April 29th, 2007
Steve Bender and Felder Rushing. Foreward by Allen Lacy.
More than any other book, I can see Passalong Plants as a blog. The book is a collection of short essays (posts) focusing on an individual plant. Each entry has a snappy title and all contain a very personal story about encounters with said plant. Nothing formal or academic about Passalong Plants and yet the information is the best kind…words of experience. Most entries have a photograph. Doesn’t that sound like blog format?
Steve Bender (who gardens in Birmingham, AL) and Felder Rushing (who gardens in Jackson, MI) write in a determinedly folksy style, heavily laced with southern drawl. I can just imagine lounging on the front porch, as water condenses on the tall glasses of iced tea, listening to the pair of them tell one interesting plant story after another.
I don’t have to imagine too hard because I had the good fortune to have lunch with Felder Rushing in 1995, the day after he had a book signing at the local garden club. I’d bought three copies of Passalong Plants, one each for me and my two best friends at work. One of those friends just happens to know the owners of Barton Springs Nursery who just happen to know Felder Rushing and the next thing I knew we were all eating Mexican food at ZuZu’s on Bee Caves Rd. His stories were just as funny in real life. I remember especially his attempts to obtain a cutting of variegated St. Augustine grass from a little old lady who had discovered it in her garden.
Before I bought my own copy of Passalong Plants, I’d read the library copy several times. As a beginning gardener I found the writing style a reassuring antidote to all those stuffy books on English or Connecticut gardens. Most importantly, the plants discussed were plants I had growing in my yard and in my neighborhood. And they celebrated the same wacky aesthetic sensibility (bottle trees, pink flamingoes, tire planters) that my neighborhood is infamous for. In short, they spoke my language.
“Jeff McCormack, who runs the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange…describes the fragrance as reminiscent of strawberry and cantaloupe when the flower first opens, changing to burgundy wine and then spiced apples as it ages…I’ll stick to my description of the scent as similar to that of Juicy-Fruit Gum. Vintage 1979 Juicy-Fruit gum, to be exact. — Steve Bender
Passalong Plants didn’t influence just my plant choices for the next 10 years. It influenced the way I wrote about gardening. When I began Zanthan Gardens in 2001, I was primarily interested in writing up Plant Profiles, my own reports on how plants fared in Austin. My layout is loosely borrowed from Passalong Plants: a sidebar with some plant factoids, a photograph or two, and the story of my own experience with the plant. I’m not as funny or as informative of Messrs. Bender and Rushing–but they had an unmistakable influence, don’t you think? Pure inspiration!
“…a bottle tree, what the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture describes as “the poor person’s stained glass window.” I’m not exactly poor, and I’m not looking for a stained glass window, but I do have a bottle tree in my back yard. It’s a stunning specimen, if I do say so myself, composed of rare, cobalt blue milk of magnesia bottles. Some folks use plastic milk of magnesia bottles, but these are shoddy efforts.” — Felder Rushing
Rereading the book has been such a joy. I’d forgotten how many plants I’d tried on their recommendation. The point of a passalong plant is that it has to be easy, easy to grow and easy to propagate. Unless a plant is kin to a weed, its chances surviving me are pretty much doomed.
I decided that the best way to demonstrate just how important Passalong Plants has been to my garden development was to make several lists of plants described in the book. The first is the list of plants that were already in my 50 year old yard and thriving without any need of a gardener’s intervention. The second is the list of plants that the book encouraged me to seek out and try. The final list is plants passed along to me…not all the plants I’ve received, just the one’s described in the book.
Leafing through the book I see I have a lot more plants to try and these days I know a lot more gardeners that I can beg passalongs from.
Plants Passed Along With My Garden
- bearded iris
- chinaberry Melia azedarach (A messy, weak tree hated in my garden.)
- coral vine Antigonon leptopus
- crinums (various, rescued from the bulldozer)
- elephant ears Colocasia
- Mexican petunia Ruellia
- oxalis (hot pink) Oxalis crassipes
- purple heart Setcresea pallida (I also have a green variety.)
- spiraea (The one I’ve had for years is about to croak).
- summer snowflakes Leucojum aestivum (Reliable)
- spiderwort (Almost to weed status)
- red spider lilies Lycoris radiata (Always leaves, infrequent bloom)
- rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus
- Turk’s cap Malvaviscus arboreus (Tough.)
- rainlily, white Zephyranthes (I have two different white ones.)
Plants I Was Inspired to Buy and Try
- angel trumpet Datura (Ours is inoxia, not arborea.)
- black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta (Self-sows every year.)
- butterfly bush Buddleia davidii (Love these, but I’ve never gotten one to grow.)
- chaste tree Vitex agnus-castus
- cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus
- coral bean Erythrina herbacea
- crocosmia (Only one flower before succumbing to shade.)
- hardy orchid Bletilla striata (Never sprouted.)
- hollyhock Alcea rosea (Grew once from seed and would like to try them again.)
- honesty Lunaria annuus (Tried to grow from seeds and failed.)
- larkspur Consolida ambigua (One of the first wildflowers I planted; it still comes up reliably every year.)
- lantana (Never dies but my yard has too much shade for it to flower well.)
- moonflower Ipomoea alba
- oxalis (purple-leafed) Oxalis triangularis
- rainlily, large pink Zephyranthes grandiflora
- sweet pea Lathyrus odoratus (I’m hooked!)
- trumpet vine Campsis radicans (Steve Bender says I’m going to be drummed out of the League of Gardeners given that I killed this plant.)
- tuberose Polianthes tuberosa (Not much luck with tuberoses.)
- yarrow Achillea (Had for several years until it got too shaded.)
- winter honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima (I loved it but it died.)
- zinnia (I buy the occasional six-pack from time to time.)
Plants Passed Along to Me
- cypress vine Ipomoea quamoclit
- four o’clocks Mirabilis jalapa (Val gave me the aggressive pink ones; I got some smaller red ones fromm the RHS seed exchange)
- naked ladies Amaryllis belladona (This book calls them Lycoris squamigera)
- rainlily ‘Labuffarosea’ Zephyranthes
- Spanish bayonet yucca (Indestructible!)
by M Sinclair Stevens in Austin, Texas