That time of year: Again, but different

‘Tis the season

A single gift package, covered in striped red, cream, and green paper and decorated with two strings of small red beads and a wide semi-transparent cream ribbon tied at top in a large bow

The season for giving
“Gifts? Already?” by mysza831 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Thanksgiving is out of the way till next year, and now Chanukah (starts Dec. 10!) and Christmas (Dec. 25!) and Kwanzaa (starts Dec. 26!) are bearing down on us. It seems to be a Thing, this past week, for everyone from The New York Times to local stores’ e-letters to provide a list of gift suggestions for the holidays.

Why should I be any different?

Maybe this part is a little different: I’ll give you a statement of philosophy first. At a time when pandemic rages worse than ever, mad mindless shopping and more-more-more-ism seem even less healthy—now quite literally—than usual.

While I’m still dealing with the Thanksgiving leftovers, I’m reading about the worsening of hunger across the country. And as we creep into the season when many local businesses depend on a flurry of gift purchases to keep them afloat, physically venturing into local stores seems like a foray into Russian roulette.

So my suggestions are made with those issues in mind. I’d urge you to buy from local businesses (online and by phone whenever possible), and to keep in mind those who are strapped even trying to buy enough food.

I’m also keeping in mind that if you’re reading this blog, you’re a gardener, or you love gardens. And you may be thinking about gifts for gardeners, or want to drop hints to your family and friends about what they might find for you. That helps narrow down the field a bit.

Who’s on your list?

Let’s start with who will get your gift. How about giving twice by giving once?

For several years now, I’ve had an arrangement with several close friends with whom I used to exchange gifts. Instead of giving each other more Stuff (which we all have far too much of), we now give donations to charitable organizations in each others’ honor.

Most organizations to which you can donate online or by mail make that easy for you. Some mail a notice of the donation to the honoree; others provide you with a PDF’d certificate that you can print out and mail or just electronically forward to the one you’re honoring.

Food bank sorting area showing crates of canned food in foreground, being opened by 4 women, with a long table on the right side of frame, topped with more crates of canned goods in the background, and several large bags of onions or potatoes behind the women

They can always use more, and especially now
“CEC River CIty Food Bank Carry a Thankful Heart_AP_ 11.25.19-2” by Sacramento State is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

You could donate to any number of national and international organizations that address problems of hunger and poverty. But even in fairly prosperous communities, you might be surprised to learn how many people struggle to find enough to feed themselves and their families. So if you want to help locally, look for a local food bank and find out what they need.

Two sources you might consult:

Another route: you could check with local churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples to find out whether they run any programs to help the hungry. My bet is that most of them do.

Plenty of nonprofit organizations devote themselves to promoting and supporting gardening, whether for kids, for urban communities, for sustainability, for organic methods, or for other purposes. You could hunt for local ones yourself. For more far-flung groups, there’s a great starting list on the page that Gardener’s Supply Company provides on the gardening charities they support. It includes the rationale for their choices, and links to the organizations themselves.

You could also consider donating to an organization that supports horticultural therapy, described by a regional HT organization as the

process of using plants, directed by a horticultural therapist, through which people receive psychological, physical, social and/or educational benefits. Plants are used in hospitals, schools, correctional facilities, community gardens, senior centers, rehabilitation programs and other settings….

You could donate directly to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, or contact one of AHTA’s regional groups to see what you can contribute.

If you want to claim a charitable deduction for any donations to nonprofit organizations in any of these arenas, look for an organization’s designation in an IRS category governing such deductions. You can’t take those deductions as easily as in the past. If the deduction is a major consideration for you, check the IRS rules (good luck on that) or ask a tax-preparation expert.

Gifts for gardeners

But you want something you can wrap up pretty and tie with a bow? I won’t disappoint you, but I’ll keep the list short. Here are some things I think make delightful gifts for an avid gardener.

When it comes to tools, nothing, but nothing, beats a high-quality hori hori. That’s a Japanese gardening knife, and it is the single most useful tool in my batterie de jardin. I still have the one that I bought about seven years ago and have used day in, day out, throughout the gardening season. It’s in great shape, but after it went missing for a few terrible days, I figured I should have a backup, and ordered another one. Your local garden store may carry these, or in extremis you could go to (which I’m purposely not linking to here) and do a search for the brand Nisaku.

Japanese-style hori (digging knife) with approx. 8-inch blade serrated on one side and showing graduated inch markings, plain wooden handle with two rivets, and leatherette sheath beside the knife, shown from above at slight angle; resting on a multicolored rag rug with bottom of paisley-patterned red boots in the background at top of photo

The new hori hori, just like the old hori hori, but sharper and shinier

Don’t get snookered by a cheap, shoddy imitation! And whatever you do, don’t buy any of those digging knives with plastic handles. I got one of those. It snapped off at the blade-to-handle join the first time I used it; then I read the various customer ratings and found that many others had had the same experience. You want a knife whose tang extends well inside the handle, riveted where you can see it.

If your gardener giftee already has wayyyyy too many tools, you could give the gift of seeds. We need new ones every year. This time of year you shouldn’t be giving actual seeds, of course; those should wait till spring.

But you can get a seed company gift certificate for your gardener friend or relative. Several companies specializing in organic and/or heirloom seeds offer gift certificates you can purchase online. I’m listing four of them, the first three of which allow you to order a printed catalog. (As we all know, gardeners who are snowed in during the winter spend many hours poring over seed catalogs and dreaming green dreams of the season to come.)

While we’re on the topic of gift certificates, don’t overlook your local garden center, which will offer a cornucopia of seeds, starts, and a zillion other goodies for the garden come spring. If you don’t already have a favorite, you can find one quickly through an online search for “garden center” and your zipcode. If that’s too much trouble, let me recommend Gardener’s Supply Company, which sells both online and through four employee-owned garden centers in northern New England (VT, NH, MA). Their gift certificates work for any of their retail centers or online.

Finally, just about any gardener welcomes the reminder that the year has its seasons and rhythms, and there’s no better time than winter for reading about what’s to come. Here are a couple of my favorite books in this vein—not new this year, but there’s always something new to find in them. You may also want a means for closer time tracking, which you’ll find after the books.

(Disclosure note here: these three items’ links are affiliate links to, which helps to support local bookshops nationwide. If you buy by using those links, a tiny bit of income comes my way to help support this website; a generous amount goes to local bookstores.)

Gifts from gardeners: Say it with flowers (DIY version)

Let’s say there are people on your list who aren’t gardeners.

Hard to imagine, I know, but it happens.

If you find yourself in that situation, you might want to try some do-it-yourself gifts that show off your gardening skills and enhance your cachet among friends and family. Maybe even cultivate in them a yearning to green their thumbs.

Time is getting short now, so it wouldn’t do to get too ambitious here. You might consider starting a pot or two of forced bulbs. You don’t have time for the many weeks of chilling that most bulbs require (to deceive them into thinking they’ve been through winter) before they come out of the cold for light and water (spring, the silly things think). I did that once with hyacinths, and let me tell you, the results, while flowery, in no way matched the inconvenience of their taking up valuable real estate in my fridge for 14 weeks. In pots.

No, you want to take the easy way. Get to your garden center (or phone them, get advice, and place an order for pickup) for bulbs of paperwhite narcissus or amaryllis, which don’t need chilling beforehand, and for the right size of pot and potting medium. Pick them up, and get to work. N-O-W. If you do it now, something might be happening in the pot to warrant gift status by your target date.

large amaryllis bulb beside tall brownish-red pot on a buff-colored linoleum floor with edge of oriental carpet in foreground; behind them, an unopened bag of Happy Frog potting soil

The DIY approach to amaryllis

Do you need instructions? Clemson University’s College of Agriculture etc. provides some wonderfully clear, straightforward instructions, for spring bulbs in general, and for amaryllis.

If your victim recipient is DIY-inclined, you could make up a kit for her or him or them, but be sure to include clear and complete instructions along with the kit, and be prepared for handholding. Do not do this to somebody you aren’t sure would be interested. Nothing is more off-putting to the confirmed brown thumb than a pot, a bunch of dirt, and something that threatens to die if not watered just right.

In any other year, I might recommend another DIY option for you: concocting some preserves or chutneys or pickles that you could put up in jars (using USDA-approved safe methods). This year, if you were disposed in that direction, you have probably already noticed the Great Canning Jar (and Lid) Shortage of 2020. So chances are you can’t can. I won’t distress you by suggesting that you do so. We’ll wait until next year’s harvests and jar output start rolling in.

You could, however, collect some lovely produce and locally made preserves from your local farm stores or grocery stores, and make up some nice little baskets (if you can find those) for gifts. Or your local store might make up the baskets for you. I know at least one of my local stores does this, and for very reasonable prices. So, ask!

That rounds out my suggestions, but I would love it, and I’ll bet other readers would too, if you added your own suggestions in a Comment below. Or in more than one comment: in order to thwart spammers, only one URL is allowed per comment. Thanking you kindly in advance.

Right on schedule: our camellia update from the palmetto state

Just as predicted, Hillary’s sasanqua camellia did its full frontal display for Thanksgiving. And just as promised, Hillary sent me some lovely photos. A strip of one adorns the top of this post. But I’ve added a photo of the whole glorious bush here so you can get a sense of its full glory.

Go, Charleston!

Sasanqua camellia in full bloom, dark green glossy leaves interspersed with bright pink blossoms, which nearly cover all the leaves towards the top of the bush; a few rocks bordering the edge of the bed at lower left, and some other greenery showing at the bottom right; strip of white garage door showing in background on right.

Thanksgiving sasanqua camellia: full bloom, right on schedule
Photo by Hillary, 26 November 2020

Now your turn:

Please post comments liberally below:

  1. What special gifts for gardeners would you suggest?
  2. Have you tried forcing bulbs indoors yourself? What bulbs did you use, and how did it work out? Any advice for others based on that experience?
  3. Are you doing any DIY gifts this year? What are they (if that’s not giving away your secrets)? Or, what is your all-time favorite DIY gift that you received?

If you’re commenting for the first time with a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). If you’ve already had an approved comment using that address, your next one should go up automatically. (I am the only one who sees your email address.)

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11 Responses to That time of year: Again, but different

  1. Pingback: December's Dull Drums - Inconstant GardenerInconstant Gardener

  2. Susan says:

    Kateri, as usual, the perspective you bring is from a large and carefully cultivated garden. Thank you for thoughts large and small, but always in season.

  3. Another wonderful post, Kate! And I totally agree about supporting local and small business; my goal this year is to ONLY buy from those places. Love reading the gardening suggestions. Even though I don’t garden, I want a hori hori for myself, to carry with me at all times.

    As for DIY gifts, mine are almost always artwork (little abstract mini works on paper or canvas). And I haven’t bought wrapping paper in over 20 years…I re-use what’s been given to me, or use paint-splattered paper from my painting table. (Now that I think of it, THAT could be a nice DIY gift: a little roll of handmade wrapping paper. Thank you for starting this thought process!)

    Probably the best DIY gift I received in recent years were the spicy candied pecans from a neighbor in Montague (who sadly has moved away). DELISH.

    • Kateri says:

      Caroline, thanks for the comment and kudo, and thanks for thinking on the page about gifts, because now you have me thinking of more possibilities. I was, for example, wondering what to do with all the pecans I overbought….

  4. Madheza says:

    Here’s a gardening glove suggestion, which any gardener will appreciate as a gift. I’ve never really been able to keep any gloves on while gardening until I found these. They are my absolute favorites:
    Sun Grips by Garden Works —

    • Kateri says:

      Thanks for that tip, Madheza! Those look like wonderful gloves, and judging by the 5 stars they got from happy users, you’re not the only one who thinks they’re outstanding.

  5. lorna says:

    I want the hori hori tool the camellia, etc., so you have hooked me into the ‘wanting.’ Now I am stuck there.

    • Kateri says:

      Well, Lorna, when it comes to the camellia, I think we will both have to view from afar–it’s at least two USDA climate zones away from surviving in our part of the country.

      And the hori hori doesn’t work well on snow, so maybe the yearning will subside by the time spring hits. Or you could drop a heavy hint if anyone is gift-shopping for you!

  6. Marya says:

    oooh, I like the hori hori idea…


    • Kateri says:

      It works on practically anything. And in a pinch, you could probably even cut your steak with it (after sufficient washing, of course).

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