Holiday Gifts for Gardeners

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Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
A cat with glowing marble eyes, a drip irrigation system, and a sturdy trowel are just a few of the gifts for gardeners we recommend.

As scarlet and golden leaves flutter to the ground, and frosty mornings chill winter’s advent, begin the season’s rituals. Roast the turkey, bake the squash, call the family together, and give thanks for the garden’s glory.

With the crisp late-autumn air and the annual calendar countdown lending an urgency to such things, it’s time to start thinking about holiday gifts for gardeners. Among the catalogs that are crammed with festive goodies are:

Clapper is probably best known for its magnificent (but expensive) solid-teak English garden furniture, including benches, chairs, and tables. More utilitarian (but of equally fine quality) are the Spear & Jackson tools in the same catalog. A garden fork with a drop-forged blade and a solid shank, mounted on an ash handle, lists for $29.95, and a classic Irish treaded digging spade is $34.95. If you want to spend $75 for a superlative gift, consider this firm’s stainless fork or digging spade. Both tools are made from solid forgings that are fitted to milled steel shafts. Clapper says they’ll last a lifetime, and I see no reason to doubt the claim.

Green River offers some classic American tools, including a beautiful ash hayfork ($49) and a complete scythe system, which for $92.50 includes an ash snath with an unusual offset grip, your choice of blade (all-purpose, bush, vineyard, or lawn), a blade holder, a whetstone and holder, and a copy of David Tresemer’s fine The Scythe Book. Looking forward to the next garden season, consider Green River’s Ladbrooke Soil Block Maker ($26.50). One press of the plunger turns out four perfect two-inch incubator blocks from your own mixture of seed-starting compost. Finally, I was taken by the firm’s “frictionless” spade, invented in Holland to deal with the tendency of clay soils to stick to the blade of a digger.

This unusual tool ($55) appears to be a cross between a spading fork and a spade. They swear it works!

One of the most charming gifts in the Gardener’s Eden catalog is the French Scare Cat, a metal feline with clear marbles for eyes. When suspended from a tree limb or nailed to a fence, the $12.95 kitty is said to deter birds and rabbits from making raids on your growing ground.

I’m enamored with a couple of other Gardener’s Eden items, too. My garden has just completed its second season with a drip irrigation system. I’ve been delighted with it, but after viewing my neighbor Joel’s RainMatic computerized water timer, I’ve decided that this is something I’d like to see under the tree, come Christmas. It can be set to turn the water on or off as many as eight times a day (admittedly more flexibility than I’ll ever need) and is completely adjustable as far as time is concerned. The battery-powered unit sells for $60. I’m also putting in a request for a pair of the useful ratchet lopping shears ($36), capable of cutting branches up to 1 1/4″ in diameter.

Walt Nicke is one of the most reliable vendors of horticultural equipment, and his 1984 catalog is packed with things to add pages to any gardener’s wishbook. Take, for instance, the trigger-release watering lance fitted with a Haws rose and an aerator. The entire setup, ideal for watering seedlings and hanging baskets, sells for $34.95. Nicke also has the good, old-fashioned garden trowel ($11.95): the kind where the blade and shank are forged from a single piece of steel. Hurrah! No more bent or busted trowels! Finally, if you’re going to spend the winter building a greenhouse or cold frame, you should know about the $39.95 Solar ventilator/regulator. It will automatically open a 20-pound window or vent when the temperature surpasses 75°F and shut the lid when the temperature drops below 68°F.

Speaking of greenhouses, Gardener’s Supply Co. (it used to be part of Gardens for All, and the catalog still appears as an advertising supplement in that organization’s newsmagazine) can make somebody’s holiday a happy one: Gardener’s has come up with a greenhouse for under $200 — a dollar under, to be exact. Constructed of an 18-gauge steel frame and a woven polyethylene cover, the 12′ x 6′ structure will enable you to start a lot of plants early next spring. The same firm is offering evaluation samples of a portable cold frame for $55. If you can find one you’re lucky: Production was limited to 150 units!

Smith & Hawken continues its tradition of turning out catalogs full of quality products, magnificently displayed. The firm’s British Bulldog tools remain the standard against which all other fine garden implements are measured. (I gave my wife a Bulldog edger for Christmas last year. She asked for it, honest!) It seems to me that a gardener would be delighted with any of the Bulldog tools, although I confess a special fondness for the spading fork ($32.80).

Books for the Holidays

Several books appropriate for holiday giving have been released this past summer and fall. Joseph Hudak’s Shrubs in the Landscape (McGraw-Hill, $34.95) isn’t inexpensive, but it does cover 285 different species of shrubs and a total of 1,036 cultivars! Along with hundreds of color illustrations, there is information on soil and light preferences, pruning requirements, and each plant’s ultimate height and spread. All of the shrubs are evaluated as landscape plants, too. A copy of this work should certainly be in every public library, even if it is a tad expensive for an individual gardener’s bookshelf.

The folks at Ortho have three new titles: the double-length, 196-page Gardening Techniques and the standard-format, 96-page All About Evergreens and Landscaping With Wildflowers & Native Plants. All three follow the usual Ortho pattern of superb illustrations, detailed information, clever ideas … and chemical-use suggestions that holistic gardeners are free to ignore. (To be fair, Ortho books usually list organic alternatives.) The longer book is $9.95, and the two shorter volumes are $5.95 each.