Gardening gifts — and what not to buy

After a long season of gardening it’s time to take a break and focus on finding some gifts for that special gardener in your life.

Before I give some suggestions for Christmas gifts for gardeners, here are a few gifts not to buy, for anyone, ever.

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When it comes to solar lighting, avoid buying any of those cheap, plastic, made-offshore solar lights. Although those lights are inexpensive, they don’t last very long, they work poorly, and ultimately end up in the landfill because the plastic is non-recyclable.

Another item not to buy is any hand tool like a shovel or digging fork that is made of stainless steel. Those tools are too heavy to use regularly, our soils are not mucky or clayey enough to require such construction, and the price is not worth it.

Another useless Christmas gift is a garden tool belt of any kind because those belts are heavy, bulky and cumbersome to wear while working in the garden. When it comes to buying books, I still believe in the value of reading a book, newspaper or magazine because not everything can be found on the Internet and the experience is tactile. However, with so much gardening information available on the Internet, some, but not all, gardening books may not be worth the cost. Much depends on the age of the person receiving the gift.

Try to avoid giving any of those kitschy and mostly useless plastic garden gadgets that claim to make some task easier.

Finally, please, no more Amaryllis bulbs in fancy glass vases.

Now on to some good gifts for gardeners.

Gift cards and certificates: Many local garden centres, some landscape supply yards, and other garden-related companies will offer gift certificates or gift cards. Be sure there are no time limitations on the card/certificate to allow the user time to discover what they want to buy.

Pick a company that sells good-quality products oriented to the specific tastes or needs of your gardener. Sometimes gift cards to buy work clothing can make a good gift. Price: $10-$300, depending on your budget.

Offer your help or buy help to work in the garden: When you donate your time to work with someone in their garden, the interpersonal contact can be invigorating and enjoyable for both parties. This gift can be good for the elderly, shut-ins, people with mobility issues or any gardening friend. You can give a homemade gift certificate hat offers your time to help someone work in their garden. Be sure to specify clearly how much time you are offering, otherwise overzealous relatives may have you signed up for perpetual labour. Or you can buy some time from a professional to consult, prune or do whatever you think is needed. Price: $0 if you do the work, just a little bit of time and effort required.

Approximately $50-$100 for basic garden consulting. The cost of professional help would depend on the scope of work involved.

Arbour tape: This is a professional-grade product that is used by the landscaping industry for staking and tying trees. But arbour tape, or arbour tie as it’s sometimes called, is made from woven, rot-resistant polypropylene that withstands the weather and does not constrict or choke off stem water flow. It comes in a green colour and is about three-quarters of an inch wide, sold in 15 or 30-metre rolls. The product is useful for tying any tree, shrub, rose or perennial. The product can be bought at some landscape supply yards or stores or an arborist supply store. Price: 100-foot roll is approximately $30.

Soil thermometer: This is one of the most useful tools for growing seeds and measuring the heat of any compost or garden soil. It must be made of rugged glass and chrome, aluminum or copper construction. Most soil thermometers are between 20 to 24 cm long, with readings in Celsius and Fahrenheit, reading temperatures up to 120 C. Where to buy: Garden centres, horticulture supply companies or online. Price: ranges from $10 to $30.

Statuary, benches, ceramic pots, cool boulders, coloured stones and other unusual garden hard-goods: These items can be found at some garden or landscape stores. Price: Ranges from $100 to $10,000. Choose your gardener’s Christmas gift carefully and read the label to avoid buying cheap junk made by underpaid workers in overseas countries.

Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer and builder, teacher and organic advocate.

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