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December 8, 2005

Dirt heading

'Tis the season

by AMY STEWART


I was dashing through the mall the other day, completely distracted, oblivious to my surroundings, as I looked for some little gadget I needed in order to keep my life humming along. I don't even remember what it was now -- a phone cord, a coffee pot -- something essential and unexciting.

It took a while, but eventually this piece of information got through to me: It's Christmas. There were carols playing, and glittery plastic snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. Oh yeah, I thought. There's stuff to buy. Merry to make. Nog to drink.

And as always, there's my annual plea (or is it a perennial plea?) to give small, useful, inexpensive, and -- best of all -- living, breathing gifts this holiday season. I also want to extend a helping hand to those of you who are shopping for gardeners. You might think that we are very picky about our gardening implements, or that we probably have everything we need, but you would be wrong. This time of year, gardeners are feeling a little deprived. We're itching to get out and do something in the garden. Give us a little packet of seeds or a couple of bulbs and we'll sit there on Christmas morning (or whatever your designated gift-giving holiday may be), oblivious to the mounds of wrapping paper and the unopened gifts around us, fingering those seeds, humming a little to ourselves, scheming about the next opportunity to get outdoors and get something in the ground. Oh, the garden, we're thinking. It's time to get back to that. Thanks for reminding us.

Gardening gloves: I know I've been ranting about gloves a lot lately, but judging from the mail I've been getting, I'm not alone in my quest for a pair of gloves that fits and that doesn't fall apart. I know that buying gloves for someone else seems like a dicey proposition, but there's something very warm and intimate in the idea that someone cared enough about the well-being of my frostbitten, mud-soaked, thorn-scratched hands to want to protect them. Garden gloves don't come in a wide range of sizes -- that's part of the problem -- so you've only got to get in the ballpark in terms of size.

Garden gift shops and nurseries carry Foxgloves, which are lovely little close-fitting fabric gloves in very hip colors. They're nice for someone who just wants to keep the dirt off their hands but isn't going to be out tearing the garden apart for days on end. I've become a recent convert to Atlas coated gloves. They come in a variety of thicknesses, arm lengths and coatings to keep water and even thorns out. They even make a "pond" glove for taking care of water features or wet areas.

Gloves range in price from $5 to $20; there are pricier options, but I have yet to see them last any longer than the cheap ones. If you're not sure what to get, they're inexpensive enough that you can probably buy a few pair.

Seeds, Bulbs, Plants: You can't go wrong here. Really, don't worry about buying a gardener the wrong plant. He or she will find a place for it, no matter what it is. Most nurseries carry three or four interesting lines of seeds. You can get 10 packets for about $25; pick an assortment of whatever herbs, flowers or vegetables most remind you of the person or their garden. Or if you know someone who has a passion for a particular plant, find as many seed varieties as you can. For instance, sweet peas, poppies, sunflowers, tomatoes and basil all come in such a wide range of verities that you could probably put together a dozen of each.

It's not too late to find spring-blooming bulbs on sale, either. Tulips, hyacinths, and paperwhite narcissus can all be forced indoors, and you can pair the bulbs with a pot or a vase. Amaryllis bulbs are an extravagance that gardeners might not allow themselves -- you'd be amazed at how luxurious it feels to own one $10 bulb.

Plants are a great idea too -- try a potted lavender, an orchid or a winter-blooming heather. And if you happen to know that the gardener in your life is passionate about fruit trees, berry vines or roses, it's bareroot season. (A bareroot plant, for the uninitiated, is a dormant bunch of roots that isn't even sold in a pot. You just fish around in a sort of raised bed of damp, mossy, dirty stuff and pull out one that looks good.) Keep the roots damp and wrapped in earth and newspaper until it's time to plant them; if you can figure out how to pull that off and still make it look good under the tree, extra points for you.

Make it personal: My latest, grandest idea for gardeners is to show off their garden for the work of art it is by making something for them at a place like www.cafepress.com. Just click on "make your own stuff" and get to work. All you need is a photograph (or a drawing, or a painting, or a slogan) in one of the many computer file formats they accept, and you can upload an image and have it printed on a T-shirt, a calendar, a mug, or almost any kind of merchandise you can think of. And if you're feeling very entrepreneurial, you can even list your stuff for sale on CafePress's website and make a buck or two every time somebody places an order. Shutterfly.com offers a similar service; if you have a lot of photographs of the garden in its summer glory, consider putting them all together in a hardcover, coffee-table size book for around thirty bucks. Gardens, after all, are ephemeral things, glorious one day and faded the next. Keeping them alive through winter, if only in memory, might be the best thing you can do for a gardener.

Send garden news to amystewart@northcoastjournal.com, or write in care of the Journal at 145 G St., Suite A, Arcata, 95521.


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