Posts Tagged gifts for gardeners

Gardening Gifts

Black gum leaves a few short weeks ago.

Black gum leaves a few short weeks ago.

Where does the time go? Time and wind have stripped most of the trees bare. Only the stubborn oaks still cling to about half their leaves, biding their time, waiting for me to rake what’s fallen before they drop the rest on newly cleaned lawn. Some days I’m pretty sure I can hear them snickering at me.

Most of the winter birds are here now. I saw my first Dark-eyed Junco yesterday afternoon. It stopped by the bird bath attached to my back deck railing for a quick sip after a trip to the feeder. Soon the flocks of noisy American Robins still greedily stripping the Southern Magnolia cones of their fruits, will move on to warmer climes. Not a minute too soon from the looks of the forecast. Highs in the low 40s by Sunday, lows in the teens likely on my patch of Piedmont.

Long gone to southern climes.

Long gone to southern climes.

Tis the season to contemplate gardening gifts. First, of course, come the thanks for all the garden beauty and plenty that adorned our yards and filled our tables. Then it’s time to contemplate how we can share our love of gardening with others.

In past years, I’ve listed suggestions for publications and products you might want to consider as gifts for the gardeners on your list. This year, I’d like to suggest a few other options.

As my joints have grown creakier with time, I’ve come to realize how much older gardeners (ahem) appreciate the gift of help with their treasured plantings. Senior gardeners may still manage to plant new plants and pull weeds, but repetitive physical tasks like spreading fresh mulch or pruning large branches may be more than they can safely handle. The senior gardeners on your list would treasure a gift of able-bodied assistance, say, once a month, so that they can live with their beloved landscapes as long as possible.

If you are a senior gardener yourself, consider giving the gift of your gardening wisdom to others. Offer a younger family member your guidance and expertise as they plant their first shrubs, venture into tomato cultivation, or try growing fresh herbs indoors. Your years of experience are far more valuable than you may realize.

Don’t have any novice gardeners on your list? Give a gift to your community by volunteering at your favorite public garden or offering your expertise at a community garden. At the public garden where I volunteer, you don’t need to be an expert gardener to help. You merely need to appreciate the benefits of such places, and lend your enthusiasm to the nearly infinite tasks that such operations require.

Gardeners of any age can share the beauty of their gardens with those far away by giving photographs of their charges, or paintings or other forms of artistic expression, if you are so inclined.

Franklinia alatamaha; photo by Wonder Spouse

Franklinia alatamaha; photo by Wonder Spouse

The great thing about garden giving is that you receive far more than you give. Every time I help a novice gardener overcome her frustration with a challenge, or celebrate with her when she picks her first bean crop, or rose, her joy is my joy too.

Finally, consider giving gifts to preserve our dwindling natural gardens — the forests and fields filled with vegetation native to our region. In this age of rapid urbanization, these natural gardens need tending every bit as much as our backyard landscapes, if we want any wild lands, any natural beauty, to remain for future generations.

Pink Lady's Slipper Orchid

Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid

Consider giving donations to land conservation organizations in honor of those on your gift list. If you know someone on your list, for example, is an avid supporter of The Nature Conservancy, donate money in his name to that organization. Worthy organizations abound, and all are increasingly challenged to continue their good work on dwindling budgets.

Even if you don’t have a person in whose honor you’d like to donate, consider giving Mother Nature a gift by making a year-end donation to one or more of the many organizations working to preserve what’s left of our natural world, and to educate everyone on why this work is critical.

Personally, Wonder Spouse and I just made a year-end donation to the NC group trying to preserve one of the few remaining healthy stands of a mountain wildflower in danger of disappearing forever. I told you about their efforts to raise enough money to save a stand of Oconee Bells here.

I checked with the person spearheading this effort. They still need more than $100K to buy this unique piece of land from the current owners. Even if I never see this place with my own eyes, if we can save it, I will always know those wildflowers are still here on the planet, where botanists can study them, and future generations of visitors can be gobsmacked by their delicate splendor.

Garden gifts are gifts of life and beauty, investments for our children, treasures for all the world to cherish.

Persian Ironwood glows in the late autumn landscape.

Happy garden giving to all.



Gifts for Gardeners: Edits and Additions


Last year, I wrote two relatively popular posts on gift ideas for new and intermediate-level gardeners and experienced gardeners. I stand by most of what I wrote, but I do have some updates that I wanted to add for accuracy and thoroughness.

In the article on gifts for less-experienced gardeners, I mentioned a publication I loved for many years, The Avant Gardener. Alas, the originator of this fine publication sold it to some folks who have turned into a glitzy on-line-only e-magazine that bears no resemblance to the original publication beyond its name.  Instead of providing synopses of most of the horticulture-related publications along with up-to-the-minute information and occasional in-depth articles, this new incarnation resembles most of the other garden-related magazines that were already out there. Personally, I was gravely disappointed in what it became, so I no longer subscribe. I do not recommend it anymore.

I also recommended giving a publications-only gift membership to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, so that your newer gardener could read the wonderful handbooks this institution has published for decades. Alas, the costs of producing and printing these handbooks is no longer a priority of this institution. This membership type is no longer offered, so scratch this idea off your list.

I stand by my recommendations in the rest of the article and would like to add that gardening is always more fun — especially when you’re just starting out — if you have company to help with the hard labor parts, to offer ideas, and to admire your joint handiwork when you harvest your first vegetables or bring in the first bouquet of flowers picked from your own garden.  I therefore encourage gift-providers to consider ways to provide newish gardeners with chances to hang out with like-minded enthusiasts via classes, garden coaches, garden clubs, or family and friends willing to share in the rewards of gardening.

I still stand by all of what I wrote about gifts for experienced gardeners, but I am adding one more gift-certificate-worthy nursery to my list: Meadowbrook Nursery. This nursery in the mountains of North Carolina sells a wide array of choice perennials, shrubs, and trees, including many of the wonderful spring ephemeral wildflowers native to this region. Any experienced gardener would happily ponder their offerings with a gift certificate in hand.

If you are a parent trying to find ways to encourage your children to be more active outdoors in a non-sport setting, consider buying them their own set of kid-sized gardening tools this season. Allow them to design their own spot of green, and help them realize their vision. Many studies have shown that a life-long connection to the natural world is best formed in childhood. What greater gift could anyone offer a child?

Happy holidays to all.

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Gifts for New and Intermediate-Level Gardeners

Penta — a butterfly magnet annual

With the onset of December, it’s time for the second installment of Gifts for Gardeners that I promised. For those who missed it, you’ll find gift suggestions for experienced gardeners in my earlier post here.

As a well-seasoned gardener who has answered many, many gardening questions from newbie and intermediate-level gardeners, it is my opinion that these folks usually start digging without a plan or any real understanding of their gardening environment. Sometimes the problem is that folks relocate to the southeastern Piedmont from other parts of the United States — or the world. But they continue to try to use the same techniques — and even plants — that worked for them elsewhere. Sometimes the problem is plain lack of knowledge. Perhaps someone moves into their first home with a yard and suddenly must maintain a landscape. Or perhaps someone resolves to grow her own vegetables without any knowledge of the steps required for a successful food garden in the Piedmont.

What all these folks need most is information, especially region-specific information. I offer here a number of ways gift givers can provide the inexperienced gardeners on their list with the information they need to succeed.

  • Hire a garden coach — Yes, they exist, and they are the fastest, probably most expensive way to get your newbie gardener on the right track. Garden coaches come to your house and help you understand what is growing on your property. If you have ideas about plants you’d like to add, they can help you figure out what varieties are likely to succeed and where they should be planted. They will also help you plant your additions. They don’t do all the work; a garden coach is there to teach you the skills you need to do it yourself. They can show you how to divide and replant perennials. And for more skilled gardeners, they can offer you a hands-on session on pruning the shrubs and trees in your yard that need help. To find a garden coach in your area, try your favorite search engine, or ask the staff at your favorite local nursery. They probably know someone they can recommend.
  • Buy a gardening class — I live within 35 miles of three significant public gardens: the NC Botanical Garden, Duke Gardens, and the JC Raulston Arboretum. All three offer classes to the public on a wide range of subjects. Public gardens throughout the southeastern Piedmont offer such classes. Visit their Web sites, peruse their offerings, and sign up and pay for your newbie gardener to attend a class.
  • In North Carolina, the Agriculture Extension Service in every county offers much free information on gardening. The agents in my county offer free classes that are very popular and helpful, especially for beginners. In this case, your gift could be ensuring your new gardener can attend the class by offering to babysit, run errands, or otherwise free up her time so she can attend. I suspect similar groups in other states offer similar educational opportunities.

If all that sounds too difficult, I recommend a subscription to one of the many excellent gardening resources available. These publications vary in price and level of sophistication. For new gardeners, I recommend magazines that contain as much region-specific information as possible.

  • Carolina Gardener Magazine — As the name implies, this magazine specifically covers both of the Carolinas, and it breaks down seasonal to-do lists by geographic region, including the Piedmont. For beginning gardeners, or newly arrived gardeners from other regions, this magazine will get you pointed in the right direction.  This publisher offers magazines for other US states, too, so you should be able to find an appropriate one for your gardener’s region. This is a magazine best suited for beginners.
  • Horticulture Magazine — This magazine offers articles for beginners and more advanced gardeners, and a section on region-specific gardening (in our case, the southeast) is offered. This would be a good choice for gardeners with at least a little experience. I stopped subscribing to this magazine some years ago, because I felt I wasn’t getting enough new information to justify the cost of a subscription. But for less seasoned gardeners, this is not a bad publication.
  • Fine Gardening Magazine — This is a beautifully photographed magazine. It does offer at least one step-by-step how-to article in most issues, and it also offers region-specific information. I think it’s a tad more sophisticated than the first two magazines I listed. I only recently stopped subscribing to it, again, because I just wasn’t getting enough new information to justify subscription cost.
  • Organic Gardening Magazine — This was my go-to magazine for my first couple of decades as a gardener. The publication has changed a lot since those days. To be candid, I’m not a fan of this magazine in its current form; the articles lack depth, and there’s just not enough information in an issue to justify its cost. But to a very new gardener interested in organic gardening, this might be a good introduction.

Perhaps you have some intermediate-level gardeners on your gift list. These folks know how to divide a perennial and what most common diseases and pests look like. They are likely to be interested in more cutting-edge information — the inside scoop on new varieties, pest issues on the horizon, etc. Give one of these gifts to such a gardener, and they will kiss you on the spot:

  • Buy them a membership in the American Horticultural Society. Headquartered just outside of Washington, DC, this group is a national treasure. Among many other important activities, it sponsors the annual Children & Youth Garden Symposium, which is held in different parts of the country every year, and offers a vehicle for everyone interested in getting children into gardens to exchange ideas and techniques. A benefit of membership is their publication, The American Gardener Magazine. This one is always worth reading cover to cover.
  • The Avant Gardener — this is an inexpensively published (no pictures) 8-10 page newsletter produced by a gentleman in New York. He reads all the horticultural literature and summarizes the best bits in his monthly newsletters. He occasionally does theme-based issues that can be very interesting. For $24/year for 12 issues, this is a publication most gift givers can afford. As an editor and writer, I cringe at the typos in every issue, but the information is worth the typographical pain for me. He doesn’t have a Web site. Send your check to The Avant Gardener, P.O. Box 489, New York, NY 10028.
UPDATE: In the latest issue of the The Avant Gardener, I learned that he is offering some seasonal gift deals.  Gift subscriptions to US addresses received before the end of the year (Dec. 31, 2011) only cost $18.00. And a three-year subscription will cost $50.00 for the same time period. If you give three one-year gifts or one or more three-year gifts, you can extend your own subscription at the same great rates.
  • HortIdeas Gardening Newsletter — This is another no-pictures newsletter, published bi-monthly. The writing is more technical than what you’ll find in The Avant Gardener, and they now only offer an electronic format — they e-mail you a PDF file twice a month. These folks read all the scholarly research as well as the more commercially oriented research. If your gardener wants unvarnished cutting-edge information, she will love this publication.
  • Buy them a publications-only membership to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  I have never visited this famous public garden, and I may never get around to it. But I have been a member for many years because of their Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook series. These beautifully photographed and written books come out several times a year and cover every gardening topic you can imagine. I’ve got handbooks on ferns, herbs, native plants, xeriscaping — you name it, they’ve produced a book about it. These are resources I still consult regularly.

I have far exceeded my usual word count for a post, but I think I’ve offered ideas that should suit just about everyone. Let me close by offering one more notion. Seasoned gardeners like me are usually older folks. We love the work, but our bodies are often not as willing as they once were. We also love to talk about our passion. If you are a less experienced gardener with a seasoned gardener on your gift list, consider offering the gift of labor. In exchange for help moving mulch or dividing perennials, you’ll learn much, and I can just about guarantee you’ll walk away with armfuls of free, choice plants. Just be sure you’re willing to do the work involved to earn those plants.

Happy holidays to all, and to all gardeners — sweet dreams of spring gardens to come.

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Gifts for Experienced Gardeners

Snow-covered Royal Star Magnolia flower bud

Tis the season of gift buying for many, so I thought I’d offer a few suggestions to you folks buying gifts for gardeners. In today’s installment, I’m focusing on gifts for experienced gardeners. We are the obsessed green-thumbed, dirty-fingernailed bunch you see puttering in our yards in all kinds of weather.

First, if you love us, please don’t buy us a plant — or even a package of seeds. We know you mean well, but odds are you have not been paying close enough attention to us to know which perfect plant we still want to squeeze into our landscapes. Exceptions do occur. A few years back, my mother-in-law caught me sighing over a catalog that featured a bearded iris called ‘Batik.’  She remembered the iris and the catalog, and ordered it for me for my birthday. I still think of her fondly every spring when it blooms.

Bulbs and their relatives (rhizomes, corms, tubers, etc.) are safe to buy if you know exactly which variety your Obsessed Gardener desires. For anything else, I suggest gift certificates.  To hard-core gardeners like me, a gift certificate to one of my favorite nurseries is not an impersonal cop-out gift. To me, such a gift is permission to indulge in a fantasy I had not yet found room for in my budget. It is permission to splurge.

In my part of the Piedmont of North Carolina, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by many wonderful speciality nurseries. Whenever I can, I buy from one of these local sources, and if you know which local nurseries the gardener on your list favors, go forth and buy a gift certificate from one of those.

However, the nurseries I favor also operate mail-order services. So to help you southeastern Piedmonters who may not live near local speciality nurseries, here’s my short list of favorites with links to their sites in alphabetical order (so as not to play favorites).

  • Camellia Forest Nursery — As you might guess, they specialize in the most spectacular camellia varieties you will ever lay eyes on. But their inventory goes far beyond camellias to many other exquisite plants. Peruse their site; you’ll see what I mean.
  • Niche Gardens — This nursery emphasizes native perennials and woodies, but also features a number of choice non-native plants. Niche Gardens is the closest nursery to my house, and when they offer sales, I have great difficulty resisting temptation.
  • Plant Delights Nursery — Tony Avent is the plant-obsessed genius behind this nursery. If a choice plant well-adapted to the southeastern Piedmont is out there — anywhere in the world — Tony will find it, test it in his garden, and propagate and sell it if it passes muster. If the gardener on your list loves hostas — or any of a gazillion other choice treasures — a gift certificate from this establishment will make you a hero.
  • Woodlanders — This nursery is in South Carolina, but it is the best place I know of to buy small woody shrubs and trees that are hard to find elsewhere. Woodlanders sells most of our native trees and shrubs. They usually offer the straight species, and if they like some named cultivars of those species, they grow and offer those too. These folks ship small, bare-rooted plants, so I recommend this place only to seasoned gardeners. We know how to treat bare-rooted new arrivals, and how to nurture small plants into giants. I love this place because I can get small, less-expensive specimens that fit within my budget. I’m willing to be patient with them, knowing that magnificent trees and shrubs will adorn my yard after a few years.  If you know a gardener like me who is willing to patiently nurture small special plants, consider giving a gift certificate from Woodlanders.

Seasoned gardeners are also usually obsessive readers of garden-related literature. However, most of us already subscribe to the magazines we prefer, so I don’t recommend subscriptions as gifts for experienced gardeners, unless they have explicitly told you this is what they want.

Likewise, buying equipment for us is problematic. We are picky. We know what we like and what works. But if you’ve seen us eyeing our favorite garden equipment catalogs, a gift certificate from one of those will always be appreciated.

Perhaps you have a seasoned gardener on your list who is cutting back on his gardening for health or time reasons. Trust me, such folks still love gardens, even if they can’t be active in their own personal Edens anymore. Most gardeners in this category enthusiastically support one or more public garden, usually one in their region. If you know which public garden your less-active seasoned gardener supports, consider giving a donation in his name to that organization.

Even those of us who still actively garden appreciate it when our friends and family donate to our favorite public garden in our names. Personally, I am always delighted when one of my friends or family members honors me with a donation to the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC.

That should be more than enough to help anyone seeking gift ideas for the serious gardeners on your list. Next time, I”ll offer gift suggestions for less-experienced gardeners.

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