In the Garden: Gifts for Gardeners

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Photo: Charles Kidder

With the holidays coming, you might be contemplating a gift for a gardening friend or family member. As one who has a mixed track record when it comes to gift-giving, I’d advise others to proceed with caution.

Plants would seem to be the most obvious choice for fellow a gardener, but there are some potential problems. First, do you really know the recipient’s taste in plants? You might think that a cactus would be a good low-maintenance choice as a house plant, but what if your friend despises these prickly creatures?

Another pitfall when giving house plants: the recipient’s pets might show the same behavior as one of our cats, who’s fond of chewing on any plant. We avoid plants that are known to be poisonous, but still marvel at his delight at gnawing on agaves and other unpalatable—at least to us—green things.

When it comes to garden-gift mistakes, I made the same one three times by giving small trees as gifts.  (You’d think I would learn my lesson more quickly.) In one case I gave a rare Franklinia tree to my mother at Christmas. I planted it shortly thereafter, but it likely was too late in the year, and the poor tree never woke up the next spring. In the other two situations, I gave a tree as a wedding gift.  Admittedly, not the typical silverware or espresso machine choice, but I figured they might already have a surfeit of those items. Even if they were pleased with my selection—and who knows?—another potential issue occurred to me only some time later. As young couples, how long were they going to stay in this house and actually enjoy the tree?  

If you’re giving a plant to someone who evinces no particular interest in gardening, you’re taking a chance that the plant will receive insufficient care, only to meet an untimely demise. Conversely, if you’re giving to an avid gardener, they probably take considerable pleasure in searching out plants at nurseries on their own. A major part of the gardening addiction is buying way too many plants on impulse, having no particular idea when and where you’re going to plant them. Perhaps the best gift for these people is an offer to come over and put those plants in the ground where they belong.

If plants might not be the best gifts for gardeners, what about other items related to gardening? Any gardener needs a good collection of tools, but it helps to know where your gift recipient is in his horticultural trajectory. To put it delicately, as a guy in his mid-seventies (Note to Editor: Maybe it’s time to update my headshot to get the full gray beard effect?), I’m not looking for a lot of new tools.  Sure, if something critical breaks—a tool, not me—I’ll replace it. But for a younger person just breaking into gardening, they’re going to need a lot of things—pruners, weeders, gloves, shovels, etc.

Another aspect of gardening that might merit consideration as a gift is yard art/decoration items/gewgaws/call-them-what-you-will. Most garden centers and catalogs carry a plethora of these in varying degrees of tastefulness, to put it mildly. Check out the Zombie Garden Statue from Gardener’s Supply Company, made of “quality designer resin” and appearing to crawl right out of the ground. To give them credit, they do offer many other more “traditional” decorative items.  When it comes to garden “whimsy,” it pays to go big.  Just one gnome in your garden won’t cut it.  But please take in your Zombie Statue during Garden Week.

The ultimate upside to giving tools or decorative items to your gardening friends: unlike plants, they can’t kill them. Break them, perhaps, but duct tape can heal a lot of wounds.

For some really different yard-art… While traveling through Edgecomb, Maine, on U.S. Route 1 this past summer we passed something that caught my eye. At first it appeared to be a small junk yard, but the cars and trucks were neatly arranged to catch the eye of the passerby.  This display came courtesy of Twisted Iron Customs, selling used cars, trucks and motorcycles and doing repair work as well. When I inquired about how “used” these vehicles were, I was assured that they all run.  Or at least start up. The owner told me that people actually do buy these vehicles, even if only to use them for parade cars or as lawn ornaments. I like them, but a 1950 Ford pickup in your front yard might attract the wrong type of attention.

One of the more unusual garden gift requests I’ve heard came from Crozet’s Cottage Gardener, many years ago.  She said, “All I want is some really good mulch!” or words to that effect. And she was talking a major truckload of mulch, not just a few bags. Sadly, I wasn’t able to comply with her request.

With all my caveats about what not to buy a gardener, you might wonder what a really safe, absolutely-guaranteed-to-please gift might be. At this juncture, I’m just going to take the chicken way out. One option is a gift card to a nice garden center or catalog. Or, you could give a membership to the American Horticultural Society. The new member will receive a useful magazine, The American Gardener, six times a year, and their membership card will entitle them to free or reduced admission to many gardens around the U.S., a great bargain if they like to travel and visit gardens.

Best of luck in buying gifts for your gardening friends and family! 

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