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Book Review: Passalong Plants
by Denise Pugh

Long before zip lines and data lines, there was a time of party lines and clothes lines. That is the era Steve Bender and Felder Rushing presumably had in mind as they composed a garden-lover’s prose that has become a classic. Passalong Plants was published in 1993, and in the 20 years since, it has become my “go-to” book for real-life garden antics, to reminisce about a time when sharing was common practice and to find out exactly how to plant that unusual specimen I received from a “garden-club lady.” Written in conversational style, Felder and Steve alternate telling the stories of the 117 plants described in the book. I can say it no better than Allen Lacy in the foreword, “It’s a hoot and a holler.”

Passalong Plants by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing

This book has become a standout in the horticulture world and was awarded the Quill and Trowel Award in 1994 by the Garden Writers’ Association. But, what you really want to know is, “What makes this book different?” Well, for me, it was a combination of the photographs, the true stories of plants and the people who grow them, and the source locations. The book is divided into eight chapters with entertaining titles such as “Aunt Bea’s Pickles” (passalong plants that friends insist on giving you whether you want them or not), “In The Bare-Root Bin at the Plant-O-Rama” (the passalongs sold by the bundle) or “Well, I Think It’s Pretty” (for those fascinated by fine yard art). 

I have an ever-evolving cottage garden, and I had forgotten just how many passalong plants I grow. I had also forgotten how much I enjoyed reading about Felder and his mother, Wilma Gene, or Steve, who was originally from north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but has become the nation’s most famous “Grumpy Gardener.”

I’ve chosen not to grow kudzu, although it is mentioned in the book, since it is invasive and can consume a house. But, one plant I have grown that fits the true definition of a passalong plant is the Texas star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). Unlike Felder, who tells the story of liberating the stem of a Texas star from a yard along a rural highway, my Texas star came from a lovely lady named Ms. Zadie who was willing to share her plant and its story.

The vine that ate the South; please don’t pass it along!

Texas star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)

So, I guess that’s what makes this book a “must read” – it’s the story of people who love plants, share plants and are brought together by plants. The next time you are out hanging clothes and hear the roar of a truck engine along the road in front of your house, remember, Felder may have just paid you a visit.

Note: Each plant is accompanied by cultural information for propagating, soil, water and light needs, and mail-order sources. Just as a point of interest, there is a source listed for kudzu, but beware, “It is the vine that ate the South.”

Photos by Kat Lawrence

Posted December 2013


Denise Pugh gardens in the Deep South with one husband, eight chickens, two beehives and three grandchildren.



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