Debra Prinzing

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Gifts for Gardeners: Hoe, HOE, Hoe

December 3rd, 2008

Garden writers often dread the perennial assignment that happens around August or early September when an editor summons us to say: “It’s time to do that round-up story on holiday gifts for gardeners.” 

For as many of these puff-pieces that I’ve written over the years, I guess people really do read them. I’ve witnessed first-hand how such stories influence the behavior of desperate gift-givers with the calendar racing toward December 25th.

One year, when I was “The Weedy Reader” newsletter editor at Emery’s Garden nursery in Lynnwood, Washington, we sent around gift ideas to local columnists. We had this rather funny non-gardening item ~ a paper-mache pig with wings. It was about the size of a piggy bank. We had them hanging from the ceiling of the cashier-checkout area and someone (probably Amy Tullis, our genius marketing manager), put up a sign that read: When Pigs Fly.

The famous and widely-followed Ann Lovejoy picked up on the pun and mentioned Emery’s pig-figures in her column for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. We couldn’t keep those pigs in stock. They really did fly — straight out the door! There were piles of fine hand tools, lovely leather gloves, and beautiful plant books. But everyone wanted a pig. Who knew?

This year, a few really good ideas just plopped in my lap from the gift gods. I’m sending up thanks to them this very moment (I should actually call this unseen, heavenly entity “The Patron Saint of Deadlines,” because he/she has so often appeared just when I so desperately need an idea while on deadline!).

I met a few people at the Garden Writers Association annual symposium who suggested ideas; I received some other tips unsolicited by mail. Editors and their market scouts even did some of the legwork for me. Yay! Oh, I did find one great gift all by myself – an ExOfficio hat that I purchased at SeaTac Airport. It’s probably designed for people who go fly-fishing, but I think it’s an excellent gardening hat.

I wrote two December stories – one for Seattle Homes & Lifestyles and one for 805 Living Magazine. Isn’t that funny? The former periodical is published in my prior environs – Seattle; the latter is circulated here in Southern Cal’s Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, where I now reside. Is it possible to be contributing garden editor for both? I really do have two lives!

Before I run Debra’s list of great gifts for gardeners, I want to tell you what I’m giving my gardening pals this year. The idea is part of the Alternative Christmas Market that my parish is hosting this Sunday. I’ve already perused the fine catalog of gifts with meaning for worthy causes in Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey and our own country.

One program in the catalog really stood out to me. It’s run by FLORESTA, a non-profit Christian agency that “plants hope” in communities through environmental restoration, community development, micro lending and more. 

Floresta’s programs enable farmers to make the best possible use of the resources available to them. Programs teach agroforestry, reforestation, soil conservation, and a host of other sustainable techniques. One way to support Floresta includes funding the planting of trees to restore deforested areas ($10 pays for an orchard of 10 trees; $100 pays for a forest of 100 trees). You can also finance a small farm loan ($25 pays for a vegetable garden; $100 pays for an agroforestry loan). I like the idea of giving a gift on behalf of one of my gardening friends to truly help a person in need change their life for the better. Imagine: giving up lattes for a week could transform the lives of a family in need? Gardening is truly a powerful source for change around the world


Gardeners and nature-lovers appreciate anything that draws them to the great outdoors. Cool plants, of course, are coveted though hard-to-wrap gifts. But even the most practical hand trowel or rain gauge can elicit a gasp of delight when it shows up under the tree. (I recall the year my long suffering husband shelled out $85 for lime green waterproof gardening overalls, the must-have accessory on my wish list. Sexy? No. Useful? Yes.)

Even when giving traditional gifts like sweaters or slippers, it’s nice to tie a botanical or horticultural-inspired ornament on top of the wrapped package. Smaller items like copper plant tags or a few ribbon-tied seed packets can be tucked inside a stocking. In the middle of December, it’s nice to remind folks that planting season will soon begin.

Here’s a bounty of great gifts for the gardener on your list:

Digging and weeding seem less like work and more like an art form if the tools are adorned with “Daisy,” “Cray” and “Anemone,” three classic William Morris prints from Britain’s Arts and Crafts movement. The floral patterns were selected from a volume of William Morris wallpapers at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Flower prints embellish a variety of lightweight, aluminum hand tools for the home and garden. Garden tool set (trowel and cultivator), $32; bypass pruners, $26; tool kit (screwdriver, hammer and pliers), $32; home kit (scissors, utility knife and tape measure), $26; and scissors, $7.75. Tools are available at  

Spring is traditionally the time when new gardening titles are released, so when an exciting booklike Ken Druse’s Planthropologyshows up in time for holiday gift-giving, I get excited. A multi-talented writer, photographer, and speaker, Druse has more than ten books to his credit, including The Natural Garden, and my favorite, Making More Plants. In Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries and Miracles of My Garden Favorites(Clarkson Potter, $50, 288 pages), Druse explores the world of plants with anecdotes, histories, and unusual scientific facts, illustrated with 250 of his luscious photographs showing detailed filaments, fronds and fruits. Planthropology, a term he coined to describe the “anthropology of plants,” traces the natural and cultural history of everyday plants – and their role in human civilization. “I want to show people that plants are individuals and not just one big green swath,” Druse says. Available through major booksellers and online.

Electronic devices may be essential organizers of our lives, but every office, mud room or potting shed needs a nice, big calendar on its wall. I appreciate calendars that not only guide me month-by-month, but also include gardening tips and information. Here are two picks for 2009: The Herbal Calendar,by Southern California herb expert Theresa Loe, features notes on gardening, crafting, floral arranging and cooking with herbs (Peggy Turchette’s charming botanical illustrations accompany recipes and projects). And Seed Savers: From the Preservation Garden, features text by Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, Iowa, and photographs by California edible gardening expert Rosalind Creasy. Each month celebrates an heirloom fruit or vegetable variety, grown from seed that has passed through generations of gardeners. Recipes appear each month, inspiring you to try growing – and cooking with heritage crops. Both calendars are available from Tide-Mark Press, $13.95,

Gardeners like to jot down daily activities or take note of the change in temperature or precipitation. Give them a writing implement, but not just an ordinary No. 2 pencil. San Francisco sculptor Agelio Batle renders pencil graphite into voluptuous natural forms, including an olive branch, twisting leaf, gingko, rose, iris and orchid. My personal favorite is the oak leaf! All their surfaces can draw and the graphite will resist smudging onto your hand. With daily use they should last 7 to 9 years. Or, you can display a series of these little pieces as objects of art. Each figure measures 4- to 5-inches; prices range from $40 to $70. Available by special order from or 415-864-3300.  

Essential gardening accessories needn’t look drab, so I recommend bright and bold gardening gear. I own a lot of baseball-style caps and visors with brims, not to mention a few charming straw hats, which seem better suited for garden touring than toiling. Recently, I found the perfect outdoor hat, which fits comfortably, has a soft brim and is attractive to wear. Designed by ExOfficio for its “Insect Shield” line, the Sun Bucket Hat covers your head with sun protection and insect repellent, $32, unisex sizes S-M-L. The odorless bug-proof finish lasts 70 washings; the fabric also has 30-plus UPF for protection from ultraviolet rays, available in bone, white and dark marine. If you want a wider brim, ExOfficio also sells a canvas sun hat ($30) and an adventure hat ($38), both made with Insect Shield fabric. Order by phone, 800-644-7303 or online,

Stylish, but durable garden gloves are a top gift for gardeners, who consider hands the hardest-working tools they own. West County Gloves combine technology, comfort and fashion to create high-performance work and garden accessory for men, women – and now, children. The new “classic” glove comes in delicious, modern colors – apricot, berry, lime and slate – and breathable, flexible fabrics (lightweight, open-mesh nylon backs and padded synthetic suede palms). The tall cuff fits higher on the wrist for extra forearm protection and an adjustable tab keeps out dirt and adds support, $35 (sizes XS to XL for men and women). These smart-fit features are often hard to come by in youth gloves. West County’s new child’s glove employs the same materials and construction as its grownup glove, scaled to fit smaller hands, $30 in berry and lime. Order by phone, 800-475-0567 or online, 

Gift the gift of the outdoors with a motion-activated digital wildlife camera called the Wingscapes BirdCam. It allows birders and nature-lovers to document songbirds, hummingbirds and other winged creatures in their own backyard. The nifty camera can be mounted to a tree, post or camera tripod. Triggered by an infrared sensor that detects the motion of a bird at a feeder, bath or nest, it takes digital photographs and 10-second video clips.  Images can be viewed on a television or downloaded to a computer for printing or email. The BirdCam also works in time-lapse and manual modes, and has a remote control which can trigger a shot from 30 feet. It has a durable, weatherproof case and a photo-cell that saves battery power, $249. Available online at

Pair the camera with an attractive bird dwelling, such as hand-crafted house or feeder from Abby’s Acre. Shelter visiting birds in these attractive, arched houses made of cherry, cedar, mahogany or teak. The structures have roofs of oxidized brass or copper. These artful designs are worthy of interior display, as well. Prices range from $45 to $120. Available online at or by calling (262) 375-1661.

For the gardener with too many gadgets, tools, and supplies in his or her potting shed, the ultimate treat is to experience more plants and great gardens. Advance tickets to the 2009 Northwest Flower & Garden Show or the 2009 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show make perfect gifts. The second- and third-largest garden shows in North America, these botanical extravaganza will take place as follows: Feb. 18-22, 2009 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle AND March 18-22, 2009 at the San Mateo Events Center just south of San Francisco. Tickets are available to holiday shoppers at a discounted price and can be purchased at or through a number of local gardening retailers in Seattle and the Bay Area. Happy holidays – I’ll see you there!

8 Responses to “Gifts for Gardeners: Hoe, HOE, Hoe”

  1. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening Says:

    These are all great gifts because they are both unique and practical, unlike the flying pig. Of course, a little whimsy in a garden is desirable, but it’s much more difficult to pick out someone else’s whimsy.

  2. Lydia Plunk Says:

    Some of our favorite gifts to give have been bird feeders and bird houses. There are beautiful stained and blown glass nectar feeders. Or my husband will build some. If the painting is simple- I will generally take on the job with joy. If it needs more ornamentation- then I send it over to an artist friend, Janet Lyons, in Chino Hills, for customization.
    On years we entertain, I will leave post extra poinsettias on the front porch. When guests arrive, the flowers welcome them. When we say our good-byes- the are sent home with friends in remembrance of the evening.
    One of our traditions is the giving of one ornament to very special people- and especially for hostess gifts. For gardeners or those who love gardeners, I will find one related to nature. Bears- bees- hummingbirds- they always bring a smile to the recipient.

  3. Theresa/GardenFreshLiving Says:

    Hey Deb. Thanks so much for the mention of my calendar! I am glad you like it and I will enjoy “spending the 2009 year with you” in your kitchen or mud room or on your office wall…

  4. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Debra, darlin, you always take the ordinary to a higher plane. I also wrote the wrap-up on Examiner last week. Then, I sent out a plea for magazines. I hope you’re right, and folks will pay attention.

    On another note, I love those whimsical garden tools. Wonder if the byprass pruners can beat my Felcos. Perhaps I’ll ask for them and see. What fun. I would like to go to the garden show if I could attend with you.

    xoxo, Dee

  5. Lorene Says:

    Hey You, I LOVE the idea of “giving” someone a vegetable garden – what a tremendous difference $25 can make!!! You know what I always say…Plant the World, Grow Yourself! and look at those gorgeous Persimmons on the cover of the SSE calendar! oxox Lorene

  6. Jill Says:

    Many of the favorites found in my garden have been gifts: birdbath, decorative pots and planters, tin watering can, iron deer statues, stepping stones, and much more! There’s always room for a new treasure in the garden.

    One of my favorites is a planter that let’s me take advantage of vertical growing space. Check out my video and Tips for Tipsy Pots:

    Keep those garden gifts coming!

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