It's that time of year again. Time to think about buying gifts for our loved ones. For gardeners there are so many things, selecting something is easy — from under $10 to over $500. Let me play Santa, offering you ideas to choose from — or things to avoid.
Let's start with the no-no's: Unless your sweetie has asked for more houseplants, don't buy houseplants. The only exception to that might be an orchid in bloom — if she can consider it like cut flowers and jettison it after it finishes blooming. But in general, houseplants are work, and require space on a windowsill. Likewise avoid buying a do-it-yourself beehive kit or an earthworm farm for digesting the leftover lettuce that would otherwise go in the compost.
On the other hand, a truckload of good compost would be welcomed by almost any gardener. Just don't have Santa deliver it on the driveway. Santa has to deliver to the garden, or near the garden. Composted barn scrapings are sold by most dairy farmers and garden centers, and by some lawn maintenance companies. Ask for "hot composted manure" or aged barn scrapings. The hot composted stuff should not have any viable weed seeds.
Garden gloves are good gifts. These range in price from $6.95 to $24.95. Now days you can even get them in pink. Me? I like the stretchy gloves impregnated with latex on the palms, but not on the backs, so hands can breathe.
Last summer I got a set of deer-repelling blinking lights. Quite innovative. They are solar powered, and emit a red LED light all night that scares deer or other pests. It is called Nite-Guard Solar (www.niteguard). You need at least four of these devices, so that one is facing each direction around the garden at eye-height of the deer or raccoon. In my limited use, they seem to be a big help. Of course, with heavy deer pressure, only an eight-foot fence is 100-percent effective.
Speaking of deer, another problem they present is Lyme disease, carried by ticks that deer and mice carry. There is a gaiter available that is impregnated with permethrin. These gaiters wrap around your pants to prevent ticks from getting to you – and to kill them if they try to attach to your pant legs. If you have a lots of ticks, these may be a great help. Available on line at www.Lymeez.com. This is a new version of one that I tried earlier, and the manufacturer assures me it will be ready for shipment by Dec. 19.
I'm not, in general, a big fan of rototillers, but was given a little one to try out last spring. It's called the Mantis tiller (www.mantis.com). It only weighs 24 pounds and digs down to a maximum of 10 inches. I used it for working compost into the top six inches of my vegetable garden and found that it did a good job. It starts easily and runs well.
My basic complaint with large tillers is that they can go down 18 inches or so, moving microorganisms from one soil depth to another. This little guy is less likely to do that. Big ones can also damage soil structure, particularly if wet.
This summer I got a sauerkraut crock from Gardeners Supply (www.gardeners.com) and like it a lot. Mine has a 1.3 gallon capacity, and comes with a kit that includes weights to keep the kraut submerged. It has a water-sealed air lock for the cover which allows the gases to be vented, but no extraneous air-borne yeasts or bacteria to enter it.
Every year I mention my favorite weeding tool, the Cobrahead Weeder (www.cobrahead.com). It is available everywhere now because it really works: like a single steel finger it can tease out long grass roots, prepare a place for a tomato seedling, or get under a big weed, allowing you to pull from above and below. If your Sweetie doesn't have one, get one, and she'll love you even more!
Books are always good gifts. I recently got a copy of a nice book by Vermont garden designer and author Gordon Hayward and his wife Mary called "Tending Your Garden: A Year-Round Guide to Garden Maintenance." Hayward is a hands-on guy who knows a lot, and the book if full of lovely photos and sensible ideas. I also love his book, Stone in the Garden. In fact, I like all his books!
Forest Trees of Vermont by Trevor Evans is one of the nicest guides to trees I have seen. Great photos, easy-to use, it even comes with a little ruler for measuring leaves! Applicable anywhere in the Northeast. Available from Forestry Press, www.ForestryPress.com.
In general, if you like an author, any book by the same author will be good. Thus you could look for books by Michael Dirr (trees, shrubs), Barbara Damroch (general gardening), Ed Smith (vegetables) or Sydney Eddison (flowers and design). And I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own books – they cover just about everything, but with an organic bias. My "New Hampshire Gardener's Companion" is just out in an updated second edition and is relevant anywhere in New England.
Lastly, if you really don't know what to get or are too busy to find something good, get a gift certificate to a local, family-owned garden center and let your loved pick a gift. Every serious gardener lusts after new perennials and shrubs, so why not facilitate the process with a gift certificate? And the garden centers would be happy for your business at this, a slow time of year.