As an accidental gardener, I rarely spend much time shopping for plants in the local big box garden center. So often the plants they carry don’t really do well in my area (Galveston, TX) and over the years I’ve determined that there are plenty of hardy plants in need of rescuing. These forlorn fellows can be found lining alleyways in any urban area. Sometimes they are put out because their owners have moved and didn’t have space for one more pot. Sometimes they have just stopped looking as pretty as they did on the shelf they first came from. There are probably dozens of other reasons people abandon their plant friends to garbage collection but I’ve never understood any of them. If a plant is still kicking along after the owner has lost interest then that is a plant that has a chance of surviving my inexperienced care. So while I do not understand the reason some chose to put their plants out on trash day instead of finding them a new home, I am grateful for the chance to take these determined specimens home to my own garden.
It is worth noting that there is a large difference between wanted plants that live in an alley space and discarded plants put out by the bin. If a plant is kept close to the fence line and appears to have had any care given to it I will take nothing but a photo in admiration for efficient use of available space. However, broken pots, plants that are mostly brown but for one strong shoot, plants with soil so dry it has gaps to the pot sides and plants that are literally piled on top of or against a bin set for pick up are fair game. If it isn’t obviously abandoned, I leave it alone.
Some of the plants that have been with me the longest are rescues. My oldest rescue is the aloe pictured above and below. The lower photo shows the small pot I originally found sitting on top of a trash can the evening before pickup. The poor thing was almost out of dirt and only had one green shoot left among the curled brown that had once been a healthy aloe. Every few years I upgrade its pot size. Each time it has become faster to fill the new pot out as I gain a better understanding of exactly how much sun, what type of soil mix and how best to water it. I don’t even remember at this point when I found it but it must have been at least 10 years ago if not more.
Rescuing plants with the deep desire to survive anything has helped me grow in my gardening skills and taught me much about the region I live in. Recently, I actually did go to a big box store to buy a potted plant because of one of our rescues. In an alley last November we found a cherry tomato plant. This particular rescue had about 5 green leaves left on it and the soil was bone dry when it came home with us. A prime spot in the sun and a little care gave it all it needed to grow fresh shoots, bloom and produce fruit until the end of January. While tomato plants do not last forever, this particular breed was obviously worth the investment in our area so I used the faded tag to find another one at the store. The old soil from the rescued tomato has been repurposed for carrots and pole beans and the new plant is already producing sweet treats for our kitchen.
If you have the opportunity to rescue a plant, I highly recommend it. You may just have a faithful friend for the next decade. Happy gardening!