the book, but were soon covered in lists of plants and people. I noted daylilies named ‘Timeless’ and ‘Charm Bracelet’ as coming from Bernice, that Sweet Autumn Clematis was given to me by Ruth, whose plant came from Sophie. The Malva moschata was from Dorothy, Iris from Lorraine, Peonies from Patty, Sweet woodruff from Sherry, orange lilies from Laverne and that the Jack in the Pulpit was passed along to me by my mother. Most of the passalong plants in our Illinois garden stayed there when we moved to Texas in 1999.

But among the passalong plants in my present garden are two that traveled long and winding roads to live in Austin, Texas.

Look into the photo above and you’ll see some tall while phlox, cavorting with a white Echinacea and some Perovskia last July. The family legend says that my great-grandmother grew the phlox in Michigan in the early 1900’s. By 1924 she'd given a division to her daughter, my Grandma Anna, who took them to Chicago. Grandma passed them along to my parents in the 1950’s. Decades later, I took some of the white phlox with me to a rental townhouse, then to our first house. Another four years passed, I redivided the burgeoning clump and took some to our second house, then repeated the process and planted them in the square garden at the third house, seen below.

The phlox are blooming in the upper left corner of this decade old snapshot - with the head of an 'Annabelle' hydrangea flopped artistically across the center.
In the mid-nineties our son M. took some of the white phlox for his garden and after we moved to this house in 2004, M. returned the favor, bringing a division of the heirloom phlox down here - to make this the fifth home where we’ve grown them.

The journey of another plant began on April 13, 1992, when a garden club speaker in Illinois gave me wands of corkscrew willow - extra greenery from an arrangement. I managed to root one of the slender twisted branches and grew it in a whiskey barrel. The wand eventually expanded into an attractive tree, from which I rooted more cuttings, one for my son M. and a couple for my friend Barbara.
We left the original tree in the whiskey barrel in Illinois, but after a while I missed it, and wanted one here. Both M. & Barbara gave me wands from their now larger trees, with no luck at first, but this piece from Barbara finally made roots in 2005. The young willow now grows in a big pot, placed so any drip of condensation from the roof will land in the container. Also in the container are some passalong agapanthus plants from Pam/Digging.
I started writing this while waiting for a couple of passalong daylilies to bloom, but as I waited, the draft grew longer and longer, and now the daylilies need a whole post! Since I want to tell the stories of the passalong plants in our garden and the people who shared them with us – let’s call this Passalongs/Part One.


  1. Annie, what an interesting post. I've seen some discussion on this book and you've made me want to add it to my list! You have quite a passalong history yourself. You've reminded me that when we moved into this house over 30 years ago I found out later that during the few days the house was vacant some of the neighbors had helped themselves to some Stachys byzantina which grew by the front door. Do-it-yourself passalong in action!

    And your son bringing your own white phlox back to you in Austin brings the passalong to full circle. I love that!

  2. I'll have to get a copy of Passalong Plants. Haven't read it yet but you have intrigued me with your description. Reckon' I won't need the grits or ice tea !

    Your story of the white phlox is wonderful. You have an amazing number of passalongs to write about.

  3. Annie, Thanks for sharing with us about your passalong plants, I especially like the story of the white phlox. I'd love to have a plant that I knew came from my great-grandmother. Having that must make your garden feel like "home" no matter where it is.

    I'm looking forward to hearing about more of your passalong plants as they come into bloom.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  4. I enjoyed reading your post about passalong plants. I just received a copy of the book a few days ago in the mail and I'm enjoying it very much. I'm (hopefully) starting a gardening tradition with my daughters so I hope to be able to passalong plants to them as their interest grows.

  5. Your phlox is a true heirloom plant! I did have a bit of zone envy while reading the book but quickly realized that one mans perennial is another's annual. I've passed the book along to my sister in true passalong spirit.

  6. I need to get better at writing things down - reading your history of the plants in your garden, it is wonderful to trace it all back. Your garden is a story.

    When I was in graduate school, in the first lab I rotated through there was a woman, Maggie, who had a wonderful garden, and when she and her husband dug up a bearded iris bed, she gave a bunch of them to me. I, of course, gave a bunch to my Mom - and when I moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I wasn't able to grow them - but when I moved to South Carolina my mother then brought some down to my garden - from the Michigan batch. I took a pic of them recently and sent it to Maggie in a card and she was thrilled. We do stay connected through these plants, don't we?

  7. Passalong plants is a great name for an old practice. I love walking around the garden and seeing my 'friends' there. Nice to hear about your family passalongs.

  8. I love the corkscrew willow and am glad to see it growing so happily with the agapanthus from my garden.

  9. Other than a few garden mags, I don't own a gardening book and this one sounds interesting. No grits for me but love the sweet tea and those movies - all three!

  10. LostRoses I think you'll find it fun to read. Thirty years ago we were in house #1 ... now we're in #5. How different it must be for you to live in one place for 30 years.

    Carolyn, since you've made the South-up-to-Chicago journey, I will be very interested to know what you think of the book.

    Carol, I've been wanting to tell the phlox story and this book gave me a chance!

    Hello Mimi - I'm glad you're enjoying the book - and hope you get a chance to garden with your daughters.

    Apple, some of my loveliest heirlooms, like peonies, had to be left behind - so the zone envy works both ways!
    I'll bet CountryGirl is already chuckling at Steve & Felder's style.

    Hi Pam, my uncle told me about the phlox at a time when I was writing things down. At first just scribbled garden notes on calendars.
    I like your peripatetic Iris story - and am glad you can grow iris in SC. I wonder if there's anyplace where gardeners can grow peonies and lilacs, but also camellias and crepe myrtles?

    Layanee, I've read about gardens made entirely of plants that came from other people, including the shrubs and trees - so that would be a very longterm project.

    Hello Pam, the agapanthus show no sign of blooming, but the leaves look happy. If you ever want to try to root some willow let me know.

    Mary, maybe you could enjoy the stories without developing plant lust - so it would be less dangerous for you to read it ;-]

    Thanks for the comments,


  11. You could be living in Hawaii Annie. I have Curly Willow, Agapanthus and the Umbrella Sedge, not in the same container or grouping, but all live in my garden.

  12. Love your story about the white phlox that not only runs in your family but practically gallops. :-)

    In the Netherlands and the UK you can grow lilacs, peonies and camellias. Do you have the botanical name for the crepe myrtle? Not sure what that is.

  13. Hi Annie,
    What a gift you have with words! I felt like I was reading a wonderful, whitty review in my favorite garden periodical...one that Mrs. Greenthumbs might've written. I would run out and buy the book, but I already own it!

    Aren't your passalong plants your favorites? They're mine. My list of donors is fairly short, blut my list of plants is longer. I passalong freely.

    I must tell you that my fig has a profuse amount of babies. I thought of you when I watch it grow. I better find a home for it soon, or it will be in that pot forever!

    Have a wonderful week! Chris

  14. What interesting stories. Of course until about 25 years ago almost all ornamental plants in the Caribbean were "pass along" plants-there were no commercial nurseries. My mother had a motto-she always shared her plants, so in case she lost one there was someone she could get it back from!
    When I get cuttings and seeds from friends in different countries its extra special as the plants bring back memories of my visits!

  15. I enjoyed reading your post. It reminded me of the fact the I have several plants in my garden from my old neighborhood. They were given to me over 15 years ago and when I moved I dug up starts and brought them to my new garden. A few people have passed away now and I like to walk around the yard remembering them and some of the stories we shared.

  16. What lovely stories about passalong plants! I have wondered about some of the plants I've passed along, particularly when some were something as invasive and determined as lily-of-the-valley. I have nearly made the recipients sign a contract that when a plant I'm giving them threatens to take over their garden, they won't come looking for me...

  17. I think passalong plants make every garden more interesting and special.
    I loved reading about all your passalongs.

    Sounds like a great book.

  18. Amazing how well traveled that phlox is! Loved the post.

  19. I loved hearing about the white Phlox and the corkscrew Willow ... every time you look at them, they evoke memories. It's wonderful ... and I loved the old photo of the Phlox.

    Now I'm looking forward to your next instalment of passalongs.

  20. How interesting Christopher! It never occurred to me that curly willow could grow somewhere tropical, since I had it in IL, and also had agapanthus there, brought inside for winter. After seeing the Umbrella plant running rampant at a friend's house, I never let mine out of the pot.

    Hi Yolanda - that's a good line!

    Called either Crepe or Crape myrtle, it's Lagerstroemia indica - originally from Asia, but they were introduced into the warmer parts of the US by the late 1790's.

    Chris, you'll turn my head by comparing me to Cassandra Danz, she of fond memory. I have a feeling that many of the garden bloggers already love this book!

    Like you, I've loved giving away passalongs as much as getting them. Fickle being that I am... my favorite plant is whatever looks best right now;-]

    The original fig in the pot is still alive. I rooted a cutting of it a few years ago, and planted it last year. Once the little tree felt earth underneath, it doubled in size - but I don't know when we'll actually get to eat a fig. I'm glad yours is doing well.

    Hello Nicole - with some of the family passalongs we've done the same - giving pieces to as many people as possible so it won't be lost. We don't have an international collection like yours, however!

    Hello PianaNanna, your experience is familiar to me - the people may be gone, but we still grow their plants. Thank you for coming.

    You made me laugh, Kati, and wonder if I should have done the same! What's been interesting to me is how a plant can seem like a tender treasure in one garden, barely surviving, but when given away, it turns into a thug at the new garden.

    Hello Chigiy - this is true... could one reason be that anyone can BUY a garden, but sharing passalongs requires human contact and interaction?

    Kate, it's bittersweet sometimes... I really miss those 'popping in' visits to Barbara's house, just a few blocks from mine in Illinois... 1200 miles is too far to pop.

    Thank you all!


  21. When my dad was extensively growing plants way back when, passalong was about the only way plants were acquired. They rarely had ornamental nurseries and ornamentals would be too extravagant a purchase for the poor working people.

    If that white phlox could talk, what tales it could tell! You are the Johnny appleseed equivalent, only of phlox instead of apples.

  22. I love passalong plants! They make up most of my garden. A lot of times I'm not quite sure what I am getting but I am almost always thrilled when they bloom! Apple and I are both fairly new to gardening so we are always passing back and forth to each other so our gardens grow.

  23. Hi Annie,

    We can grow the crepe myrtle too. There's nothing for it, you'll just have to emigrate to the Netherlands so that you can grow peonies, crepe myrtle, lilacs and camellias to your heart's content. :-)

  24. I love the story of your passalong plants, Annie. It would be fun if we garden bloggers could passalong our plants...although in some ways we do, via blogging and photography, don't we?

  25. Oh Annie, this is a delight, as usual! I loved Lewis Grizzard! When he wrote about his dog dying, I think I sobbed for two days.

    And, ahem....here in VA we can grow all of those wonderful things...This is a great place to garden (even with Japanese Beetles and other gardening woes)...I often wonder, looking around me, if most folks appreciate it.

    If I ever move, I will be making most of my garden passalong as it will just have to come with me!

    I think that is so neat that you have a family history in plants! I remembered that my dad had passed a pepper plant and seeds on to me...but I'm sorry to say I didn't keep the connection alive.

    Hmmm, I am growing garlic that I bought at a New Mex farmers mkt...this is its third year...I'm thinking that plants from travels must have another name...travel-alongs??!

    One other thing and I'll finally stop! Do you get Greenprints? There's an article/story in there on Magic Zinnias...a passalong for sure!

  26. Your phlox story is so moving (figuratively and literally!). Now I wonder where your great-grandmother got the plant? And how wonderful that you're still growing it - I get such a warm glow thinking about it.

    About the authors of the Passalong Plants book, Allen Lacy's introduction said he thought the two wrote with one voice, but I didn't get that impression. Steve Bender seemed to be striving to be funny and colloquial - I could sense how hard he was working at it.

  27. Annie, you've certainly made me want to read that book! I'm sure I'd enjoy the "side of cheese grits" :) I too loved those movies!
    I sure wish I was closer to you because I'd love some of those passalong plants you mention. The phlox have made an amazing journey through time. You're so good at keeping records of your gardening adventures!
    I loved this post, but then, I love all your posts :)


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