Why Grumpy Keeps Grumping On

October 1, 2015 | By | Comments (9)
Letter to Grumpy

Photo: Steve Bender

By my count, this is post #796 for the Grumpy Gardener. That is quite a coincidence, as it exactly matches the number of beers I’ve consumed so far this year. Sometimes I wonder how long I’ll keep writing. Haven’t I provided you, dear readers, with enough snark and jaundiced opinion to last a thousand lifetimes? Then something special happens and I know exactly why I continue doing this. I visited my office mailbox today and discovered a curious little brown box. Inside it was the letter you see here. Let me read it.

“Dear Steve Bender,

I have looked forward to your columns in SL for years and years, every single month. Your humor and cut-to-the-chase makes me laugh out loud sometimes.

This is brown cotton, a boll sent to me by a dear friend I grew up with in Desha County, Arkansas. We were cotton farmers, so Marion knew I’d love this beauty. I have planted the seeds now for 2 years and this is from my 2015 “crop” (5 plants in my back yard beds.)

Even if you look at it and throw it away, thought you’d enjoy feeling the fiber and seeing its lovely champagne color!

With gratitude for your great knowledge,

Judy Roberts”

Grumpy Is Weeping Now

Letter To Grumpy

Photo: My iPhone

Judy, the Grump may be the most cantankerous, disagreeable curmudgeon on Earth, but how could you think he would ever throw away such a precious gift? Never! Gestures of these sort are de rigeur among true gardeners, the most generous people in the world. They take so much pleasure from the noble art of growing things that they share their treasures without a moment’s thought.

This was the motivation for Passalong Plants, the book I co-authored with Felder Rushing in 1994 (it’s still available on Amazon!). We wanted to tell the stories of wonderful, weird, and singular plants you can’t find at Lowe’s and Home Depot. The only way they survive in gardens today is by being thoughtfully shared — friend to friend, generation to generation. The best part of the transaction is that each time you look at a shared plant growing in your garden, you remember when you got it and the person who gave it to you.


Passalong Plants

Passalong plants grow all over my garden. I have Louise’s variegated Solomon’s seal and heart’s-a-bustin bush, crinum lilies from Jenks and Greg, pearl bush and spider lilies from Celia, Margaret’s gardenia, old mums from Jason, Jane’s Japanese maple, Margaret’s irises, and red buckeyes I grew from seed mailed by a fellow in Colorado. Envelopes have arrived filled with seeds of opium poppies, larkspur, love-in-a-mist, moon vine, and four o’clocks. Each came with a story.

The brown cotton sent by Judy is a Southern heirloom that predates the Civil War. Several versions of it exist, each slightly different. There are also a couple of green cottons still being grown. The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a great mail-order source.

Thank you, Judy, for your kind words and even kinder gift. I’ll grow it and share it with others.




  1. Fall Updates and Tidbits | myokexilelit

    […] read that letter and Bender’s October 1 column on the subject of brown cotton, click here or click on the actual URL in the Sources section of this […]

    October 26, 2015 at 2:03 pm
  2. Teri Spears

    Please keep writing. I have your original article Crepe Murder in SL saved and I spread your trimming gospel wherever I can! I also love your squirrel hatred. 😊

    October 6, 2015 at 9:55 pm
  3. Jerry Cartwright

    Just went to Amazon and bought this book. I look forward to getting it and hopefully finding some unusual plants. Thanks Steve for printing my brand of humor. My wife tells me to stop putting stories kind of like yours on FB, that no one wants to read them but I keep getting encouragement from a lot of my friends. You are an inspiration for me. LOL

    October 5, 2015 at 8:06 am
  4. myokexilelit

    Oops! The photo is of Marion’s husband Jimmy whose account Marion used to post this comment.

    October 2, 2015 at 7:47 pm
  5. myokexilelit

    Thanks for using my brown cotton in your blog as sent to you by my friend Judy Roberts. Both of us are originally from McGehee, Arkansas, which grew lots of ordinary white cotton in the old days of our youth.

    Marion Peacock

    October 2, 2015 at 7:39 pm
  6. Kathleen

    I don’t know how many times I’ve checked out Passalong Plants from the library.
    Folks here grow a bit of brown cotton, too but I think you are supposed to check in with the local ag. dept before growing it even as an ornamental. (I see people growing it anyway, though.)

    October 2, 2015 at 2:25 pm
  7. Judy Roberts

    Steve, my husband would have agreed wholeheartedly with your ‘ trash tree’ list, as he called em. Only his list would have started with his #1 Gum Trees. Then #2, Pine.

    October 2, 2015 at 9:19 am

    I have your book. I gave it to a dear friend and when she went to heaven, I got it back, so it’s now a passalong book.

    October 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm
  9. Perrin Kreidler

    Passalong Plants is one of my favorite books, Steve! I love to laugh as I learn, and this book does the trick. I refer to it frequently. Thanks for being a hoot of a teacher!

    October 1, 2015 at 1:16 pm

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