Garden Gifts, 2008

It used to be such a simple, innocent question. What do you want for Christmas? Tell me and it will save me the trouble of buying the wrong thing. Tell me and you'll probably get it.

It's a question we've heard from our spouses, parents, children, friends–what do you want?

And just like that, you could name it. Some sparkly little thing that caught your eye. As long as it was modest and perhaps scalable (you'd be just as happy with the paperback; you'll take a dozen bulbs or a hundred), you'd probably get it.

But this year it is so not okay to want stuff. In response to the "What do you want?" question, I find myself giving answers like, "I want you to hold onto your money and stay out of foreclosure"—and I actually mean it.

However. Just for the moment. Let us hearken back to those simpler times when it was okay to want stuff. Let's pretend your loved one has decided that virtue has its place, but so does buying something pretty for the person who has agreed to wake up next to you every single day, no matter how old and weird you get.

Let us celebrate stuff.

In the name of research, I took a little trip around the county and checked out all the stuff for sale at garden centers, bookstores, and garden gift shops. I also asked a few friends around town, all dedicated gardeners, what they wanted. Here’s what we came up with:

Gloves. People, I know I’ve
said it before, but it remains true: a gardener can never, ever have too many
gloves. They fall apart, they get lost, they get old and crusty and miserable.
So buy gloves as gifts. And the best news is that you are really free to choose
any style that appeals to you—most gardeners I know will happily use whatever
they have. Heavy-duty padded gloves from West County are great for pruning
roses or other rugged work; delicate stylish Foxgloves will keep the dirt off
long enough to let you pull a few weeds or re-pot your containers, and the
cheap but astonishingly durable Atlas gloves are true workhorses. You
absolutely cannot go wrong with gloves. And if you’re not sure about the size,
buy them locally and include a receipt so they are easy to exchange.

Plant food. It’s practical,
it’s consumable, and it can be very, very local. More than one gardener told me
that they don’t want luxuries, they want basics. At one garden center, I ran
into a neighbor who pointed to the gallon-sized jugs of FoxFarm’s liquid
organic fertilizer, Big Bloom, made right here in Arcata. The gallon jugs
aren’t that expensive—maybe thirty bucks—but it’s more than she usually spends
on fertilizer. If you’re not a gardener, it may be hard to understand how giddy
we get over bat guano and earthworm castings and liquid seaweed. But trust me,
this will be the gift that says: I get you.

Books. I just got a copy of
Ken Druse’s new book Planthropology. It’s a big, gorgeous coffee table
book that explores the cultural history and mythology behind familiar garden
plants. His stories about how plants and people intersect will give gardeners
something to talk about at cocktail parties now that the election's over. Monks
once made ink from oak galls? The spiral pattern in the interior of a sunflower
follows the Fibonacci sequence? Who knew? Any gardener would find this book
fascinating; it’s one of those one-size-fits-all gifts.

And if you know a gardener who
longs to undertake a construction project in the backyard, consider giving
Debra Prinzing’s new book Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. She
visits novelist Amy Bloom’s backyard writing retreat, and describes an awesome
glass shed that seems to float above a shallow moat—perfect for dangling your
feet on a hot day. We can’t all build an art studio/potting shed/guest cottage
in the backyard, but we can dream. It’s a cool book. Check it out. And of
course, buy it at your local independent bookseller.

Labor. I was surprised by
the number of gardening friends who said that all they wanted this holiday
season was a little help. Somebody with some power tools and a little muscle to
help build a trellis, repair a fence, or haul some rocks. There are very few
garden projects that couldn’t use a second pair of hands. And if you’re not
handy yourself, take this opportunity to hire the services of some local
tradesperson and offer their time as a gift. You’ll be giving somebody in town
a day’s work, and you’ll make a gardener very, very happy. And isn’t keeping us
happy what it’s all about?