Here are some perennials from my backyard that I'm planning to bring this Saturday to the Perennial Divide, a Boston Natural Areas Network event that takes place each spring and fall at the City Natives nursery and community garden in Mattapan (another Boston neighborhood). My understanding is that you can take away as many plants as you put into this swap. I've brought home columbine and spider plants in past years, but this year I hope to be more strategic. So far I've divided and dug up a couple of Japanese ferns (one I plan to give to a friend), a more native variety of fern, a hosta, a pulmonaria, and a lily of the valley. And maybe I'll put a little more thought into what I should take away. My long-term plans for the MSG plot involve increasing space to grow more vegetables and maybe a few raspberries, so I'll probably focus on a greater variety of shade-dwelling plants for my backyard.
If you are trying to build gardens on a budget, getting donated plants divided by friends and family is the way to go. Prices vary, but a japanese fern can cost around 12 bucks, and hostas can range from a few to 20 dollars a plant. I don't think I've ever bought a hosta or a white nancy, and, ironically, the bee balm and echinacea plants that my friends and mom have divided for me have survived much longer than the plants I've bought from a nursery (although transplanting the latter during a July heat wave probably didn't help).
While on the subject of getting plants out of the ground, I'm wondering if I should pull up the basil sooner rather than later. Forecasts indicate that we might be getting a frost this weekend, though it seems more likely for northern New England. Some friends of mine on the Cape made their pesto last month; they attest that if you wait longer, basil that has been exposed to colder temperatures at night taste "like silage." I wonder how they'd like the pesto I made in October 2007 that's still in the freezer.