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The Joy of Acquisition       Karin Guzy
(slightly revised from a version published earlier in Perennial Notes,
the quarterly journal of the Georgia Perennial Plant Assoc.)

Red Emperor Lily

I was reading either a catalog or a plant book which called gardeners omnivorous. I assume this was meant in the sense that we “take in everything”. Herbivorous, meaning “feeding on plants”, seems more appropriate to me.

It is a common ailment among gardeners of all sorts that we must have more plants. We must have all the varieties of our favorites - perennials, annuals, shrubs, vines, vegetables, et al. We are insatiable. The plants seem somehow to sustain us.

Quince 'Texas Scarlet'

It is a well know fact in the gardening community that we sometimes steal to support our habit. We steal twigs and cuttings and quite shamelessly we even take ripe seed from anywhere. I have heard it called the rule of “admire and acquire”. I prefer to befuddle my friends by explaining matter-of-factly that I am simply increasing the geographic distribution and genetic diversity of a plant by translocating seed and plant cuttings from it.


As I wander through our garden, I see the small green hosta that grew from seed which fell into my hand quite innocently at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. It is an undistinguished and unidentified plant, but it reminds me of a breezy late-summer visit to that fine garden. In a sunnier bed there are some pink and white snapdragons which came from the trial beds of that garden on that same visit. These plants had no name at the time of acquisition. The sign simply identified them as “pink and white”, and as such they have endured for years in our garden.

Liatris with berberis and cotinus

Theft is not the whole story of acquisition, however. While giving a talk on propagation, the speaker asked the audience, “Why do we go to the trouble of growing plants from seed?” The prompt response from one gardener was “GREED”.
Many of us would be more likely to buy a favored plant than we would be to buy bread. When the priorities of such a gardener are questioned, it is most always by some non-gardening, level-headed soul. Unfortunately, this person is usually the gardener’s spouse.
When plant purchases begin to mount there are other fall-back positions. Plant rescue is a noble way to acquire plants. Many lovely and unnamed white Easter lilies grow throughout our garden today. They were grown from a plant discarded in a secretary’s waste basket. My woodland garden is populated by plants collected over two weekends just in front of the bulldozers in a new residential court. With the permission of the owner, both native and cultivated escapees were rescued from that site. Ferns, bloodroot, mahonias, trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpit, holly, and viburnums all came to live in the woodland.


Plant exchanges at plant society meetings have been the source of many unusual plants for our garden, but we have also been able to share plants with others. Now parts of our garden are growing elsewhere in some of the finest gardens in Atlanta, and even in other states.


The passalong plants, as Felder Rushing and Steve Bender call them, are still the best to me. The plant that a friend wrapped in wet newspaper for you will always be special. I have a beautiful hosta that my friend Penny gave me the year that she died and I always think of her when I see it. There is a small holly struggling to grow in our garden that came from my brother’s woods in Maryland. Pieces of moss sent in plastic bags by friends and family are woven now into the tapestry of our garden.


Maybe it is not the plants we acquire,
                                         but the pieces of life that go with them...
the stories, the places, the people.