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Host a Plant-Swap Garden Party

Get your green-thumbed pals together to trade plants, swap tips and maybe even enjoy a scone or two as the spring gardening season begins.

Tools at hand

It's a working party, so each gardener should bring her favorite gear: gloves, pruners, trowels, etc. The hostess should also have extra trowels, potting soil and plenty of small, inexpensive containers available.

First step: the invitation

Send invites a couple of weeks in advance. Schedule the party for an afternoon, to give gardeners a chance to divide their plants the same day. Suggest what you'd like them to bring, such as five plants to trade, 12 bedding plants for a container swap, garden tools, etc.

Party layout

Set up separate tables for food, plant trading, container planting and garden books and party favors. Offer wagons for hauling the heavy pots, or position the container-planting table near the cars. Light music adds ambience.

Simple foods

Pitchers of lemonade or bottles of white wine set a nice tone. One-bite finger foods such as cheese, crackers, grapes and Basil-Cheddar Scones (see next slide) are easy to eat outside. Hands will be dirty, so have hand sanitizers, towels and napkins ready.

Cheddar-Basil Mini Scones

Snips of fresh basil add color and flavor to these mini scones. Freeze up to a month, and pop into an oven to reheat.

Cheddar-Basil Mini Scones

Tools at hand

It's a working party, so each gardener should bring her favorite gear: gloves, pruners, trowels, etc. The hostess should also have extra trowels, potting soil and plenty of small, inexpensive containers available.

Mix it up

Plants are the stars, but get creative about what else you'd like to swap, such as garden art and sculpture, books, seed packets, extra tools, garden hats or more.

Get organized

A new discovery is part of the fun, but each person will also want to know what she's getting. Plants should be wrapped separately and labeled with care instructions and bloom color. Note any tips that might help the plant's new owner be successful enough to divide the plant again in a few years.

Take-home gifts

Every party needs a take-home gift, and at a plant-swap party, the gardeners create their own, like the pot of petunias, Siberian iris, diascia and Persian shield at left. Let each guest create a container planting that will make her think of her friends as it blooms all summer long.

Tip: When you're organizing the bedding plants for the containers, arrange them on a "shade plant" table and "sun" table to make it easy for guests to choose plants that will grow well together.

Easy transportation

Suggest that guests carry their new plants home in milk crates, buckets or boxes. In the car, a plastic liner will catch spills, or offer your friends plastic garbage bags in which they can set their boxes of plants. Keep the cars cool by suggesting everyone park in shade.

To help everyone transport divided plants, keep the roots moist by wrapping them in damp paper towels and old plastic bags. Protect the roots by leaving the soil affixed to them. Remind your party-goers to transplant within 24 hours, if possible, and keep plants in a shady spot until they are put in the ground.

See the next slide for tips on how to divide plants.

Dividing plants

Divide perennials in springtime if they bloom after mid-June. Choose plants that are full or overgrown. Some good options: bee balm, aster, astilbe, black-eyed Susan, blanket flower, campanula, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, daylily (after they bloom), hosta, phlox and ornamental grasses.

Don't divide plants in spring that are bulbs, new to your garden or very young. Plants that bloom in spring are better left until late summer or fall to divide. Some plants do not respond well to being divided, such as columbine, bleeding-heart and ferns.

Preserve root balls by digging 2-4 inches away from them as deeply as you can. Pop out the plant, then divide roots by hand. (For difficult roots, slice a spade through the middle.) Immediately replant one section; wrap the other in moist paper, keep cool and plant as soon as possible.

Think ahead

Have fun -- and ask which of your friends wants to host a plant swap next year!

An afternoon spent with friends and plants is more than just a garden party. "It's history and stories and memories of friends," Des Moines gardener Veronica Fowler says. "You can't get that at a garden center."

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