The Perils of Gift Plants

Every summer I expend valuable time and energy extracting fans of a certain orange daylily from the perennial bed adjoining my pond. The culprit is, I suspect, a variety called ‘Kwanso,’ a descendant of Hemerocallis fulva, which is a tough plant with brownish-orange flowers and a rampaging habit of colonization. ‘Kwanso’ has certainly inherited that quality, which means that if left to itself, it will send out new sprouts far beyond the spot where it was originally planted. In my pond bed, lush growths of ‘Kwanso’ have come up flush against vigorous ferns and threatened to engulf a small spirea, ‘Golden Princess.’ To keep things in proportion (so much of gardening consists of this struggle), I get out there with a narrow bulb trowel and surgically remove the invader from spots where it doesn’t belong.

Now, here’s the thing — I didn’t buy ‘Kwanso.’  It was a gift from another gardener. My garden was new at the time, and underpopulated (hard to believe, but it was). I accepted the gift with gratitude and gave it a prime spot, remembering a fine daylily that I had in my former garden, a big handsome thing with yellow trumpet flowers every summer, possibly an old variety called ‘Hyperion.’ The clump expanded steadily, but did not send out runners. In my ignorance of the daylily tribe, I thought they were all like that, and when my gardening colleague described her plant’s double orange flowers, I was quite delighted to accept the gift. Now that I know about H. fulva, I would be suspicious of any daylily with even a hint of orange.

When someone offers you a generous supply of a plant, ask yourself why they have so much to give away. A diplomatic question may be in order: “Can you tell me something about X? How does it grow?” If the gardener says something about ground-covering tendencies or multitudes of seedlings, you may wish to decline with gratitude.

When you think about it, this matter of gift plants is as much about etiquette as gardening. Gifts in general are a touchy subject. Consider the present that eventually becomes a garage sale item. So what do you say when a gift plant turns out to be a menace that you had to eradicate, and the giver inquires as to how it’s doing in your garden? Or even worse, comes over to admire it? “Oh, it just up and died. I couldn’t get it to grow.” The implication that your gardening skills are inferior to the other person’s may divert them from the suspicion that planticide was committed. Let them bask in the warm glow of superiority for a few seconds, then offer them some seedlings of Linaria purpurea or divisions of Campanula persicifolia.

Setting aside unworthy thoughts of horticultural revenge, here are some precepts to observe when you are the giver of a plant, especially when the recipient is a new, inexperienced gardener. Be up front about colonizing tendencies. Admit that you have periwinkle to give away because it has spread like a weed at your place, and is likely to do so anywhere. Tell her that she had better get out and cut back the campion as soon as its first blooms have turned into seed pods, unless she wants it coming up all over the place. Better yet, give away some really good plants on occasion — spare seedlings of Meconopsis, for example, or divisions of crystalline blue delphiniums. No one ever has enough of those.