Christmas is coming, and the pressure is on to find the right gifts. If you have a gardener or two on your list, I may be able to help.
My taste and preferences are surely not universal, but I have two qualifications as your gift adviser: As a gardener, I have given and received gardening gifts for 30 years, from wonderful to "Hmmm ... how interesting!" I also have logged years of flower and trade shows, and garden center employment, watching the goods and products come and go. Some of what's out there is innovative, beautiful and useful; some of it is not.
This idea might just apply to most gift giving: Unless your person is financially strapped – in which case a gift certificate may be the kindest – the best gifts are items she covets but would never buy for herself. Go for luxury, top quality, when she usually buys store-brand. If she regularly pokes through garden gloves, get good ones; if he tortures his hands (and plants) with cheap pruners, get a professional tool.
With this kind of shopping, you'll be giving one fine item rather than a gardening-theme basket full of cheaper things, and your gift will be enjoyed for many years.
Especially in gardening tool and garment lines, you get what you pay for. With rare exceptions, this generalization holds up well for true gardeners because their tools are put to hard work and the clothes are worn until they shred.
Tools and props: Over many years I have bent or broken handles off more trowels and shovels than you'll see in most hardware stores, and I've hurt myself doing so, from slivers to pinches to a sore wrist and back. Yard sale finds, or tools I loved because they were Grandpa's, are not always treasures. You get the point. Find tools that cannot bend, that are worth cleaning and sharpening, and are put together with more than two screws. Good tools you buy just once.
Just as not every kitchen gadget is necessary (and takes up storage space), not every garden tool may have a place. However, a few lesser known tools are delightful to use. (Brands mentioned are from my experience but aren't the only good ones.)
* A Hori Hori, or Japanese garden knife (A.M. Leonard, for one): Takes the place of many tools, with a blade that is serrated on one side. It cuts through roots, perennial crowns or rock hard clay.
* CobraHead weeder: Digs a furrow; ferrets out deep weeds or rocks.
* A great spade: Do the shopping, as brands vary, but anyone whose back gets tired would appreciate a lightweight – but really strong and sharp – long-handled shovel or spade.
* The cultivar hoe: Two or three tools in one, my find of the season. Or just give a good hoe.
* Pruners, flower scissors, pruning saw, lopper (from producers such as Lee Valley, Joyce Chen, Felco or Fiskar): Every homeowner should own a great pruning saw that cuts as if through butter (maybe instead of a limb-threatening chain saw) and a fine hand pruner. How about including a book on pruning?
* Ergonomic helpers: If your person suffers from sore joints and an aching back, look into ergonomic tools that save us from ourselves. Or buy a raised-bed kit (produced locally) for assembly in the spring.
* The kneeler/seat (a recent gift that I really use): In one position it's a narrow seat, where I sit to stretch my back or contemplate the flowers, and upside down it's a kneeler, with a handle to lean on when I've worked too long.
* The garden cart or well-built wheelbarrow: Although most stores put them away in the winter, a lightweight but sturdy garden cart is a back-saving joy.
Bird supplies: I surmise that most gardeners appreciate birds, and bird-care props would be highly appreciated – again, one step better than we buy for ourselves when we're springing for 50 pounds of sunflower seeds. (My sister routinely hints about wanting the seed itself – not a minor expense – for Christmas.) Consider a heated birdbath, an Oriole jelly feeder, inset, one of the many kinds of decorative art glass, wooden or ceramic bird houses or feeders (including for hummingbirds), suet holders or one of the large, steel-enclosed feeders that thwart the smartest squirrel around. Also really handy (and there are never enough): steel S-hooks of various lengths for hanging feeders, suet and corn cobs.
Clothing: When I moved to the country, my family gave me Wellington barn boots, Eddie Bauer turtlenecks and a Cabela's jacket – culture shock! I soon learned why: They're not the same turtlenecks or gloves one wears when hailing a cab. For gardeners, consider these:
* Mud shoes (my "duck" type outlasting three pairs of box-store brands); available in Western New York farm and garden supply stores in Springville, Elma and elsewhere. Try local shops first.
* Wellington boots with good brand names – nothing like them for muddy projects. Some are even pretty.
* Medium- and winter-weight jackets (such as Woolrich or Carhartt) that your gardener can move in, that can get and stay dirty, with pockets that can hold five tools and possibly lunch.
* A Tilley hat (unequaled by any brand), both winter and summer weights, with ties that keep it on in a gale and with 50 percent UV sun protection. Send in the warranty; the hat is good for life.
* Gloves that do not come from a supermarket and cost more than $8, including long, sturdy Rose Gloves to protect skin from roses, junipers and itch-inducing weeds.
And now, perhaps, it is time to start your own gardener wish list. "Dear Santa ..." (Or just place this column in a strategic spot). Happy shopping!
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.Good gifts: CobraHead weeder, left, and a Hori Hori are gifts that will last.