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The holidays are a popular time to stop and thank teachers and all of the wonderful staff at school for all they do.
But picture how tempting it would be to revisit your favorite gardens dressed in muddy work gear with a trowel in one hand and a “dig your own” list in the other. As most experienced gardeners know, it doesn’t take long for our well-tended beds to outgrow their boundaries. Even if we work diligently to select the right plant for the right place, nature will spread and expand itself rapidly. Perennials may duplicate themselves at the root, overflowing planting beds. Even the most tame ornamental grasses and grass-like plants will scatter their seed far and wide, popping up in patio cracks. Fern spores meet in the soil and produce new plants willy-nilly. Hydrangeas, vines and many other woody plants are able to drop branches to the soil where they take root and travel away from the intended location. This is great if our goal is to fill out sparse, youthful garden beds, but full, mature gardens can eventually become congested with vigorous plants. So, rather than toss our unwanted plant divisions into the compost pile, why not invite friends eager for new flora to do the digging for us and take home some horticultural prizes?
To plan such a gathering, I begin while the garden is at its peak. Throughout the growing season, I keep tabs on which plants are becoming over-abundant in the garden. I take note of what has self-seeded or run rampant or simply lost my interest. Then in fall or early spring, I send out an invitation to a select few gardeners to join me for a very special gardening party where the dress code is “work gear only” and the serve-yourself buffet is teeming with food for the soul -- not the belly.
Usually, my invite list consists of experienced gardeners only, but I have been known to instruct a guest or two how to properly dig up a vine or divide a perennial. Keep in mind: if you plan to do a lot of teaching at your event, keep your guest list and the duration of your party short. Usually a three-hour window with a maximum of eight guests is my limit.
Several weeks before the big event, I provide my guests with a list of what is available. Each gardener is asked to bring a shovel, favorite hand tool, and a few containers. Also, I try to have several of each on hand to share. Usually, I schedule the event for a Friday morning; this gives partygoers time to dig what they want and get everything planted over the weekend. Plus, this allows me to take the weekend to make a few finishing touches to my newly thinned garden.
On the day of the bash, I get out in the garden early. I may divide up anything particularly delicate that I wish to share; by doing this, I’ll only have myself to blame if something gets ruined or a special bed gets trampled. Otherwise, I make a mental note of what’s available where, so I can easily direct my guests to the items on their must-have list. They then dig in on their own, each sharing division bits with other guests – not unlike passing a plate of tasty hors d'oeuvres for everyone to enjoy.
Guests are rewarded for doing our dirty work by taking home a trunk-full of flowers. Hosts get the benefit of lifting barely a finger in order to get a whole lot of garden work done the right way, for free and at the right time of year.
**Note: Some plants are patented. Propagating these plants can come at some legal risk. The tag on the plant, at time of purchase, will let you know an individual plant’s patent status.