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,
Grumpy Is Weeping Now
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 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.