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Gifts for Gardening Friends

by Linda Coyner

Every year I scour trade shows and new-product literature for truly useful things for gardeners. Once I get my hands on the product, it gets the torture test a work out in my South Florida garden. Many products dont make the grade. I have lots of rejects ranging from pruners that hurt my hands, hose nozzles that required two hands to operate, gloves that I wore only once, to books that put me to sleep. The survivors go on to become old friends, things that I pick up every time I go out into the garden or use again and again.

For this years roundup, Ive found some new must-haves and reaffirmed a few picks from previous years.

Soil scoop, $15, is a Garden Works all-in-one planting tool that replaces hand-digging/planting tools. The scoop is made of rust-resistant stainless steel with a solid birch handle. Vicious-looking serrated edges cut roots and move rocks out of the way. The bowl-shaped scoop grabs potting soil or mulch easily from the bag. The pointed tip can be used to make a planting furrow in the soil. The combination of trowel and cutter works great for digging holes for plants and bulbs. My only complaint is that the scoop doesnt fit in my tool belt. Available from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (www.groworganic.com).

Sun Grip Gloves, $8. I had to use them to believe them. These Garden Works gloves are extra cool. Their ultra lightweight feel and snug fit reminds me of surgical gloves. Once theyre on, you forget youre wearing gloves. Even when you get into something wet, you dont mind them on your hands. Sizes seem to run small; a medium fits my small hands perfectly. Available from Stone Barn Furnishings (www.stonebarnfurnishings.com).

Historic tree seedlings, $35 to $250. Shipping is extra. When I first heard about this I was intrigued. Heres a gift for friends who arent big gardeners but might go for a seedling of tree that witnessed some important piece of American history. The nursery, American Forests Historic Tree Nursery in Jacksonville, Fla., created the nursery to harvest the seeds from America's historic trees.

American Forests fastest selling seedling is the George Washington poplar. Seedlings from the pink-flowering Japanese cherry trees that grace the U. S. Capital every spring are second, followed in popularity by seedlings from the oak trees that line the driveways at Elvis Presley's home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tenn.

Tree sizes average 1 - 3', and vary depending upon the species, the time of the year ordered, and their overall age. Gift certificates are also available. The web site makes it easy to shop by zone or tree name. www.historictrees.org

Beverly Nichols books from Timber Press. This relatively obscure British writer crossed my path this year, leaving an indelible mark. Nichols (1898-1983) authored some 60 books, but his most famous are a dozen or so gardening books written in a light and airy style. In them, he reveals a keen observation and sensitivity to nature, whether it be floral, human, or feline. Readers will be delighted with witty musings about his world and the characters who visit it.

Judging by the handful of Nichols books that Ive read, Merry Hall is probably Nichols at his best. In it, he describes his ambitious efforts renovating the rundown Georgian house and garden. Early on in the book, Nichols forewarns readers when I begin to write about flowers I lose all sense of restraint, and it is far, far too late to do anything about it. Available books: The Merry Hall Trilogy (including Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, and Sunlight on the Lawn); Garden Open Today; Garden Open Tomorrow; Cats A.B.C.; and Cats X, Y, Z. www.timberpress.com

Sun-protective clothing. While gardening in Floridas hot and steamy summer, I tested several sun-protective shirts. Two especially impressed me. Both provide maximum sun protection (SPF 30) without cooking you. Sun Precautions Hook & Tackle Women's Air/X-100 Shirt . One of my favorites for its soft feel against the skin and excellent ventilation. Drips dry. Zipper vents below the arms and across the shoulders allow maximum ventilation. Multiple storage pockets with mesh drainage. CoolMax mesh lining. Roll-up collar for added sun protection and roll-up sleeves with a tab. $65. www.sunclothingetc.com

Solumbra Safari Shirt. This shirt got extra points for its silky feel and excellent ventilation. Choose one size up to get the roominess needed for gardening. Needed the dryer briefly to get out the worst wrinkles. Two front-button pockets. Vented back yoke backed by mesh panel; wide mesh inserts under the arms. $56 www.sunprecautions.com

Gardener's Tool Belt, $28 in green, $32 in floral print. This is my favorite apron. Its practical and, as much a tool apron can be, attractive. The belt is in two parts, allowing you to wear it on your hips like a cowboy's gun holster. That way when you bend, the tools don't fall out or jab your ribs. If you prefer, separate the two parts and wear only one side. Durable leather loops and straps hold tools. The floral print is especially lovely: www.rittenhouse.ca.

The Fiskars PowerGear Anvil Lopper 7972, $32, has earned a permanent place in my tool shed. It makes pruning branches up to 2 inches thick easy. The gear-action minimizes strain on wrists, forearms, and shoulders. The lopper itself is very super lightweight and only 15 1/2 inches long. You can also get it in a longer handle for $60. Available at most home-improvement stores. For more information, see www.fiskars.com.

Fiskars Extended Reach Power-Lever Grass & Hedge Shears, $70. This odd-looking tool is one that I gladly make room for in my tool rack. My back is especially grateful and my arms dont mind the gentle workout. I found it great for trimming up close to beds where overlapping plants make it tricky to edge with the mower or a string trimmer or when its too simply much trouble to pull out the power equipment. The 10 blades neatly slip under edging plants to cut grass. The cutting head rotates 270 degrees, which allows for convenient angling and a more comfortable body position. Fiskars also recommends the tool for hedges, something I disagree with. The motion is awkward, regardless of the height of the hedge, and a strain on shoulders and arms. www.charleysgreenhouse.com; www.fiskars.com.

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