The holidays are here, bringing with them the fragrance of mulling, chestnuts roasting, evergreen trees and home-cooked meals shared with loved ones. It’s also the season for gifting— sharing your appreciation for friends and family with gifts carefully selected to please. If you are still searching for that perfect present or two, don’t fret. Julie and I have a few favorite things that might be just right for the gardener on your list. You also might clip this list and put it where Santa can find it.
Gifts for Gardeners
■ Potted orchids: There is no gift more delightful than a beautiful moth orchid or Dendrobium in full bloom. Look for plants with several unopened buds so the flowering will last a long time. My kitchen counter ledge, with indirect but bright light, seems to suit them; I’ve had orchid plants stay in bloom for four to six months with the right exposure. I spray-mist mine once or twice a day with water. Just be cautious to water the bottoms sparingly, as too much water will yellow leaves and do them in.
■ Gardening trug or flower-collecting basket: Traditional Sussex trugs made from sweet chestnut and cricket bat willow set the standard for style and durability. Expect to pay handsomely for a wellcrafted, handmade version. My trug is one my grandfather made for my grandmother in his wood shop. I was the lucky one to inherit it, and I celebrate its graceful aging and continued usefulness. It is best for toting things, from seedling pots to ripe vegetables, between house and garden, but it also has been used to hold fruit as a table centerpiece. Flower baskets are large, flat rectangular wicker trays with high arching handles, for carrying freshly cut floral stems in from the garden.
■ The Eliminator Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder: You may laugh about spending more than $100 on a birdfeeder, but if you want a feeder that will last, is easy to keep clean, popular with the birds and truly squirrel proof, this one from Wild Birds Unlimited is the one for you.
■ Gloves: A pair of well-fitted kid or goatskin gloves is a gardener’s delight. The gloves protect your skin but still allow for the good ‘feel’ essential for some of the most delicate gardening tasks. Also useful are Nitrile surgical gloves, which are available in boxes of 100 at most hardware stores. These disposable gloves are great for planting annuals and for working in cold, wet soil. Larger sizes can fit over stretchy gloves in the winter to keep hands dry while shoveling snow. Atlas makes several versions of breathable cloth gloves with latex-dipped palms for a good grip while pruning and, depending on their weight, can be light enough for summer work or warm enough for winter jobs.
■ Weeding hook: One of my weeding hooks came from my grandmother and the other from the Chelsea Flower Show stalls. I like the kind with a straight, narrow shaft that ends with a broad almond-shaped blade at a right angle, forming the hook. It works with pulling, not pushing, and is easy on my older shoulders. My asparagus knife belonged to my grandmother as well. Invest in quality tools and they will last for generations.
■ Felcos: If you aren’t familiar with the Felco line of pruning tools, it’s time to be! The original is Felco pruner model No. 2, but left-handed and rotating ergonomic styles also are available. Julie loves the No. 8 for more delicate pruning.
■ Trowel: Julie’s favorite is a nursery trowel made by A.M. Leonard that has a forged steel blade and hardwood handle. Another versatile tool is the soil knife, which can be used for planting, digging, measuring and cutting. These are made with visible orange composite handles or the original natural wood-handled hori-hori. A helpful hint for all small garden hand tools: Paint the handle a bright color or tie colorful plastic ribbons through the hanging hole in the end, so you don’t spend your precious gardening time searching for the tool you just set down. This also is a wonderful way to customize a gift for a fellow gardener. Remember, many tools are sharp, so scabbards make a nice accompaniment and will hang on a belt.
■ Tool apron: Mine came as a gift from the St. Louis Herb Society. Aprons are handy organizers that will hold your pruners, plant labels, twine, snips, twist ties or cell phone.
■ Woolley pocket planters: The Garden Gate Shop carries these lightweight, flexible containers made from recycled materials at a LEED-certified factory. Julie used the large ones outside this summer and says she will never have to worry about her large tropicals blowing over in the wind again.
■ Watering wand: Consider gifting this long-handled hose extension along with a rose breaker nozzle (a screw-on end piece that ‘sprinkles’ the water) to gently water potted plants and newly planted seedlings. For the person with a lot of hanging plants, there are even special curved wands designed to water overhead easily.
■ The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic: This inspiring book about being a sustainable gardener was written by a kindred spirit and close friend, Dr. Sarah Hayden Reichard. Her knowledge of the field and well-grounded perspective put a great contemporary, environmental spin on what it means to be a gardener today. Garden antiques— The Little Shop Around the Corner is a treasure-trove of antique and collectible items. Stocked entirely by inventory given to the Missouri Botanical Garden by members and friends, some recent finds include antique Victorian cast iron planters, a cast concrete garden fountain and plant urns, vintage plant stands and bakers racks.
■ Set a lunch date: Make a plan for a meal together at a table brightened with colorful local produce. Consider Café Osage at Bowood Farms or Local Harvest (near the Garden) for their fresh produce. Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood also grows as many of their greens and vegetables on site as possible.
■ One of Dr. Michael Dirr’s books: Any serious horticulturist will have a dog-eared copy of Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants in their gardening library. His book on viburnums also is excellent, and his newest, The Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, is now available at the Garden Gate Shop. It is a must for anyone with an interest in cultivar identification or planning new planting choices. I won’t buy a tree for my garden without doublechecking with Dirr!
■ Culinary treats: From local Missouri wildflower honey to the special curry blend made by the St. Louis Herb Society, there are many great plant-based ingredients just begging to be put into a gift basket (or trug!). Toss in a copy of Herbal Cookery from the Kitchens and Gardens of the Saint Louis Herb Society and some dark chocolate for a complete package. This is the beginning of citrus season, so keep your eyes open for delightful specialty fruits like Buddha’s hand-fingered citron and tiny, sweet Mexican limes.
■ Make a terrarium: Recently, I picked up a large glass cookie jar at a local discount store, filled it with potting soil and added a couple of two-inch potted tropicals for a quick and easy terrarium. Enhancing it with a couple of shapely rocks collected on our world travels and some bits of moss from the backyard gave it a personal touch. It would be a fun gift for a child or elderly friend for you to provide the parts and assemble it together. Mine gets about a quarter of a cup of water once a month and brightens the kitchen counter. Easy and low maintenance.
Gifts From Gardeners
Not all holiday gifts need be purchased at a store. Gardeners also can use their talents to create a special gift that is sure to delight the lucky recipient. Make a wreath or garland of evergreens from your own shrubs. Pot up seedling hellebores to share. Fill a basket with wax-dipped pine cones (or even those gosh-darned gumballs) for fireplace starters made from trees in your garden. Add a little bit of cinnamon to spice things up. Home-can pickled dilly beans—best if made last summer from your own veggies—may be made with dried dill and grocery store beans. Or, make herbal Epsom-based bath salts scented with clippings from your herb border. If you are a seedsaver, share some of your own heritage seeds in labeled coin envelopes. But the most generous gift you can give is the gift of time. Make your own coupon for some of your own time as a volunteer in a friend’s garden. Use hand-drawn certificates for ‘volunteer labor’ to help in the garden of the recipient. Who doesn’t love to hear, Let me help you with that?