In the deep South, there is a tradition of green-thumb hospitality. This practice of gifting from the garden is called sharing “passalong” plants. Passalong plants can be rose cuttings from a favorite bush, perennials from the flower garden, young houseplants started from the leaves of older plants or seeds harvested from heirloom tomatoes. Often they are plants that are hard to find in commercial nurseries or simply varieties that have gone out of fashion with the latest gardening fad. Occasionally, a plant follows a family in a move, a tangible reminder of the home left behind. I remember reading about families who following the Oregon Trail with cuttings of rose bushes wrapped in wet rags tucked into their covered wagons. Planting those cuttings was a symbol of putting down new roots in a wild and new part of the country. A passalong plant might be something you can no longer care for. It might even be a plant that was passed along to you by a friend or relative. When you thin the iris, you give a handful of rhizomes to a neighbor. When dividing the Hosta, you bag up the extras and share with a friend. My grandmother’s flower garden was filled with plants that had been distributed between neighbors. This time of year, as we transplant seedlings and buy pony packs of herbs, vegetables and annuals to fill our gardens, there are plenty of passalong plants available. Recently, a friend who had too many herbs shared a few for the pots on my patio. I’ll think of her each time I chop and sprinkle the herbs in whatever I’m cooking. Returning the favor, I thinned the leek seedlings I’d started for my tiny urban vegetable garden planted in wine barrels and narrow beds. I had far more than I could use so I bundled up what was left, along with a few fresh eggs for good measure, and dropped them off at her back door. I know sharing isn’t unique to any particular part of the country, but I do like the Southern name for the practice. After all, any kindness is sweeter when it is passed along.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.