Don’t Buy Plants. Swap! (I did, and saved $50.)

One of the most economical gardening moves I ever made was to join my local horticulture club.

For just $12 a year, I get access to great gardening advice, some lovely garden tours, and a list-serv of other gardeners who are not only willing but eager to swap plants with me so we can all save some money.

I put that list-serv to good use this past weekend. After a harsh, dry winter, my yard needed a face lift. The sunny spot in front was completely overgrown with weeds. The mostly shady back yard had been overtaken by senecio daisies and creeping astilbe, let alone all manner of weeds. I wanted to restore the front with native plants that would thrive in hot afternoon sun, and add variety to the shade plants out back.

A quick trip to the nursery made me realize that my ideas would cost me some serious cash – at least $50 just for the plants in front, even without adding an accent bush or two.

Rudbeckia I bought a few tall zinnias to add some immediate color, but headed home to see if I could "shop" for free on the club list serv. I put out a call for plants like rudbeckia, also known as black eyed Susans, and native grasses. I described my growing conditions so folks could look at what they were cultivating under similar conditions and give me some transplants. I offered to share my plants with whomever dropped by. 

Bingo! Within half an hour of offering to exchange some of my astilbe, daisies, and a few other wildly growing specimens (like hellebores and native phlox), the responses came pouring in. My fellow gardeners would be delighted to swap with me!

I spent an hour digging up the plants I could trade, potting them in old planting containers I save for just this purpose. Then I puttered around in the garden and waited for the "booty" to arrive. Throughout the morning, people stopped by with a motherlode of perennials. I hauled in celandine poppies, three varieties of rudbeckia, a native columbine, goldenrod, mondo grass, echinacea (purple cone flower), and more.

At this point, I've saved even more than $50 by exchanging plants rather than buying them.

But as much as I love the bargain, I think I got more pleasure from the gardeners who dropped by with their own plants in tow. It was great fun to walk around, shovel and spade in hand, digging up plants I'd cultivated so my friends could enjoy them in their yard. By the same token, it was particularly satisfying to plant what my gardener pals had carefully dug up for me.

I'll be savoring that camaraderie all summer long.

15 Responses to Don’t Buy Plants. Swap! (I did, and saved $50.)

  1. Mrs Green May 17, 2009 at 10:14 am #

    What a gorgeous sounding day. It’s a real feel-good story and helps to rebuild communities.
    I’m very lucky that I have been able to swap food plants with a neighbour. He has given us lettuces and broad beans. I’m giving him tomatoes and courgettes.
    He gives me eggs throughout the year and I do some baking for him. It feels so good, doesn’t it?
    Thanks for sharing your great story 🙂

  2. Lynn from May 17, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    What a great story, Diane! It sounds like you live in a wonderfully neighborly neighborhood!
    Hey, let me know if you have any extra! 🙂

  3. Kathy J, Washington Gardener Mag May 17, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    Swap are great for those newbies and anyone looking to fill in large spaces — I had was able to get rid of my lawn by going to garden club plant swaps and taking all the “agressive spreading” plants (black-eyed susan, goldenrod, campanula, japanese anemone, etc.).
    Now I’m at the editing and weeding out stage andthat means I bring back all those agressibe spreaders to share with others at swaps who need them and am much more selective about what I take home at this point.

  4. Anna (Green Talk) May 17, 2009 at 7:55 pm #

    I love swapping. I gave my very invasive strawberries to someone and she gave me 8 new raspberry canes! I traded an invasive for another invasive! At least, the berries are great!
    You can also easily grow some plants form seed as well. Snapdragons and cosmos are so easy to grow inside. I have even grown a coneflower! There is nothing like seeing a plant mature that you grew from a seed.

  5. Jenny Carres May 18, 2009 at 6:34 am #

    Another great kid- friendly activity your readers would enjoy is to grow a TickleMe Plant from seeds and then watching the plant MOVE when Tickled! As a first grade teacher I no longer plant Lima beans, as the growing of this interactive plant, proved to be much more exciting and educational for my student’s.
    I found my supplies for a classroom kit at but they also sell individual greenhouses and even party favors, with everything you need to grow your own TickleMe Plant from seeds. I assure you your kids will be more excited about gardening, and its just fun to watch the expressions of the faces of children (and even adults) when they see the plant close its leaves and droop when tickled,

  6. JessTrev May 18, 2009 at 10:26 am #

    Your yard sounds charming. I bet puttering around and chatting with fellow gardeners made for a lovely day.

  7. Stephanie - Green SAHM May 18, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    I love the idea of a swap. We don’t have a lot of extra plants, but tons of extra seeds. My husband is a little too enthusiastic in his seed shopping.

  8. Green Bean May 19, 2009 at 8:27 pm #

    Oh that does sound lovely! I swapped with my MIL and it is quite a thrill to see her herbs sprouting in my garden. I’ll have to see if my green moms group is interested. Thanks for the suggestion.

  9. Mary Hunt May 19, 2009 at 6:55 pm #

    When I lived in Michigan, I always had a little army shovel in my trunk because I never knew when someone might offer me a plug or two…

  10. mcmilker May 20, 2009 at 5:47 am #

    Diane this is such a good idea! My mother was just bemoaning the loss of gardening clubs because so few women had the time to work for free make the commitment as they had in her day.
    She’ll be happy to hear that they are alive and well just in another format.
    I too am often amazed at how much plants cost – trading would be great!

  11. mother earth aka karen hanrahan May 20, 2009 at 6:31 am #

    what an absolutely lovely idea

  12. Katy from Non-Toxic Kids May 20, 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    Great idea! I’m inspired to ask my colleague if I can dig up a few of her extra plants to replant. I probably have something to share, if not more than my pleasant smile?
    Thanks for the tip, happy gardening.

  13. GoforGreenGal May 21, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    This is a great idea, especially for people like me who can’t afford to buy new plants all of the time!

  14. Diane MacEachern May 22, 2009 at 5:47 am #

    Yes, this has been a great money saver!

  15. Christina Viering May 27, 2009 at 4:49 am #

    This is a great idea, I spend way too much on plants and am looking forward to swapping1

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