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The Art of Plant Sharing

The Art of Plant Sharing

One person's plant is another person's treasure.

It’s 8:00 a.m. and I’ve just dug up three lavender irises from our garden. It’s crowded and they’ve got to go, but rather than toss them into the yard waste, I slip them into bags, mark them as free, and put them out on the sidewalk. We’ve done this for years with various flowering plants—day lilies, hostas, irises, columbine—anything that needs regular thinning. Within hours they disappear, only to brighten someone else’s yard around the corner. Sometimes they even yield a nice harvest of neighborly conversations.

Though it may strike fear in the hearts of local nursery owners, plant sharing is a growing trend that promises to beautify Cambridge at no cost while connecting neighbors through the simple, satisfying act of tending our tiny urban lots. Whether it’s over-the-fence sharing, street-side sharing, or an offering to a neighborhood email list, plants are moving around the city to the benefit of everyone.

And this isn’t just a Republic of Cambridge phenomenon. Several websites have cropped up in recent years aimed at turning plant sharing into a global trend.

On The Plants Exchange website, U.S.-based gardeners can offer their plants for free, with agreed-upon shipping costs paid for by the recipient. The World Plant Exchange similarly connects people offering or seeking plants and seeds, but on a global scale. Federal restrictions on the global transfer of plant material can make this option a bit tricky however, and even the most avid plant-sharing fanatic can be deterred by shipping. It’s one thing to dig up a plant and hand it over to someone, and quite another to box and ship it.

Plant Catching, which is based in Canada but serves communities everywhere, avoids the shipping hassle by connecting people locally for plant sharing. Plants are offered via private or public postings, and are left for pickup at specified locations. This concept is more neighborly, but relies on lots of members in every community signing up and regularly checking for donations. A search of the Cambridge area shows no current members, but the site offers lots of practical tools and ideas for getting your neighbors on board.

Combining social with local, a woman in Oregon organized a neighborhood plant swap that brought master gardeners together with newbies to share plants and advice. She encouraged people to also bring gardening books and magazines they no longer needed, along with bird feeders, decorative pots, and garden ornaments. The swap was a great success, with lots new connections made and ideas shared. After the event, she posted the remaining plants as free on Craigslist, and everything vanished by the end of the day.

This idea could be easily replicated anywhere by anyone, maybe even by me next spring. But for now, I’ll stick with my simple weekly offerings to passers-by.

This afternoon I left a beautiful bag of columbine on the sidewalk, and it disappeared while I was writing this article. Who knows, maybe I’ll spot it planted around the corner when I’m walking my dog tonight. It makes me happy just to think of it.