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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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