Buying plants Gardening

Bonus Plants

Sometimes plants hitch a ride with others, so keep your eyes open! Ill.: http://www.pikpng.com & www.vhv.rs, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

I don’t know about you, but when I go plant shopping (and, to be honest, it’s about the only kind of shopping I enjoy … well, except for buying gardening books!), I’m always on the lookout for bonus plants. That’s what I call those extra plants you sometimes find in a pot.

Now, most often these are just another copy of the original plant. Say, in a row of echinaceas or delphiniums, most with just one plant in the center of the pot, every now and then there is a pot with two plants! I can see other gardeners mostly choosing the ones in bloom, but blooming plants generally tend to get broken when they’re handled or planted and I usually pass them up. I prefer getting two somewhat smaller plants for the price of one. I figure I’ve just bought the plant half price! 

Stowaway Plants

Bonus plants aren’t always just doubles of the original. Sometimes, something else is growing in the original pot, usually something much younger and clearly different from the original. A seedling of … who knows what? It could, of course, turn out to be a weed, but unless I recognize it as such, I really can’t resist trying. These are the ones I call stowaway plants. 

I confess: I was once taken in by a stinging nettle… but most of my stowaway plants have been plants worth growing. Photo: cambridge-news.co.uk

I have gotten some duds that way, true enough, and once tenderly cared for a stinging nettle for quite a while before it stung me and I realized what it was. But I’ve also discovered some truly stupendous plants hitchhiking in other pots. 

Ferns often seem to germinate in other pots and I’ve picked up some beauties that way. 

Armenian cranesbill (Geranium psilostemon), originally a stowaway, is now one of my favorite perennials. Photo: picfair.com

And my all-time favorite geranium, Armenian cranesbill (Geranium psilostemon), a giant of a geranium that blooms right through the summer into fall with startling dark-eyed brilliant magenta flowers, first came to me as a stowaway. It took me years to find out what it was, as it is just not on offer in nurseries where I live. True, it does self-sow quite abundantly, but I just love it. With plants of it now growing here and there throughout my yard, it now pretty much defines my summer garden.

I’ve picked some charming phloxes, sweet Williams, columbines and bellflowers that way, and also my very first Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum… I think!). And even baby trees and shrubs, not all of which I’ve been able to keep because of space restrictions. And I mustn’t forget houseplants: they often have some pretty exciting stowaways. 

Plants Only

Mealybugs are the kind of stowaways you don’t want! Photo: askwetandforget.com

I should point out that I limit my choice of stowaways to plants. I also check plants for insects and if I find any stowaways in that category, unless I know it is something beneficial like a lacewing or a ladybug, the plant will remain in the store. In fact, if the bug is something truly horrifying, like mealybugs or scale insects, I’m very unlikely to buy anything in that outlet.


Bonus plants: just another thing about gardening that makes it so exciting!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

2 comments on “Bonus Plants

  1. I got my first bonus plant this year! It came with my rosemary! I’ll snap a pic to share. Great information!

  2. We try to keep weeds out of our material, but some sneak in. A particular area of the nursery got seeded with poison oak that fell from high in an adjacent redwood tree. (I needed to cut the poison oak at the base.) For some small plants, we put two or three cuttings in each can; and I sort of wonder how many got separated when planted in their forever homes.

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