Friday, December 23, 2011

Gardener's Gifts for the Season

Dec 23, 2011- Script for CBC Radio: Alberta at Noon

Gardener’s Are Dreaming of …

Gifts for gardeners can be – well – gifty, or they can be practical, handy little items. They can be cheap (under a dollar) or they can be lavish (over $5,000.00). If they are too gifty, you have to really know the gardener – I think gazing balls look tacky but others like them. I prefer to get real garden gifts. I like things that make the hobby of gardening more fun.

My best-ever garden gift is still in use. All summer long and for over twenty years I’ve used it. It is a superb narrow stainless steel transplant spade; a gift from my Mother-in-law at least 25 year’s ago. Yes, I somehow survived with the wide spade most gardeners have but this little hardwood-handled beauty has made every job easier. It has been used to move plants, dig irrigation trenches and settle in bits of soil or compost around plants. I rely on it. It is visually and technically beautiful.

My worst ever gift was something I bought myself. This spring I picked up a garden time-lapse camera. I was exited about using the photos of seedlings germinating for my talks. I had lots of seeds germinating but no luck getting these images to download on my computer. Not a single time-lapse sequence has been shown at a single talk and now I don’t even remember where the camera is.

Here are some variously priced practical ideas to think about for the gardener in your life this season:

Simple- Free- $5.00
1) Gather up pebbles and put them in a shallow bowl or use an old existing birdbath or fountain. Place it outside in the spring and small birds and butterflies won’t drown while they drink. (No kidding bags of rocks are for sale at stores but moms will want the ones her kids collect.)
2) Cut small round pieces of screening to fit over a mason jar. Use the jar to grow sprouts all winter long to perk up salads and sandwiches.
3) Seeds of easy and fast growing flowers are fun to receive and reaily available at most garden centers. Simple things like bachelor’s buttons, calendula, cosmos and Tagetes marigolds can be started directly outside from seeds tucked into stockings this Christmas. If your favorite gardener prefers vegetables, buy a pack a lettuce, spinach, parsley or basil. These are easy to start and grow on indoors. (A gift certificate from McFaydens or other catalogue sales companies will also work in a pinch,)
Medium Priced Gifts – up to $100.00
1) There is nothing like a well-balanced watering can and Haws has been making nice ones for over 100 years. Now you can brighten up the garden because these traditionally built metal cans come in show stopping purple and red as well as the original forest green and copper colours.
2) It is so distracting to have a dirty plastic bucket under your sink for what looks like pig slop but is in fact your spent fruit skins and cores. This year I am pretty sure gardeners will be delighted to get a nice stainless steel bucket for compost, especially a bucket with a charcoal filter so they don’t smell or let irritating little flies in and out.
3) Grow lights are fun and give the keen gardener a chance to get things growing before it is time to work outside. Many systems use fluorescent lights and these have ballasts that gradually burn out. The simple solution, and with less energy use is the newer breed of Compact florescent lights available under the Jump Start brand from Garden Retreat here in Calgary. These little systems cost $80-$90 and are quite narrow so good for a small spot in the kitchen where you want to grow a few herbs.
4) Seedling-warmer plastic mats have been available for a while but this year Jump Start has introduced a narrow heating pad perfect for windowsills. Like the larger – tray-sized mats, these will encourage fast germination. Because it is often cold by a window these also provide the bottom heat needed to get keep things growing once they sprout.

Lavish Garden Gifts
1) I don’t know a single keen gardener who would turn down a small backyard greenhouse. Clip a photo out of a magazine, include a book on greenhouse growing and slip this idea under the tree. Expect to pay from 1,000-5,000 depending on the materials and size chosen. Better yet, offer to install it. Better than a diamond any day!


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