Buying Christmas for your gardener

December 19, 2012 

I have noticed that couples marry opposites. I am extremely analytic in problem solving, while my wife approaches decision making in a completely different way. I really do not even know how to describe her method, but strangely enough we often arrive at the same conclusion by following different lines of thinking. This makes conversations interesting as we try to understand what the other is thinking. When we finally reach the same conclusion, it is almost like we collide with each other mentally as we come together on a decision.

When Christmas arrives, we try to figure out what the other wants for Christmas. I listen for the things my wife is admiring in the stores. The girls help me because they realize I am pretty clueless sometimes. Once we hear her “ooo and ahh” over an item, then I can proceed to buy it.

As for my Christmas, my analytic nature takes over. I just make a list of the things I like and put it on the fridge next to the grocery list. I am not very subtle. In fact, I list colors and sizes. I have considered adding pictures and putting the list online to make it easier to access. Maybe Santa could find it more easily then.

Finding the right Christmas gift can be fun, but it can also be hard work. This is especially true for gardeners, because we can be a different breed. How do you know what to buy the gardener in your family?

Why not walk them through the local garden center and watch them. Where do they spend the most time looking? When they stop and look -- ask questions about the item. “What is it? Do you have one like that? What does it do? Is this a good tool/plant/etc.?”

Be careful about buying garden gimmicks -- many of them are money-wasters. There are a few tools that are invaluable to the gardener, but gardeners need to pick them out. What about a gift card to their favorite store? Or you could look in their tool shed and see if they have a tool that needs replacing. Ask them to give you a few choices and then pick from those.

When buying tools, buy fewer of them but invest a little more money and buy a good quality tool. You will need to do a little research. A higher price tag does not guarantee quality, but a high-quality tool usually has a higher price. Ask experienced gardeners for their opinions. A high-quality pruner, shovel, hoe, etc. will often outlive numerous lower quality models and give better and safer service. On the other hand, do not break the bank to always buy the most expensive tool unless you are sure it will be used enough to merit the expense.

Be careful about buying plants. Much of what we see on the shelves requires very specific care that the gardener may not be able to offer. That showy, brightly colored plant was probably grown in a greenhouse and would need to be pampered a lot just to survive. As far as buying holiday plants as gifts, poinsettias are pretty but should usually be enjoyed during the holidays and then discarded. Other holiday flowers make better long-term house plants -- amaryllis, Christmas cactus, foliage plants and ornamental peppers.

Winter is the best time to plant most woody plants. Look through the landscape to see if your gardener has a dead shrub that needs replacing. The difficulty here is that you will need to ask them exactly what to buy since shrubs come in numerous varieties and sizes. If you do this, offer to buy it and to install the shrub for them -- if they like. Many gardeners actually would prefer to plant it themselves.

A cardinal rule is “keep the receipt.” I keep them in a safe place until well after the holidays. I may give the receipt with the gift if the person is very close to me. Tell the person that they are free to swap the gift. Sometimes the only change they want to make is to get a different color -- but the recipient needs to be able to take it back if they like.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture.

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