Hartley Magazine

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Gifts of hope

Garden gifts are a promise that a long, dark winter will be followed by spring, with crocuses among the first to flower.

Gardening is a distillation of hope: that seeds will sprout, saplings will survive, rain will come, a plant will bloom as beautifully as the picture in the catalog.

It seems right to spread hope through the gift of gardening this holiday season, and there are plenty of easy ways to do it.

Get kids started: I’m giving one of my nephews a salad garden for Christmas. I considered prepackaged kids’ gardening kits, but quickly realized that they were unlikely to be a success: They are usually herbs or vegetables that need full sun, and his family has a tiny city yard with a shady tree where there’s nowhere near enough light. Rather than set my nephew up for failure, I’m setting him up to start and grow lettuce. It can tolerate part sun and is sufficiently cold-tolerant to sprout in spring, while there’s still some sunlight in the yard before the tree leafs out overhead. He’ll almost certainly get enough baby lettuce leaves to serve his family a salad. (And he’ll eat salad, according to his father, who was very skeptical that he would eat radishes or carrots, even if he grew them.)

The kit consists mostly of things I had in the basement—a shallow plastic planter, a little watering can, and lettuce seeds, with a certificate for enough potting mix to fill the planter (if he figures out the required volume in quarts). Another important ingredient is my own gardening knowledge: I picked a plant to fit the conditions, and I’ll help him sow the seeds, so he’s more likely to have a good experience with gardening.

Another good option for kids is an amaryllis bulb, especially a red one, which can be coaxed to bloom with a huge flower as gaudy as a comic book. Get a bulb as part of a planting kit, which usually consists of a pot and some dried coir potting mix that need to be rehydrated. A child can pot up the bulb and keep it on a reasonably sunny window in their own room. It will teach patience, since the potting mix needs to be kept moist for several weeks, but eventually that patience will pay off with a flower that will knock socks off.

Share your plants: It’s easy to pot up cuttings from your favorite houseplants as gifts. What will make it special is an accompanying note with written growing instructions. If the original plant was passed along to you, tell the story of where you got it; a story makes any gift richer. Or share seeds you’ve saved from your garden with people who have the right conditions to grow them. (Just make sure you’re not sharing any plant that is weedy or invasive.)

You can give a gardener a certificate to choose just the right tools, plants or seeds, such as seeds for these annual orange cosmos.

Let them choose: Gardeners tend to like making their own plans and choosing their own tools, so gift certificates are always welcome. You should be able to buy them online, and you can print out a certificate to wrap and put under the tree. For a gardener you don’t know well, safe bets include the  major mainline seed houses, such as Burpee or Park Seed, or garden tool companies such as Gardener’s Supply, Lee Valley Tool and A.M. Leonard. If you know a bit more about your giftees and their gardens, you might give them certificates for specialty dealers such as Annie’s Annuals, Totally Tomatoes, Seed Savers Exchange, or Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. If they have a conservatory, consider Logee’s, which sells tropical plants. If you know of a good independent garden center near your gardener’s home, a gift certificate is a great way to support a local business.

Give them your time: For many gardeners, especially after this long, lonely year, the promise of companionship might be the greatest joy. There’s nothing more companionable than working together in the garden, even six feet apart. Why not hand-write a simple gift certificate in a pretty card for a few hours of planting or weeding, come spring? Or offer to help with a bigger project, such as building a compost bin or hauling a load of compost or mulch? Or, if you have the knowledge, say you’ll help a new gardener make a plan to get started.

Share the hope: For many generous gardeners, the best gift might be a charitable gift in their names, especially to plant-related causes. You might donate to a local nonprofit that supports school gardens or community agriculture; a public conservatory, botanic garden, or group that helps maintain local parks; or an environmental or conservation organization. Many nonprofits are on thin ice because of the pandemic. Gifts made today can keep them going and sow hope for their future and the future of plants and gardening.