Some of the best plants in North Texas gardens are almost never sold in area garden centers. For generations the only way you could get them was to ask for a “start” from a friend, relative or neighbor who had them. They came to be known as “pass-along plants” and they were some of our most prized possessions as gardeners.
Nowadays that list is dominated by heirloom plants. Reseeding larkspurs are a great example. You’ll see them sprouting up in older neighborhoods amid reseeding petunias, old white flag iris, double Kwanso daylilies and other spring bloomers.
Larkspurs’ ferny foliage shows up with the first warm days of February, and the plants are covered in full blue, lavender, pink or white flowers just a few weeks later. If you see these and like them, ask that the gardener save some seeds for you. Keep them in the fridge over the summer, then sow them into a prepared garden bed this coming fall.
St. Joseph’s lily is my personal favorite example of a pass-along plant.
I had commented on my radio program about how much I love that bulb that I’d always called “hardy amaryllis.” Steve Wilson, a friend, heard me on the air, and brought me a nice clump from his garden. That clump now has multiplied into maybe 200 plants in a bed in our landscape and I’ve shared them with friends as well. And all the while I don’t recall ever seeing it for sale in a nursery. I lost my friend several years ago, but his plants and his memory live on in my garden.
Oxblood lilies and fall crocus are two others of my favorite bulbs, but in their cases they’re fall-blooming types. It used to bug me that you would see them in old landscapes, often around abandoned houses, but you’d never see them offered for sale in local retail nurseries.
It actually took me awhile to nail down the botanical name of oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida). That was back in the ’70s, and we had no online resources and very few books on Southern plants. Somehow I just never asked the right horticultural friends. Oxblood lilies are often called schoolhouse lilies because they bloom about the time school resumes in the fall. They look like tiny variations of amaryllis. They produce their flowers first, followed by foliage all fall and winter. Once you get a planting of this one going, you’ll be as fond of it as I am.
Fall crocus, also known as lilies-of-the-field (Sternbergia lutea), were a little easier to research. I’m in love with their bright yellow blooms. These bulbs are occasionally sold in nurseries now, but your better chances will come from online suppliers of rare bulbs. Or, of course, true to our story, asking for a start from a friend.
Those are plants that are fairly easily shared once you find them. Shrubs are more difficult, but I have those on today’s list as well. The ones I’ll include are all started from cuttings, so I’ll include them with the assumption that you can figure out a way to get them going if you decide you have to have them.
Italian jasmine (Jasminum humile) grew in front of our house when I was a kid in College Station. I’ve grown it in North Texas for the past 40 years. From all that experience I can tell you that I’ve never seen any insect or disease bother this plant, nor have I ever seen it hurt by winter cold. A little supplemental irrigation has brought all of mine through the worst of summers. In short, it’s just about indestructible.
It’s a great little arching shrub that grows to 4 or 5 feet tall and 5 or 6 feet wide. It has extremely dark, glossy green evergreen leaves and small yellow trumpet-shaped flowers each spring. It does well in sun or part shade. It’s a shame that you so rarely see it.
Dazzler holly was introduced back in the ’60s or ’70s and was reasonably common for about 20 years. Unfortunately, I suppose because its leaves have conspicuous spines, people shied away from it.
However, consider what they’ve missed. It grows to 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. That’s a really useful size for landscaping shrubs. Its leaves are large and boldly dark green, the perfect backdrop to its very large and bright red berries that it displays all winter. It really earned its name “Dazzler.” It grows fabulously in sun or shade. I have 20 or 30 of them in my landscape, yet there’s little reason for me to recommend it because no nursery sells it.
Glendora White crape myrtle is still my favorite white. It was introduced more than 50 years ago. It’s a selection of Lagerstroemia indica, which means it’s going to have slick gray trunks. Natchez and other hybrids of L. fauriei, by comparison, grow much more rapidly (which means the growers prefer it), and they have cinnamon-colored trunks that people like. But Glendora White has, in my opinion, better growth habits and tidier flower heads. It’s also more winter-hardy. But you’ll almost never see it in nurseries.
Oh, and just to have mentioned it, if you see Sarah’s Favorite White offered for sale, that’s a sister seedling of Natchez, and many of us who work with crape myrtles on a regular basis feel that it’s a superior selection.