Garden Edition: November
by Linda Coyner
Any gardeners on your gift list this holiday season? Considering the popularity of the sport, it's inevitable. A plant for the garden seems like the obvious choice but, even if the climate allows, is tricky. Most gardeners like to pick out their own plants. Another easy way out is a gift certificate to a nursery. But opening an envelope won't earn you as many points as something you've put some thought and effort into.
If you're looking for a gift that's guaranteed to be well received, consider a pair of Felco pruners. These Swiss-made cutters are revered among gardeners. There a several models to choose from, starting with the basic No. 2 ($31). Left-handed ($36, $48) or small-hand gardeners ($34) would appreciate the models designed especially for them. I'm intrigued by Felco's ergonomically designed model (No. 8, $36) but haven't tried it yet. Do be aware that the Felco pruners vary in price. The prices that I've noted are the lowest I've found. You can locate them at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, www.groworganic.com, 888-784-1722.
For something a little more unusual, a little sexier in the way of a gift for the gardener, consider the Garden Music CD. Let's face it, gardeners aren't always in the garden. At times we're indoors reading, doing housework or paying bills and would enjoy listening to classical music. Garden Music is the brainchild of Incentive Media LLC, a Philadelphia marketing company, to help the National Gardening Association raise money for youth gardening programs. (It's also the force behind Pet Music, the ASPCA-endorsed CDs to help alleviate pet stress and separation anxiety.)
Garden Music consists of two collections, dubbed The Flower Collection and The Herb Collection, each boasting more than three hours of music. Conductor Jeremy Swerling assembles fine performances from composers including Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Debussy, and Mozart. Both collections are equally light and lively.
The packages are designed to resemble oversized seed packets; the individual discs are delightfully decorated with a hand-painted watercolor flower or herb with names to match--Sunflowers, Dahlia, Portulaca, English Lavender, Bee Balm, and Calendula. Price: $20 at www.gardenmusic.com.
Gardening news service. The Avant Gardener is a little-known newsletter published by Thomas and Betty Powell that's been keeping its readers current with the latest horticultural information since 1968. For $20 a year, you get eight old-fashioned typed pages every month. No photos and no color, which matches the editorial style--no nonsense and to the point. The October issue, for instance, includes several paragraphs on the ban on Dursban, ways to foil frost, growing rhododendrons indoors, the revival of topiary and espalier, low-growing spireas, and American hollies awarded the 2001 Gold Medal Plant Award. There's no telling what the next issue will cover but there's almost always something interesting, and the format--bite-size chunks of information--makes for easy reading. Subscribers can give subscriptions at $14 until December 31; the regular rate is $20. Contact The Avant Gardener, P.O. Box 489, New York, NY 10028.
Gardening Which? This British magazine is the Consumer Reports of the gardening world. It rates and compares products and lays out the information straightforwardly. And who better than the English, the people credited with many gardening standards and innovations, to tell us what's new in plant varieties and trends. The almost-monthly (actually 10 issues a year) is full of color and breathtaking photographs. The September/October issue features headlines like 'Drama with Dahlias,' 'Lawn Care Tools on Test,' 'Pansies vs Violas,' 'Saving Seed from Perennials,' 'Winter Cabbage Taste Test,' and 'Meeting Miss Jekyll.' I haven't tried buying any tools or equipment rated by Which? as the brands and manufacturers are British and the shipping might be prohibitive.
I did find a lot of good ideas for plant and color combinations, containers, garden art, and information on new plant varieties from Gardening Which?. Where else would you find head-to-head tests and ratings of cherry tomato varieties (Jan/Feb issue) or salvias (March issue)? The web site is www.which.net. A subscription to this side of the pond costs £57.00 (this includes £10 airmail costs), which is about $70, depending, of course, on the exchange rate. For a subscription, best bet is to e-mail Gardening Which? at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gloves. Until recently, I just accepted the cuts and scrapes and dirty
fingernails as the inevitable fate of a gardener but when I saw an ad for Foxgloves I figured it was too good to be true. The invention of landscape architect and horticulturist Harriet Zbikowski, these gloves are made of spandex and nylon to resist the roughness encountered in the garden while still allowing a fine touch. Thanks for Foxgloves, I'm now a convert. I hardly noticed I was wearing gloves. They worked fine with pruners or trowel, transferring plant from pot to ground, collecting caterpillars, weeding fine seedlings, and even burrowing in the soil after tenacious weed roots. The only thing I couldn't do as well was deadheading, which requires a pinching action that the gloves muffled. It was nice to have unscathed hands and clean fingernails when I finished. The jury is still out on durability; results of on-going testing will be reported in future columns. There are two sizes -- regular and large. The regular ones fit my small hands comfortably with a little room to spare. Price: $25 from www.foxglovesgardengloves.com, 888-322-4450.
Weather tools. If you've noticed the fixation gardeners have with the
weather, you've discovered another gift idea. I've combined two in this category, one item that's supremely utilitarian and one that's useful but also attractive garden décor. The former is the E-Z Read Jumbo Rain Gauge, perfect for gardeners who don't see as well as they used to or simply don't want to trek outside to read the gauge. This 2-foot gauge has big 1-inch numbers and a red float marker. Item # IN - CRLG100, $12.50 at www.windandweather.com.
Snow is another thing gardeners measure and this copper gauge is useful and pretty enough to pass for sculpture even for gardens that don't get snow. It's 2 feet tall (29x5 1/2 inches) but for deeper snow you can get an extension that doubles that. It starts out shiny copper but will change to a verdigris patina over time. Item # RG-3044, $35 at www.windandweather.com. The extension for the gauge is Item # RG-3044X, $25.
Wildlife houses and feeders. Where there's a gardener, there's also an appreciation for wildlife. Not just cute robins, but such critters as bats, bumblebees, turkeys, and road runners. Dr. Smiley Birdhouse, also known as the dentally-challenged home for the birds, has a tooth - missing grin that's guaranteed to make even the crows chuckle. It measures 9 1/2Hx8x7 inches and is made of resin. From a bird's point of view I'm not sure how functional it is, although Windandweather.com tells me that birds have been known to take up residence in it. Just consider it garden decoration. If a bird moves in, it's a bonus. Price: $40 from www.windandweather.com.
Before you turn up your nose at the word 'bat,' keep in mind that these flying mice eat enormous amounts of insects a day. A bat house is tall and narrow and bottomless (approximately 18x9x6 inches, HWD). The interior surface is rough so the bats have something to cling to. According to Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, though, a bat house is doesn't require any maintenance but positioning it can be tricky. To make it bat friendly, it must be located near water, in an unobstructed spot well off the ground--12' to 15', and face east or southeast (they like morning sun, too). A multi-chambered bat house made out of cedar costs about $37. Available at www.groworganic.com.
A bumblebee condo is an easy way to increase your harvests, support
biodiversity, and learn more about the lives of the most beneficial of all our insects. Bumble bees are not as temperamental as honeybees, but they are excellent garden pollinators. The "Humble Bumble Home" measures 11x8x6 inches and is $26 at www.groworganic.com.
Feeding wildlife is a favorite pastime of gardeners, especially if it keeps the wildlife from feasting on your garden. If you want to take a big step beyond a run-of-the-mill birdfeeder, consider a turkey or quail/roadrunner feeder. Wild turkeys are big birds requiring a feeder that holds plenty of feed. I came across one made of redwood that can hold 50 pounds of feed. Price: $210 from www.planetgarden.com. A less expensive alternative is a quail and roadrunner feeder. It holds 10 pounds of seed. Price: $30 from www.planetgarden.com.
Garden books. Every gardener has a wish list of book titles. A new feature on Amazon.com may make those lists more available to the gift-givers. A registry allows users to post their wish list. I realized it isn't completely foolproof when my husband registered but I couldn't access his list by entering his name. Entering his e-mail address finally got me there but not everyone knows a gift recipient's e-mail address. Still, if you can coax a gardener to cooperate, this could be an easy way out to get the titles they want.
Without that lifesaver, you're faced with an overwhelming selection of garden books. One bit of advice: whatever you buy, don't inscribe it. Most bookstores will make an exchange of a gift book if it isn't marked up and is in good shape.
In the book category, one safe recommendation is Michel Pollan's "Second Nature: A Gardener's Education" (Dell paperback, $12.55 at amazon.com) which has attained classic status. The Amazon.com review describes it as "a blend of meditation, autobiography, and social history...ultimately a modern Walden." It's also very funny.
One of the recent offerings that is tempting is "Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates" (Fulcrum, $34.95) by Lauren Springer and Rob Proctor. It has gotten good reviews in the press but I can't vouch for it myself. I plan to review it in an upcoming column.
Garden ornaments. Garden art is very 'in,' especially colored glass and copper. But it's hard to incorporate something like a gazing ball in the garden without it looking out of place. One way is with one of the beautiful sculptures combining copper and hand-blown glass at www.designsincopper.com. The selection includes, among other things, a snail, frog, mosquito, butterfly, and my favorite, Fred and Ginger, a pair of flamingos. They look as fragile as gazing globes but aren't'; the thick blown glass and the copper are tough and long lasting. The snail retails for about $100 and measures 12x7x7 inches. The web site will help you track down where they're sold nearest you.
Good luck with your shopping!