Vintage Years for the Members Plant Exchange
Guest Author: Ted Patterson, 2020 Chair of Members Plant Exchange and Sale
There are only a few vintage black-and-white prints documenting the beginning years of the Scott Associates’ Members Plant Exchange. These are not dust-bowl pictures. But, still, they’re from the end of the last century—that antique old 20th century.
Our first Members Plant Exchange was in May 1996, and this year’s edition was due to be our 25th anniversary “running.” While the Plant Exchange is just one of many cancellations this season it’s worthwhile to recall its purpose and see how we can keep the spirit alive.
Although passionate gardeners routinely give cuttings and divisions to friends, a formal event such as ours, organized for broader sharing, is pretty unique among our region’s public gardens.
We’re proud of this distinctive history and also fortunate to have some event founders still around. Jody Downer, now on staff as the Arboretum’s Special Projects Coordinator, was President of the Associates in 1996. Eve Thyrum was a Council leader when the event began, and has shared plants and botanical knowledge throughout. Jody and Eve credit fellow Council member Roger Dietz as the driving force for starting the Plant Exchange.
The goal was to enable swapping plants for nearly free, particularly as a horticultural encouragement for new members. Interestingly, much of the event’s structure formed in 1996 and has only been “tweaked” since. Sale of extra plants was then for 25 cents, but even that cost isn’t significantly different from today’s $1 price, considering 25 years of inflation.The original exchange rate was 5 plants for 1 ticket as opposed our 3 plants for 1 ticket policy today.
Already by 1998, event Vice-Chair Mimi Le Bourgeois was able to begin her final report with this statement: “The Plant Exchange in its third year has become a very popular tradition, with organized volunteers and a lusty atmosphere.”
Some of the Plant Exchange’s initial leaders have moved away in retirement, but a notable group of key volunteers and past chairs have contributed help over almost all of the 25-year lifespan.
A pandemic has steamrolled our 25th anniversary celebration right off our calendar, but there are ways to celebrate its spirit. First, we hope to hold a fall event Saturday, October 10. We won’t have spring seedlings, but an October Plant Exchange would be in conjunction with your fall garden cleanup—and an appropriate time to divide and share perennials.
For the time being, you can continue the heritage of plant sharing right within your neighborhoods, and it will be a timely effort. Reports and seed sale statistics are showing that people are seeking sheltering solace in working with plants and planting gardens.
Extra vegetable seedlings, tubers, rhizomes or some clumps of your favorite perennials will make great gifts or trades with your neighbors. If you’ve already played Johnny Appleseed with your nearby neighbors you can use the community email bulletin boards to offer plants a few blocks further afield. At any rate, this is an ideal time to celebrate plants and the gardeners’ heritage of sharing.