garage sale gardening.

garage sale gardening

I am a big fan of what I like to call garage sale gardening.  In other words, I have gotten quite a few of the plants in my gardens at garage sales on the cheap.  Why pay nursery prices when you can get good quality perennials for much less?  Personally, I usually find that garage sale plants thrive better and mature more quickly than nursery plants, maybe because they are coming from already firmly established plants.  They are also pretty much guaranteed to be suitable for my area.

The biggest tip I have for you when it comes to garage sale gardening is this; most of the perennials you’ll find at garage sales can be invasive.  If you think about it logically, the reason the seller has extras to get rid of is because the stuff is multiplying easily.  Invasive doesn’t have to be a bad word though (although sometimes it is, so do some research before planting).  It just takes a little effort to keep many of these plants under control though.

Such is clearly the case with the sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) that I purchased a couple of years ago.  That’s it pictured in my title photo, but here’s a closeup …

sweet woodruff

I put in just a couple of small plants and a few years later I have a lovely carpet of sweet woodruff in the shade garden under my pine tree.  If you have pines and find that nothing much will grow under them, this stuff is perfect for you (U.S.D.A. zones 4 – 8).  This plant requires almost zero care, it needs extra watering only in times of drought.  However, it does spread quite easily via runners.  If you want to remain in control, you can utilize spade edging to keep it inside its borders.  Spade edging is done by driving a spade into the soil on the edge of the flower bed where you are growing sweet woodruff. This will sever the runners. Remove any sweet woodruff plants growing outside your spade line.

Let’s take a step back and see how sweet woodruff looks in the garden.

sweet woodruff in garden

Isn’t it pretty?  and it makes a great companion for hostas as you can see.

Another invasive plant that I purchased at a garage sale is cranesbill or perennial geranium.  Not to be confused with the annual geraniums that we all know and love, which aren’t actually geraniums at all but are technically pelargoniums.


My cranesbill is pink, but it also comes in a lovely blue shade.  This stuff likes to take over.  Here’s an example …

cranesbill takeover

It’s going to continue to expand and completely take over that gorgeous hosta in the back of the photo unless I do something about it.  It’s an easy one to beat back into submission though, just cut it back and yank the excess plants out of the ground.  It seems a little brutal at first, but it’s the only way to keep this stuff under control.  That being said, this plant also needs next to no care (zones 4 – 9).  You can cut it back or deadhead it to encourage continued flowering, and this is one perennial that will bloom multiple times over the summer which is nice.

Another invasive plant that I love is the Anemone.  I got mine from my friend Sue, so I’m not positive but I think they are Anemone sylvestris.


These also require little care and spread like mad.  Are you sensing a theme here?  I don’t really like to work too hard at my gardening.  If a plant is fussy and requires coddling, it doesn’t last long in my garden.

Irises are also a good multiplier.  I purchased these mini irises at a garage sale.

mini iris

Personally I don’t think irises are very attractive in the garden one their bloom is over (which is pretty quickly).  The nice thing about these mini’s is that they are only about 1′ tall.  I’ve got them inter-planted with Palace Purple coral bells which will fill in and disguise the iris plants later in the season.

Another garage sale plant in my garden is the variegated sedum in front of these tulips.


This plant isn’t invasive, but it does need to be divided every few year resulting in excess plants.

Most of my bleeding heart plants also originally came from my friend Sue’s garden.  If you didn’t see it, I posted a tour of her garden two years ago {here}.

bleeding heart

She often sells excess plants at our own Carriage House sale in both pink and white.

bleeding heart 2

Bleeding heart spreads by re-seeding itself.  You’ll find little baby plants coming up all over.  I usually just yank them out.  Again, you have to be heartless sometimes (pardon the pun).

You’ll find that garage sale gardening is not going to net you the newest fanciest versions of perennials.  Such as this gorgeous Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ …

bleeding heart

So I admit, on occasion I do head to the nursery to splurge on things like these.  But I can also tell you that this plant is still tiny compared to my other bleeding hearts.  It has yet to ‘leap’.

One other thing to be cautious about with garage sale plants is whether or not they are poisonous.  Whenever I bring home a new plant, I try to research it a bit before putting it in the ground.  If you have pets or small children that might ingest your plants, just keep this in mind.

One last potential downside to garage sale gardening is that sometimes the seller doesn’t know the names of their plants.  Such was the case with the two blooming plants in this next photo so I don’t know what either of these are.  Do any of you?


The pale blue/lavender-ish flowering plant is one of my favorites though.  It’s covered in the prettiest flowers in spring.  In fact, all of the photos that I’m using in this post were taken last Saturday in my own garden, so it’s blooming now.  It was a balmy 38 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit people) and gusty, giving us a windchill of 30.  I’d already moved all of my supplies out to the Carriage House and suddenly it was too cold to paint our there, so I had to resort to taking photos of my gardens.

Anyway, as you can see in this next photo, this guy is stepping a little outside his boundaries at the moment too.

unidentified boundaries

As soon as he’s done blooming I’ll pull out the plants that are outside the flagstone edge of my garden bed.  Hey, do any of my local readers want some?  I’d be happy to share, just leave a comment if you’re interested, first come, first served.

I also have a ridiculous amount of ferns.


These are great for naturalizing in a wooded area.  They look gorgeous in spring and summer, but will die back in early fall especially if it’s particularly dry.

Anyone?  Free to you if you can come help me dig them out, and b.y.o.c. (bring your own container to put them in, in a pinch a plastic garbage bag works fine if you take them home and plant them within a day or two).

Also available to share:  orange day lilies, yellow iris, siberian iris, the aforementioned cranesbill and sweet woodruff.

Although I’ve mentioned several cons to garage sale gardening, I think the pros far outweigh them in most cases.  If you’re looking for inexpensive, easy to grow plants for your area, consider checking out some garage sales!

13 thoughts on “garage sale gardening.

  1. Can you even believe how cold it is? Yikes! At least it’s beautiful and sunny. For Mother’s Day, my Mom brought over a ton of her perennials, like anemone, violet, bee balm, etc. I love plant sharing and have also gotten a lot from garage sales over the years. My favorite was from Tangletown (some of the best gardens around), I bought some woodland poppies that are prolific and a bright cheery yellow. Your little yellow flowered plant is a corydalis “canary feathers”. I love how dainty it is. A friend gave me one from her garden 🙂 Maybe I will BYOC the next time I see you! Beautiful post as always.


    1. Bee balm is another great ‘invasive’ plant! OK, I looked up the corydalis “canary feathers” and a couple of things didn’t quite fit. Photos of the plant in full from a distance look like a match, but close up photos of the flowers online are a little off. Take a look at {this one} for instance. My flowers are not nearly as showy as that. Another confusing issue, most of what I’m finding online says the the corydalis “canary feathers” is sterile, while my plant self seeds quite readily. But you put me on the right track and I found corydalis lutea. Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! Not quite as showy, and self seeds like a champ. Thanks for helping me i.d. this one Meggan!


      1. Well, I’m going to tell my girlfriend what it is now, it’s one of her favorites! I checked out the link, you’re totally right! I have noticed with mine it won’t come back some years, but happily this year it’s back 🙂


  2. I would love some if any are left. My irises came from your house a couple years ago. I find that plants grown locally are guaranteed to come back vs. plants bought at the nursery. And if anyone near East Bethel wants some orange day lilies , I am more than happy to share. They are everywhere and grow wherever I ve moved them.


    1. I do remember when you got those yellow irises! I have plenty of everything Mary. I’ll email you and we can set up a time for you to come over 🙂


  3. Hmm…I have never been to a garage sale where plants were being sold. That would be a real draw for me. I love the your garden! So many varieties. Love the pale lavender colored flower and the ferns. I do have bee balm but I guess I need to move it – it seems to get mildew easily where it currently lives. The trees in our back garden have grown so that now I have mostly shade.


    1. I wonder if selling plants at a garage sale is a regional thing. There are almost always at least one or two houses selling plants at most neighborhood sales here. And there are several houses in my home town that hold a sale every year that includes plants. There is also a ‘hosta guy’ who sells hostas out of his backyard several times each summer. He has a huge backyard and the whole thing is planted in hostas. Plus, he’s super knowledgeable about the different varieties, so he’s a great resource. He’s also charmingly old school. He still has a phone list and he personally calls me each year and lets me know when his sale will be held.


      1. I was wondering the same thing about the selling of plants at garage sales being regional. I have a friend who went to a home plant sale a couple of years back. I need to inquire with her about that sale. I would love to meet the hosta guy. I added five hostas three years ago. Last year only four came back. This year I have only two and they are very healthy. I wonder what is going on with them. Hostas are not cheap these days. At our last home we had voles who burrowed under our tulips and pulled them down to eat them. Never did tulips again. At this home we are trying to create a garden with mostly perennials versus throwing a lot of money at annuals each year.


      2. I just found an article on possible causes of winter loss of hostas, and the number one culprit? Voles! Uh oh. Hope you don’t have them again! As for perennials, I’m with you. Over the years I’ve added more and more perennials to the point where I don’t put any annuals in the ground anymore. I buy annuals for my window boxes and other planters only. Here in Minnesota it’s hard to keep anything alive over the winter in a window box or planter. They freeze too solid for a perennial to survive, so I splurge on annuals for them.


  4. Q, you’re a great candidate for plant swaps ! I go to at least two each year in our area. These are planned through If you are unfamiliar with it, the website has been around for many years, more recently purchased by Houzz, who now control it. If you go to Garden Forums, and then find the state or region you are in, you may find that they advertise a plant swap, as they are here and there. Some locations may not have started one yet. We have one in the spring, and the other in the fall here in south Texas where I’m at. They are a lot of fun and you get plants that grow in your area, where some nurseries or big box stores sell things that don’t necessarily grow well in that area. Since you have extra plants to share, this is something you should do. If you can’t find one there, start one ! There are plenty of gardeners out there who, like you, have an abundance of plants that are needing new homes. Please feel free to email me for more info if you’d like. I’m a big believer in GardenWeb and plant swaps !


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