True Gifts

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True Gifts

           
As one who was raised in the cold climate of western New York State, I still
find it incredible that December can arrive complete with green grass and a few
surviving perennial blossoms.  Shorter days always make me a little tired,
and I see now that there is a real danger that I will go dormant before some of
the plants do.

            But I cannot hibernate yet.  There
are still decorations to put up, presents to buy and parties to go to, not to
mention the Millennium to contemplate.  As
I complete all those tasks, I realize that I have neglected to produce something
that all garden columnists are obligated to put together every year about this
time—a short compendium of things that make good gifts for gardeners.  It is, of course, too late for Hanukkah, but there is still time for
Christmas, the Winter Solstice and New Year’s.

            To begin with, there are gloves.  Some
gardeners never wear them and others won’t go out into the yard without them.  The latter group is divided into sub-categories: those that are extremely
picky about gloves and those who will wear just about any kind as long as they
don’t have too many holes in strategic places.  If any of your gardening friends or relations fit into the picky
category, it’s best to forget about gloves.  Give a gift certificate instead.  That
way the picky person can get exactly what he or she wants and be truly grateful
to you.  If you do know someone who
would appreciate gloves, the heavy cotton kind make good stocking stuffers or
small hostess gifts.  Sturdy leather
ones are also nice, especially for people who love roses, or trim their own
barberries.

            You can debate for days about whether it is possible to be either too
thin or too rich, but it is clear that you can never have too many terra cotta
pots.  I like them in all sizes,
and, as far as gift giving goes, they are a great equalizer.   You can race the reindeer down to the nearest mega-merchandiser and buy
small, simple ones for a few dollars, or go to a specialty shop or garden center
and spend some serious money to get some serious European-made masterpieces.  Synthetic pots may be lighter to lift and less liable to freeze, but for
my money (or at least the money of those wishing to give me gifts) terra cotta
is best.

            A good many gardeners of my acquaintance already have a vast array of
basic tools and gadgets, as well as a good many esoteric ones.  People like that often don’t need more implements, but
might appreciate a gift membership in a garden-related organization like the
American Horticultural Society, based in Washington, D.C., or the National
Gardening Association, headquartered in Burlington, VT.  Just saying “I belong to the American Horticultural Society” elevates
you from the status of lowly dirt gardener to discerning horticulturist.  Garden societies usually send you their publications and notify you about
other benefits of membership.  The
AHS, for example, sponsors a seed savers’ exchange every year that enables
members to obtain some very good seeds for next to nothing.  Membership also gives you discounts at various botanical gardens and
arboreta all over the country.

            And speaking of botanical gardens, you can also give memberships to major
institutions, such as the New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands or the
Freylinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, or smaller entities like Freeman Gardens
in Glen Ridge.  All are non-profits,
and when it comes to green space in the Garden State, every little bit helps.

            Books are a great way to help gardeners get through winter’s long dark
days.  For beginners, a basic
gardening encyclopedia is a good choice.  It
should cover the full range of topics—annuals, perennials, bulbs, trees,
shrubs and the basics of landscaping and horticultural practice.  Notable examples that are currently available include The
American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening
, The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Gardener’s Desk Reference and Taylor’s
Master Guide To Gardening.
  Whatever
volume you choose, it should be written in understandable language and be light
enough for a person of average strength to lift.  Years ago someone gave me The
Reader’s Digest Encyclopedia of Gardening
as a gift.  Though my edition is somewhat dated now, I still turn to it all the time.

            For experienced gardeners in seek of inspiration, education and a little
laughter, there is nothing like a dose of Henry Mitchell.  Mitchell, who died in 1994, was an enlightened amateur
gardener and professional journalist who wrote a column for years for the
Washington Post.  His three books, The
Essential Earthman, One Man’s Garden,
and Henry Mitchell on Gardening are absolutely sublime, and enough to give any
lover of growing things a new lease on life.  If you have only one true gardening friend, and that friend has not
already read all of Mitchell’s books, go right out and buy the ones that he or
she has missed.

Gadgets may rust, but The
Essential Earthman
will continue to shine as long as there is anyone around
to put a trowel in the earth.  Besides,
any gardener who is not inspired by Henry Mitchell cannot be helped by even the
most expensive piece of gardening equipment.  It’s as simple as that.

 


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