‘Tis the season
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.
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:
- Food-banks.org has a national network linking “food banks, soup kitchens, and food pantries.” You can find the organizations in your area just by putting your zipcode into their search engine.
- Check on Charity Navigator, doing a search for Food Banks. This will generate a list of many regional associations of food banks. The neat thing about this site is that they provide ratings for some organizations (generally, the larger ones). All organizations listed have links for donations that generate a pop-up donation box. In some of those, you can designate a person you’re honoring.
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….
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 amazon.com (which I’m purposely not linking to here) and do a search for the brand Nisaku.
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.)
- Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, Hudsonville, MI
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Mansfield, MO
- Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, IA
- Sustainable Seeds (heirloom organic), South Salt Lake, UT (no print catalog apparent)
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.
- Margaret Roach, A Way to Garden: A Hands-on Primer for Every Season
- Charlie Nardozzi, New England Month-by-Month Gardening may suit a New Englander on your list. This book is part of a series, and if you’re in a different region, you can go to bookshop.org to do a search (use Month-by-Month Gardening and the whole list will come up).
- And of course, there’s the good old calendar to tell you what’s up and what’s coming up. Could anything be older or gooder while staying up to date than the 2021 Old Farmer’s Almanac Gardening Calendar?
(Disclosure note here: these three items’ links are affiliate links to bookshop.org, 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.
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.
Now your turn:
Please post comments liberally below:
- What special gifts for gardeners would you suggest?
- 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?
- 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.)