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What Do Gardeners Really Want?

When I was a boy I believed in Santa Claus long after most other kids had given up on him. I must have been in fifth grade before I started to doubt the story of the jolly old elf. I’m not sure if that was due to my own personality, or because my parents and older sister deluded me. Or maybe I was just plain dumb, back then. Now, as the holidays approach, I try to choose gifts that the real Santa would know are perfect. For gardeners, it’s easy.

Every gardener needs some basics: a good weeding tool, a pair of hand pruners and a transplant shovel. For me, the weeding tool is a no-brainer: virtually anyone who has tried a CobraHead weeder (www.CobraHead.com) agrees that it is perfect. It’s precise, lightweight and fabulous at teasing out long roots. Curved like the tine of an old-fashioned horse-drawn cultivator, I think of it as a steel finger. It’s available at good garden centers, or from the company online for less than $25. And it will last forever.

Pruners and loppers are great gifts, too. Most of us — by my age at least — tend to misplace pruners, so even if your loved one has a pair, a second is always a great gift. And they get dull, so a new pair of sharp ones is a treat. Don’t go to a big box store and buy the cheapest you can. Buy quality pruners even though they can cost in excess of $50. The two brands I like are Bahco and Felco. Both are excellent. They come in different sizes for different size hands, so talk to a knowledgeable sales person. I personally do not like those with rotating grips that allegedly prevent carpal tunnel.

I’ve had a pair of loppers made by Fiskars for at least 10 years that still work great — I use them a lot, even on large-diameter branches. They are geared, so they don’t take great strength to use — and they never get “sprung” the way so many loppers do. Mine is the PowerGear 32-inch lopper, rated to cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter. They are available locally for a little under $50. They also come in smaller sizes. All are lightweight and of good quality steel.

Transplant shovels are often overlooked by gardeners, but they do a much better job at moving plants than an ordinary shovel, so everyone should have one. I got mine at my local hardware store — LaValley Building Supply — where it is called a drain spade. The blade is long and narrow — 15 inches long and just 6 inches wide. I like the long blade for getting under the middle of a perennial and prying the plant loose after a few judicious probes. At less than $20, even Santas on a budget would approve.

At the lower end of the cost spectrum are plants. I don’t advocate giving anyone a house plant — that’s too much like giving a puppy. Most gardeners have enough — nay, too many — house plants. But an amaryllis bulb is a good gift. They bloom, and then you can either throw it away or hold on to it and coax it to bloom another year (though that’s often more trouble than it’s worth). Prices range from grocery store amaryllis under $8 to fancy ones already potted up at a florist shop and ready to bloom for $15 or more. The bigger the bulb, the more expensive — and the bigger and more dramatic the blossoms.

Also around $10 is a small bottle of Super Thrive. This is a seaweed and plant hormone extract that is great for helping stressed plants. And right now, many house plants are stressed due to the short days and lack of light. I find it helps them, and I also use it on transplants in the spring. It’s available locally.

A good blank book with quality paper is a nice gift if your loved one likes record keeping. It’s great to be able to look back, years later, and know the name of the variety of bulbs or daylilies you planted. Such a book is also good for sketches of the garden.

On the other end of the cost scale is a nice dehydrator. I wrote recently about the Excalibur 9-tray dryer for fruits and veggies (www.excaliburdehydrator.com). It’s about a $300 present, so think of it as an investment. It’s an energy–efficient dryer for your tomatoes and apples and more.

Books are excellent presents, too. Santa, are you listening? I want Michael Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. I know it’s expensive ($79.95), Santa, but it has 952 pages and 3,530 color photos. It’s the new Bible for woody plants by my favorite, highly opinionated tree expert. He wrote a nice blurb for the back jacket of my last gardening book (Organic Gardening (not just) in the Northeast, A Hands-on, Month-by-Month Guide ). And if you want us to keep on believing, Santa, we have to get some goodies. And I’ve been good this year!

Henry Homeyer can be reached at P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746 or henry.homeyer@comcast.net.