Holiday gifts for the gardener

Notes from the Garden
Henry Homeyer

Gardeners are easy to shop for. We all need the practical ( rubberpalmed stretchy garden gloves, watering wands, garden scissors, plant labels) and appreciate the whimsical ( a nice garden gnome to surprise the grandkids). Gardening books keep us occupied during the long winter nights, and garden tools keep us dreaming of perfect peonies. Here are some suggestions for the gardener you love.

This year I discovered Tubtrugs. They are multipurpose, brightly colored, somewhat flexible containers made of food grade plastic that I like to fill up with weeds. I also use them when harvesting veggies or carrying hand tools; you can fill one with water to soak a dry potted plant or wash a small dog. They are easy to carry – handholds are built in. They come in four sizes from about 4 gallons to about 20 gallons. I have the two smaller sizes, which cost $11 to $14 each. They’re available at your local garden center or from www.tubtrugs.com.

SOME samples of practical gifts for this gardener this Christmas. SOME samples of practical gifts for this gardener this Christmas. As much as I don’t like plastic, I found another plastic product that is very handy: an Oxo brand watering can. As with other Oxo products, I find it not only functional, but handsome — and these come in a variety of colors. I like that the spout lets you see the water level inside when filling it up, and it rotates for storage (snuggling up, sort of, against the reservoir). The rose, which breaks the stream of water into a spray, is very fine for watering delicate plants, but I often just pull that off and water directly from the slender spout. They come in two sizes: 2 gallon ($28) and an indoor model that is just 3 quarts ($18). Available locally or online.

Each year I have to tout my favorite weeding tool, the CobraHead Weeder, as it works so darn well, and I have met so many gardeners that just love it. It is a single piece of steel with a small, eye-shaped head and a curved handle. It has a nice bright blue, recycled plastic handle. It gets under weeds to pull from below while I tug on the topside; I use it when planting, too, stirring up the soil and teasing out grass roots. I like that it serves lefties as well as righties, and is light enough to please elderly weeders as well as big lunks like me. Cost? About $25. Available locally or at www.cobrahead.com or 1-866- 962-6272.

Books help get gardeners through the winter. We read and plan when we can’t weed and plant. I recently got a very handsome, glossy-photo book by Jeremy and Emily Gettle, co-owners of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. He is quite a character — he started at age 3 and was growing two acres of vegetables by age 18. He started his own seed company when he was just 22 years old and now, at 33, he has quite a large operation — and a book.

The book, “The Heirloom Life Gardener: the Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally,” is interesting and full of personal stories and anecdotes by Jeremy. He is opinionated, which I like, too. Best of all, it has a directory of garden vegetables that not only tells you how he grows them, but guides you to save your own seeds. It’s $30 in hardcover.

Another book I like is “Ancestral Plants: A Primitive Skills Guide to Important Edible, Medicinal and Useful Plants of the Northeast,” by Arthur Haines. This is a fascinating technical book for survivalists, among others. It tells you not only about edible and medicinal plants, but which ones to use for making your own rope or are useful when starting a fire without matches. Haines is young (41), and a serious scholar, having just written a 1,000 page taxonomy of plants.

Haine’s book gives information available in no other book I have found. So, for example, he tells you to eat eastern prickly gooseberries one at a time so that the crushing of the berry is done with teeth, not the palate (to avoid the prickles), and that it is high in Vitamin C, antioxidants and pectin so it can easily be made into jam. Each plant has at least two excellent color photos and two pages of text. Costs $23 in paperback and is available locally, or from www.anaskimin.org.

Each year I find some nice products from Gardeners Supply Co. in Burlington, Vt. (www.gardeners.com or 888- 833-1412). This year I like their pesto storage cubes for freezing pesto or tomato paste. They have attached lids, and fit into trays for storage. At $7.95 for eight cubes they are a good gift. I also like their Root Storage Bin which costs $34.95. It is a sturdy wire bin lined with jute fabric designed to hold carrots, beets etc. in a cool dark cellar. It allows you to layer moist sand in it, keeping the veggies from drying out. It fits in a fridge I use for storing veggies. They also sell the Tubtrugs mentioned above. Since Gardeners Supply is an employee-owned company that supports lots of good causes, I enjoy supporting them, too.

I’ve been using LED lights this fall to pamper my houseplants, and I find my plants are much healthier this year. Best of all, for 42 watts of electricity I am getting the equivalent of 250 watts of light, and the spectrum of light, the company says, is just right for making plants happy. I got mine from Sunshine Systems (www.sunshine systems.com or 866-576- 5868). Each unit costs about $150 and is suitable for illuminating 5 square feet of plant space. The lights are designed to let you connect several together, which is handy.

Lastly, as an author I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my own new book: “Organic Gardening (Not Just) in the Northeast: A Hands-On, Month-by-Month Guide” (Bunker Hill Publishing). It’s a collection of my best writings from the past 10 years, organized around the calendar year. It’s $17.50 from your local bookstore or from my website (www.Gardeningguy.com).

So give Santa a hand. Go get something nice for the gardener in your family. And remember to try buying local first: local bookstores, local garden centers — only buy on the Web as a last resort! And Happy Holidays to you all.

HENRY HOMEYER is the author of four gardening books. His Web site is www.Gardening-guy.com.

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