Seedling Exchange Party

This is just half of what I brought home from the party.
  This Saturday I had the good fortune of spending time with a Purposeful Naturalist--a friend who possesses the virtues I am lacking: organization, focus, effectiveness, and intention (among others). My friend organized and a Seedling Exchange Party--her first ever--and it was a complete success. I thought I would share her formula so you can organize your own party for 2013.
   In February, my friend sent out invitations to a dozen or so friends and neighbors whom she knew grew gardens or were contemplating doing so. We were encouraged to start plants from seeds indoors in March or outdoors in April using recycled plastic pots, yogurt cups, beverage cups, or egg cartons. There were no rules about which flowers or vegetables to start. If we didn't have the space, time, or inclination to start seedlings, we could bring starts from a nursery, farmer's market, or a store such as Lowe's or Home Depot. A bit later in the spring, we could bring plants repotted from our yard--ones that needed to be divided, relocated, or simply shared.
Early Wonder beets started in an egg carton in March are ready to go in the ground in May.
  I started beets and shelling peas in egg cartons in March. Just before the party, I divided some yellow poppies that were in the "wrong" place and, because I had the trowel in hand, I dug up some pearly everlasting (a native flower) and a few tiny western red-cedars. More about the popularity of those later.
    On the day of the party, we all brought our seedlings to my friend's house--to her lovely backyard where we set our pots along the edge of her raised beds and on the ground nearby in two areas marked "Flowers" and "Veggies"  and "Herbs." Then, because it was a blustery-cool-sunny-cloudy day, we spent an hour inside talking and feasting on homemade cookies, cupcakes, savory cheese muffins, and biscotti. Hot tea was generously served in "proper cups" (not mugs) as we eyed the plants from the window. I wondered how we were going to remain civilized when it came time to exchange plants. I imagined a Filene's Basement kind of scene with everyone pushing and elbowing and wrestling over the plants.
   But no. With barely restrained excitement, we went outside and took turns describing in a calm manner the plants we had brought. Such a variety! There were peas, broccoli, onions, celery, lettuces, beets, pumpkins, squashes, eggplant, tomatoes, and herbs and so many variety of flowers that I can only remember pots of poppies, marigolds, and sunflowers! No money is exchanged in seedling exchanges, but I estimate there was $500+ worth of seedlings to be shared.
One gardener-guest brought Mammoth Sunflower seedlings carefully staked and labeled. Here my seedling  gets a glimpse of its future. 
   When I introduced my plants, it occurred to me that pearly everlasting was a poor choice, especially raised-bed gardeners interested in growing mostly food. It is a lovely native wildlflower with an unusual white, dry blossom that lasts all summer. I have a soft spot for it because it was among the first to grow in the ash after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It does, however, tend to invade a garden.
   My other offering--the adorable little western red-cedars--elicited these good-humored comments, "Isn't that a weed?" and "I have them coming up everywhere in my yard." The Accidental Naturalist had no idea. They did "volunteer" in my yard, but I was under the impression that these were a revered native tree and everyone would be fighting over them.
   That embarrassment out the way, all the guests took cardboard boxes (provided by our host) and in a very non-grabby way, strolled around and selected which plants they wanted to try growing. It worked like magic. An hour later, we all departed with enough plants to fill a raised bed or two. I brought home celery, lettuces, an herb mix, pumpkin, yellow squash, eggplant, broccoli, snow peas, basil, a tomato (a small yellow variety), a giant sunflower, poppies, parsley pearly everlasting and western red-cedars.
   This was a successful event for many reasons: it was well organized, the guests were enthusiastic gardeners of varying levels of experience, everyone got to meet new people and exchange gardening ideas, the variety of plants was excellent and chosen because the grower had had success with them locally, and there was a wonderful sense of community, and the sense that this was going to be a really good summer in the garden.
Free to a Good Home!