Saturday, May 26, 2007

Passalong Plants

I was tempted to buy this book years ago when I became interested in heirlooms. The fact that it was about "southern" passalongs discouraged me from doing so. New Jersey is one growing zone north of what is considered "southern". There are classic southern plants that can be grown here in sheltered locations but all it takes is a colder than normal winter and those delicate immigrants succumb.

Thanks to global warming, my zone 6 garden is now closer to zone 7, the northern-most "southern" growing zone. Colder than normal winter temperatures are rare now. I am more open to the idea of growing plants that are considered borderline in zone 6. I got out a pad and pen, ready to take notes as I dove into a whole new world of plants via "Passalong Plants".

The authors, Steve Bender and Felder Rushing, have chosen to tell a story about each plant rather than just describing it. Southern gardeners and their gardens come alive through their anecdotes. The reader comes away from the book with much better "pictures" of these old-time favorites than any photograph (which are supplied in abundance throughout the text).

The essays can be read in any order. They are helpfully arranged according to the characteristics of the plants so that, for instance, if you are looking for fragrant plants, there is a section on those alone. There are also groupings of essays on plants that are aggressive spreaders, the most common "passalongs", plants with strange characteristics (such as "naked ladies" and walking iris), plants with garish colored flowers and bare root shrub passalongs that are commonly sold in nurseries.

By far my favorite section was on yard art. I don't "get" bottle trees but plastic animals, painted rocks and especially tire planters took me back in time to my childhood in largely rural upstate New York. The book ends with a chapter devoted to organizing plant swaps for your own passalongs.

I finished the book and realized that my pad was empty. I had been too caught up in the stories to stop and take notes. It's on my bookshelf now, waiting for winter when I am making decisions about what to plant next year. I will page through it again in my constant

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