Jeff Lowenfels: Gifts for the gardener on your list

Jeff Lowenfels

This is the time of year when I am supposed to make gift suggestions for those horticulturally minded friends on your lists. After several years of this, I coined a phrase I repeat often: "never buy a comb or a gardening tool for someone else." The point is that it is always going be difficult to find the perfect holiday gift for a gardener. Gardeners are choosey. Generally, they buy what they need, justifying purchases by the beauty or food they give.

Then, too, there is the fine line between what you think is a terrific gardening gift and what is actually the horticultural equivalent of the unwanted tie, proverbial Christmas sweater or even a husband-given vacuum cleaner. I mean, I have never met a gardener who didn't need more hose. That doesn't mean a gift of 25 feet is going to be really appreciated. Still, I realize that I am supposed to be giving advice here.

I suppose the best place to start, particularly if you are clueless and can't find a book (like the two I wrote) or a plant about which hints have been dropped, is to get them a gift certificate from a local nursery. My mother would not like the suggestion, as you were supposed to put your heart into a gift and that meant making it yourself. I say, if you need to give something that has to do with gardening and you can't think of the perfect thing, then a gift certificate seems OK. It allows your gardener to buy what he or she really wants and needs and all the nurseries are doing it. Might I suggest that you have a plant accompany the envelope to show that you at least tried? Or you could direct it towards the purchase of a particular kind of plant (say a fruit tree or a lilac bush) for pick up next spring.

How about a "plant of the month" club selection? Jackson and Perkins ( offers three months of spring flowering bulbs or three months of amaryllises or, best of all, six months of amaryllises. What a great way to build an instant (well, six-month instant) collection. I didn't work all the way through the shopping cart to see if they will send to Alaska, but they will go to all those colder places in the Lower 48, at least.

Since everyone has weeds, how about the special tool I use? It's called a Cobrahead because of its shape and you can find it at or in town at Alaska Mill and Feed. It really cuts those weeds out. When people ask me how they are supposed to plant a garden without rototilling, I tell them about this tool. It is not just a weeder, but also a great tool for planting.

If gardener on your list owns a greenhouse, either attached to the house or freestanding in the backyard, then point your browser toward Charley's Greenhouse, This is a great source for greenhouse equipment. Almost anything you need, from shelving to heaters, is carried by Charley's. I am sure they give gift certificates if you can't pick.

My favorite gardening book to give, besides the two I wrote (hint, hint, you know what I want for Christmas) is "Life in the Soil" by James Nardi. This is an illustrated book about life in the soil. It's a guide to identification that would be greatly appreciated by a serious outdoor gardener.

Orchids are always appreciated. All of the local nurseries carry them, as do the box stores and supermarkets. These are fine for beginners. If you have a more serious collector on the list, then Diamond Greenhouse is the place to go for a gift or gift certificate. You really have to know what kind of plants yours collects.

You might also consider amaryllis bulbs, gardening twine, twisties, tomato stakes, potting soil, starting pots, decorative pots, labels, gloves, hand lotion or clippers. And, of course, as I always end these gift columns every year, nothing will be more appreciated than a hand-made card offering a few hours of volunteer help in the garden next spring.

Jeff Lowenfels is author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to The Soil Food Web." Contact him at

Jeff's Garden Calendar

Gifts: How about one that gives to the community as well as an individual or family? A membership in the Alaska Botanical Garden Memberships include all sorts of discounts and "first chance plant sales." And, you help build the North's premier botanical garden.

Trees: Water those Christmas trees every day. Or at least check them. Yes, some will show signs of growth. This is weird, but not unusual.

Jeff Lowenfels
GardeningBy Jeff Lowenfels