december landscape

Snow-viewing lantern in the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden

We love giving gifts of plant products to friends near and far. One of my favorite treasures to send is maple syrup from our relative’s farm in New Hampshire. It takes 100 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, but don’t look for the romantic image of draft horses hauling a sleigh of sap. Today, sap is extracted from trees with a web of plastic tubing and a giant vacuum cleaner. You can find the result in gift-sized cans or bottles at many local retailers.

Another special plant treat for holiday sharing comes from Peter’s side of the family. We adore the tree-ripened olives from Ontario, Calif. These succulent small fruits are more like savory plums than the salt-laden green olives or oxidized black olives on the standard relish tray.

This year, with my abundance of pears, I’ve been sharing pints of homemade pear and green tomato chutney with friends and neighbors. In return, there are jars of Pop’s Pickled Pepper Paste and tins of homemade peppermint candies from the kitchens of friends now gracing my pantry shelves. We save all of our cork-stoppered bottles for a friend who recycles them for his house-specialty herb vinegars.

Yard Art

Winter is a great time to show off sculptures in a garden. I am anxiously awaiting the first snowfall to see a white cap form on our new lantern from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Garden Gate Shop. We put it near the house on a small stone ledge so that we can see its winter snow hat from inside the toasty warm kitchen.

Like all artworks, there is a wide range in pricing and personal taste for ‘yard art.’ While I lean toward antique and stone, some of my friends prefer blue bottle trees. Julie Hess has a passion for pink flamingos. Shopping together for significant garden art pieces is strongly recommended. Every household has different rules when it comes to this type of acquisition. It is best not to risk picking out a piece of yard art for others. Instead, wrap up a marking stake and mallet to pound it into the ground and include a gift certificate for a shopping trip together.

The Garden Gate Shop

The gift shop at the Missouri Botanical Garden is mission-driven to support gardening activities. Look here for the latest in neoprene gardening gloves, floral jewelry and local soaps, jams, seasonings and sustainably harvested rainforest-grown coffee.

There is a new wave of popularity for glass vitrines, cloches and terraria for interior garden vignettes. Add some miniature fairy garden furniture and you take the traditional dollhouse into a green garden setting. Planting a terrarium is a wonderful winter weekend project for a child with adult guidance. Find the perfect purpose-made container for your gift-giving at the Garden Gate Shop or scope out re-purposing old glassware from the Little Shop Around the Corner. Just remember to ask for your Garden membership discount!

Best New Nature Books

My favorite new book for holiday giving is A World in One Cubic Foot by the extraordinary photographer David Liittschwager. His previous photo books have long graced our coffee table, but this magnificent new feast of crisp and elegant images shows all of the organisms found in one cubic foot of space from several different localities around the globe. This stunningly illustrated volume is going to live in the family room where we shall be using the book to teach our young grandson about the beauty of diversity and importance of all organisms to the ecology of our home planet.

Ed Wilson’s newest book, The Social Conquest of Earth, has become Peter’s new favorite. In it, Dr. Wilson observes the evolution of ants and humans in an interesting narrative that touches on the ancient roots of civilization, warfare and religion. A must-read for any biology lover and a great lesson on life by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

Peter gave me an early present in the form of Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, Flight Behavior, about the changing migration patterns of the monarch butterfly because of climate change. Having seen the magical massing of monarchs in Michoacán, Mexico, myself, I understand the awe and majesty of this mysterious biological behavior.


In the days before overnight delivery, we had many a celebration where the gift was described on a hand-lettered coupon such as This certificate redeemable for three hours of garden-weeding. Today’s twist might be slickly done on a color printer with artwork and fancy fonts, but the end result is much the same: a promise of a future good act. Begin with a gift certificate from a local nursery or mail order seed company and then branch out.

Here are some ideas for your own coupon book or promissory note:

Gift of Time from a Gardener to a Friend

• Custom-pruning of a specimen tree, topiary or bonsai

• Spring division of perennials – divide theirs or share yours

• Name that plant – identification of the plants in a friend’s garden

• An hour of design time – use your expertise to help a friend’s patio plan

• An invasive-weed inspection and help removing bush honeysuckle

Gifts from Your Garden

• A bouquet of holly with berries and ribbon ready for a table centerpiece

• A wreath made from your own magnolia leaves

• Dried or fresh herbs – the chives, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are still out there

• Rooted cuttings of Cuban oregano or potted parsley seedlings

• A basket of pine cones with a bright bow to grace a coffee table

Gifts for a Garden

• Bird-bath heater

• Wind chimes

• Bat house

• A new composter

• Copper whirligigs or wind spinners

Last-Minute Holiday Gifts for Gardeners

• Missouri wildflower honey for the hot mint tea

• Local Missouri norton or chardonnel wine

• Solar powered or LED-lighted garden ornaments

• Shepherd’s hook and seed feederand

• A sack of no-mess, no-waste blend hulled birdseed

And when all else fails and you want a really special plant product gift, remember chocolate and more chocolate—hey, after all, it is from a plant!

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