The Root Of It All

The Bloodroot is the first to make its appearance. Its fragile and ephemeral bloom is protected from the chickens by a hoop of wire and is the gateway to spring enthusiasm. The Lungwort is showing off its cotton candy blue and pink blossoms. The Swamp Milkweed is poking up, as well as the Great Solomon’s Seal, the Mayapples, the Wild Geraniums and the Jack-in-the-Pulpit. All of these plants grace my gardens thanks to the annual Plant Exchange and Sale at Audubon. Thank goodness for fellow garden geeks.

Plants reproduce, it is what they are designed to do. When they get plentiful enough, I dig a few up, pot them, and take them to the Plant Exchange and Sale at Audubon the weekend before Memorial Day. I exchange them for botanical beauties that I don’t have or want more of. In this fashion, I share the garden bounty with other local gardeners and get more plants than I need for myself.

As I drive around the backroads, I wonder how many of the flowers I see growing along old foundations have a story. In my garden, I have iris and lilies that came from my grandmother’s garden. She grew tons of them, and some of them found their way to my parents’ house where I grew up. When I purchased my own home, the best housewarming gift given was a collection of iris and lilies from my mother, flowers that used to grace my grandmother’s garden. Occasionally now some of these same flowers get potted up and sent to the Plant Exchange. While they don’t know it, they are taking home and rooting a piece of my family’s story.

Exchanging plants not only shares a story, but it is an opportunity to be outside, get fresh air, grow something and meet others who share your interest. The plants you take home might benefit the wildlife (especially the pollinators), your family (with their beauty and food), and the overall environment (erosion control, biodiversity, etc.). They will also benefit strangers, who might drive by, see your garden and be inspired to garden as well.

The Plant Exchange and Sale works like this: bring in a potted plant and get credit for that plant in the form of tickets. You may then use those tickets to “purchase” a different plant. If you don’t have any plants to bring in, you can also purchase plants with cash. Pretty easy.

Plants are priced based on three things – their condition, their size and their species. From an exchange perspective, everything must be potted in containers, not plastic bags. We reserve the right to refuse any plant for any reason. Almost anything is welcome, though, from vegetables to trees and almost everything in between. We will not accept “invasive” plants (anything that takes over) like mint, bishop’s weed or periwinkle.

All the proceeds from the Plant Exchange and Sale benefit the gardens and the educational programs that use them. You’ll notice some major changes in the gardens this year if you stop in. A grant from the Cornell Cooperative Extension allowed us to build some wonderful raised beds to demonstrate small scale gardening as well as some displays of kid-friendly gardening, cover cropping and square-foot gardening.

The Plant Exchange and Sale has gotten bigger every year. Often we feature donations from local greenhouses and nurseries, and sometimes from the Secret Gardens from our annual tour. Some of the plants exchanged go into our demonstration gardens here at the center so we can teach about butterfly gardening, caterpillar host plants, native, edible or medicinal plants.

Whether you’re growing food, or growing a piece of your family’s history, gardening is a great way to get connected to nature. Join us for our Plant Exchange and Sale on May 18, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. If you have plants to donate but can’t attend on Saturday, you may drop them off the Thursday or Friday prior to the event. If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Hatfield at 569-2345.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon Center & Sanctuary.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 61 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails and eagle viewing are open from dawn to dusk and the Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. Visit for more information.