Election Section

Garden Variety: Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Gardener By RON SULLIVAN

Friday December 16, 2005

Gardeners are the easiest people to buy gifts for because you don’t have to buy gifts for us. Creative scrounging can produce treasures with the fine patina of age: mossy brick, artfully limed pots, pre-lichened rocks, rusted machine parts: the sort of ornament a respectable garden demands as old money demands old family silver, even if it’s someone else’s family.  

A gift of service always fits; every gardener has chores she puts off too long. No gardener is good at everything; chances are you can build a better trellis, prune a more difficult tree, reach or climb higher than some gardener on your list. You might pledge some hours on your food dehydrator when your friend’s tomatoes all ripen at once, or canning lessons and help. Child care while your friend works on something blissful or dangerous might be welcome.  

Gardeners always have something to give each other. The economy of gardens is one of plenty. If you have rosemary or oregano, you probably have more than you can use, and someone could use some in the garden or kitchen. If you have something rare, you might be able to give away cuttings and starts. You might have a family heirloom to pass on and spread around: one of my personal favorites is the walking onion our friend Robbie’s Aunt Evelyn brought me all the way from Ohio some years back. (Oh, dear, was that legal? Auntie Ev was the soul of gentle propriety and it never occurred to me to quiz her about it.) She’d got it from her mother, who’d got it from her mother, etc.  

If you give someone an unusual plant, give him enough information to do right by it. A note on culture and the plant’s origins and history, printed out handsomely, makes the offering ceremonious. 

A stack of plant catalogues and a gift certificate is a good combination; in the middle of winter, it’s immediately gratifying as garden porn. A membership to a local arboretum or botanical garden is redeemable whenever the weather’s decent. Plant societies exist for iris lovers and rose partisans, fuchsia or orchid growers, bonsai addicts, and native plant advocates in many states.  

A box of worms, a composter with a difference, is gratifying in a more concrete way. This is a gift that a minimally-skilled giver doesn’t have to buy; your own already-thriving colony will supply the worms, and a box can be built or improvised. To be thorough, throw in a book on the subject and a bag of finished worm castings. The truly inspired will present these in a Godiva chocolates box.  

I suppose most of my friends and family will have read this column before the holidays. I can’t wait to see what I’ll get. (Come to think of it, I can’t wait to see what I’ll give.) Whatever it is, I suppose it’ll serve me right.