Monday, November 28, 2011

Gifts for Gardeners - And How We Can Get Them!

During my extensive web wanderings, I see a lot of internet ads targeted at people who know a gardener that would love something related to their obsession for Christmas.  But the non-gardener is almost always at a complete loss when it comes to buying a gift that the receiver would actually need or want.  And, I fear, all too often the purchaser overpays for something that will be gratefully accepted but ultimately underused or under-appreciated.   For example Red Envelope's garden tote and set of tools for $69.95.  It's a nice thought, but any serious gardener already has these tools. And besides, has anyone in the history of the world ever made a practice of hauling their pruners, hand forks and trowels around their yard in a tote bag?    

At this point in my life I find myself in the fortunate position where I can buy for myself some of the things I need and many of the things I just flat out want.  So when Christmas rolls around and people ask me what I want for a gift this year, there just isn't that much left to ask for.  I wish I could say that my lack of a wish list this time of year had more to do with recognizing the true meaning of the season than it does with my year-long tendency to gratify myself instantly.  That sounds "dirty."  What I mean is that as long as I buy myself whatever I want all year there's really nothing special I need in December. 

Obviously, that doesn't help those people in my life who, for whatever reason, think they would like to get me a gift.  So I have been learning to do a few things to make it easier on them and I thought I'd share those things with you just in case you find yourself in a similar predicament.

Stop Buying Stuff!

The first change I implemented was that I stopped buying myself things starting around mid-October.  For most gardeners, that's not the hardest thing to do because so many of us have already finished our gardening seasons by then.  But in Zone 9A, where I garden, mid-October through mid-November is prime tree and perennial planting season.  So, on some level, this is an actual sacrifice for me (a sacrifice for which I don't get enough credit, I think).  Of course, I found a way to get around my self-imposed spending hiatus and still get trees in the ground at the best time.  I simply buy my trees earlier in the season like I did with this Strawberry Tree.  I bought back in July and kept it in the pot until it was time to plant.  Disclosure time: I've read that this is unnecessary for trees that have been in nursery pots as they will almost always be better off being planted out even in the heat of summer than they are while stuck in a black plastic cauldron.


Another change I implemented was that I started paying attention to the kinds of information I was going to Google for.  Although it seems that the world's secrets have all been recorded in HTML somewhere, inevitably, my online searches would lead me to blog postings or reviews about gardening books that promised even more information.  I find that although the gardening community is pretty subdued in its criticisms about all gardening efforts whether they be books, videos, or garden designs, the cream still rises to the top and the books with truly good information or inspiring prose would surface time and again.  If you've been paying attention to the books in the blogosphere, chances are that you've read about Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs or one of the many books written by the Garden Rant contributors like Garden Up! and Wicked Bugs.  I could easily list another 7 or 8 books just off the top of my head that have struck me as particularly interesting but I think you get the point.  But instead of buying these books for myself like I would the rest of the year, I added them to my Amazon wish list.  The great thing about the Amazon wish list is that people know about it and they can get exactly the book you want without worrying about buying the wrong addition or getting the wrong book entirely.  ("Was it Joy of Gardening or was it The Joy of Gardening?")  Even if you aren't much of a reader, gardening books can provide you with helpful data and inspiring photos.  I tend to read mine more in the winter as I stare out the window and wait for spring so they make wonderful and timely Christmas presents.   

Not gardening related, but I appreciate literal literature.

Gift Cards

Another option is gift cards.  I know, I know.  "How impersonal."  "How unthoughtful."  Well, say what you will about the worthiness of gift cards as presents; I adore them when I receive them even if I wouldn't dare to buy one for someone else without knowing that they also appreciated their plasticy promise of just what you need when you need it.  Gifts cards make good gifts for the gardener because they are easy for people to buy and they can be shipped without having to wait in line at the post office.  And, if they really want to, gift-givers can put them in a Hallmark card that says all the thoughtful things they think that the gift card doesn't communicate on its own.  But here is why a gift card is great for gardeners at Christmas time: very few things can be purchased from a nursery this time of year and put in the ground.  Heck, in many parts of the country, the plant sections of nurseries aren't even open this time of year.  So a gift card to a favorite garden center or online retailer is one way someone can give you a gardening present and still be sure that you'll eventually get exactly what you want.  Lest they think that it's still not a good gift, reassure them that the prospect of getting to use that gift card in spring will excite you throughout the winter months.  And, come spring, it will be like receiving a second gift when you actually get to use it.

Closed for the winter?

Expand Your Horizons

"Gardening" is a pretty encompassing term.  Underneath the umbrella of this one word is a plethora of genres.  You can be a vegetable gardener, a water plant gardener, a bonsai enthusiast, a daylily hybridizer, a plant propagator, a backyard orchardist, an urban farmer, a guerrilla gardener, a cottage gardener, a greenhouse grower, a fairy garden creator, a strawbale gardener and now, at least for the time being, you can even be a marijuana grower.  If you've been doing nothing but growing daylilies for the last decade, consider trying something different.  By doing so, you'll expand both your knowledge base and your shopping list.  Take bonsai, as an example.  As a new hobby you would need to get all new materials: how-to books, shallow pots, copper wiring, a concave cutter, pruning shears, planting soil, and a fresh supply of patience.  By taking up a new interest, you give someone else the opportunity to get you started off on the right foot.  You'd practically be doing them a favor by starting something new because it would be so easy for them to buy you something. 

I love pots.  I have several unused bonsai pots in my pot ghetto and in my garage. 

Consider Becoming a Collector

This is dangerous for a number of reasons, but it will make purchasing a gift for you easier for years to come.  My sister-in-law is a sweet lady.  She's so quiet, so polite, and so afraid to say anything that could possibly be construed as contrarian.  I'm not sure how she ended up in my family.  When she was a newlywed, she made the catastrophic mistake of telling my mother that she collected ceramic cow figurines.  At the time, it was just a new trend in her life and I'm sure it wasn't something she intended to make a permanent part of her life.  Two decades have passed and people are still buying her cow magnents for her refrigerator, cow-shaped cookie jars, cow-print hand towels, and yummy steaks.  Okay, not steaks; I was just kidding about that.  But now that I've mentioned it, I might have to consider that as a possibility this year.  So, if you want to collect something garden related, be sure it's something you can tolerate getting a lot of.  You should probably avoid a collection of gazing balls unless you want your flower bed to look like the ball crawl at Chuck E Cheese's. 

Ball Crawl
Which is which?  Is this the ball crawl?

Or is this the ball crawl?

Wish Lists

Finally, I'd like to revisit Amazon for a moment.  Although most people know that Amazon sells a bazillion different products, one of the coolest features of Amazon is how it puts you in touch with other retailers.  Many of the items being sold on Amazon are not actually products that will be shipped to you from Amazon but from retail partners.  But wait, there's more!  Recently Amazon featured a new tool that will help you keep track of all the wonderful things you could ever want in one simple list regardless of who has the item.  It's called the Amazon Wishlist Browser Button.  It's basically an add-on for your internet browser that you install and then, while visiting any web site if you find something you'd like, you simply click the "Add to Wish List" button and that item will be added to your list on Amazon so people don't have to hunt all over the World Wide Web to find the exact items you want.  I'm using this myself this year and hoping that my wife will get me this Hori-Hori from Annie's Annuals!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Staring Out the Window

Acer japonicum 'O isami' - Full Moon Maple
People love the fall.  They love the crispness in the air, they love the colors, the food, the sights and smells of autumn.  Heck, I’ve even read that some gardeners enjoy raking leaves! 

I get it.  I like most of those things too (you can guess which one I don’t).  As most people do, I also appreciate the unique qualities of this season.  But as a gardener, fall is not my cup of tea.  It’s not my cup of tea because I’m a wimp and I don’t like being cold. 

I grew up on the eastern side of Washington state.  It gets cold there.  Not like it might in Alaska, or in North Dakota, or in Bill and Hillary Clinton’s bedroom, but I experienced my share of “snow days”, I knew people who got frostbite, I knew that when the snow plows came through we’d have to shovel out our driveway before we could go anywhere, and I knew that when the power was knocked out for long periods there was legitimate concern that the very young and very old would be in danger. 

So you would think that when I moved to California a decade ago I would have been one of those people that would have walked around and responded to people complaining about the weather with a snarky remark along the lines of “Hah, you think this is cold?  I remember when they closed my school because the wind chill made it a hundred below zero!”  Well, okay, I’m totally guilty of that.  But somewhere along the way I acclimated to this Mediterranean climate and I stopped being that guy.  My body no longer knows what cold is.  It’s going to be a sunny 60 degrees today and people are walking around with sweaters on inside the office and they are clutching their Starbucks cups as if the emanating heat is the only thing keeping their fingers from turning blue. 

When it is warm here (warm for us, mind you), I can hardly wait to get out in the yard on a Saturday morning.  Now I put it off.  I find reasons to delay going outside.  And when I do force myself outside, I rush through what I now consider to be chores when just a month before those chores felt more like cleansing religious experiences. 

But that does not mean that the gardener in me has gone into hibernation entirely.  My heart and mind are still wholly invested in my garden.  It’s just my California-weakened body that doesn’t want to comply. 

There’s a scene in Field of Dreams that I’ve been thinking about lately because it reminded me of myself.  In this scene, Ray Kinsella has already plowed under his corn and made a very nice but completely illogical baseball field.  The neighboring farmers think he’s crazy, of course, but he knows they just don’t get it yet.  He followed his gut and trusted that his vision will come to fruition.  In a brief moment in the film, the camera catches him staring out the window at his snowed-under field.  He must be thinking about spring, wondering if everything he worked on that summer and fall will make it through the winter.  He must be doubting himself (and his choice of sweaters).  His heart and soul are out in that field but his body is stuck inside, staring out the window just waiting and dreaming. 

I catch myself in this pose and I'm gladdened by it.  There may not be much I want to do right now but so much of Spring's joy comes from Autumn's longing.