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In the Garden

All I want for Christmas is ... manure!



IT SEEMS LIKE EVERY HOLIDAY SEASON, AT LEAST ONE PERSON makes this boast to me: "Oh, I'm so hard to buy for. People never know what to get me." I offer a grim little smile and a nod, as if I can sympathize with their affliction.

But the truth is, I can't understand it. I'm a gardener, and like most gardeners, I want everything. Tools, bulbs, seeds, plants, dirt. No one who knows me could claim that it is difficult to buy a present for me. Just last week, I was driving through a Sacramento neighborhood on the day they collect green waste. Piles of dried leaves sat on the sidewalk, and as I drove by, I said to my husband, "How can people throw these great dried leaves away? Don't they have compost piles? We could pull over here and fill the trunk with leaves and -- "

Here Scott interrupted me. "We are not taking their trash home with us. No."

I had heard that "no" before. I knew he meant what he said. I drove along in silence for a minute and then said, "Well, honey, if you're wondering what to give me for Christmas"

"You'd like a bag of dead leaves?" he asked.

"Actually, yes, I would. I'd love it."

He thought I was joking, but the fact is, I'd like nothing better than a big pile of rotting leaves or manure on Christmas morning. Imagine how I could top-dress the shrubs! Just think what the vegetable beds would look like by spring!

That's not to say that I love everything garden-related. Lots of us gardeners resent the growing commercialism of the gardening industry, and we turn our dirt-smudged noses up at the seasonal offering of gardening gifts: flowery T-shirts, little plaques with gardening rhymes printed on them, and tiny silver spade and wheelbarrow earrings. Photo of bulbsTruth be told, rotting compost, bat guano, and shredded bark are among our most coveted treasures. However, a truckload of manure is impossible to wrap; and even those who love us the most are often too squeamish to drive a box of earthworms across town for the annual exchange of goods.

So in the spirit of generosity and goodwill, I have put together a list of more appealing gift ideas, all available from local nurseries and garden gift shops. Post this list in a prominent place, and your friends and family will breathe a sigh of relief that they don't have to trudge all over town looking for agricultural lime or liquid fish emulsion.

BULBS: Last Christmas, I wandered into Garden Gate in Arcata with a forlorn look on my face. Kate, the owner, walked right up and said, "Amy, what's wrong?"

"I don't have anything for my mom," I wailed. "She has everything."

"Here, get her one of these," Kate said, and put a wooden box in my hand. The box, which had been assembled by the folks at Fickle Hill Old Rose Nursery, contained over a dozen spring bulbs, enough soil to plant them in, and grass seed to make the rustic planter look even more natural.

A woman standing next to me said, "I should get one of those for my grandmother!"

"That's perfect!" I said. "I'll get one for my grandmother, too!" At $25 each, I bought several. It's a great gift for patio and outdoor gardeners alike, and one you can give year after year -- trust me, there is no such thing as too many bulbs. If you want to put together a more personal selection of bulbs, all the nurseries and garden shops have a variety of spring-blooming bulbs and kits right now.

GLOVES: Gloves last me one season, maybe two, in part because I tend to gouge them with pruning shears, thorny blackberry vines, and other hazards of the outdoors. I like the new close-fitting Foxgloves that Sun, Rain, Time in Eureka carries -- they look like vintage dress gloves, they come in a variety of hip colors like periwinkle and fuchsia, and they're machine washable. If you are buying gloves for a pair of hands that you also have to live with, you know that the hands of a gardener are often not a pretty sight. Consider adding a nail brush and a jar of hand salve to the gift.

A REALLY BIG BALL OF TWINE: I go through a small spool of garden twine every summer. It's useful for building bamboo trellises, staking flowers and other small jobs. Imagine my excitement when I found an enormous spool of twine -- surely a lifetime supply -- at Restoration Hardware for $79. I don't know how many feet of twine are on the spool, but this thing would serve as a doorstop or a stepping-stool for many years, until the gradual unspooling of twine diminished its gravitas.

SUPPORT A GOOD CAUSE: The Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation has a variety of gift ideas, from note card sets to pavers, to the special gifts that go along with different levels of membership. Call 442-5139 to find out more.

CHIPPER/SHREDDER: Several people wrote and asked me where they could get one of those swell electric chipper/shredders I wrote about a few weeks back. Visit or call 800-521-8559 to order one, and rediscover the joy of staying up all night on Christmas Eve to assemble a new toy.

EARTHWORMS: You knew I wouldn't be able to resist. Come on, make it a Christmas to remember and put a pound of worms under the tree! Don't worry, they come in a box and they rarely escape. These worms won't live in the dirt, but they do thrive in a compost pile or worm bin. Call Gess Environmental at 840-9676 to purchase worms and bins.

ABOUT THAT DIRT: I'm not kidding about the truckload of compost. Local nurseries sell the stuff in bulk; the nice folks at Foxfarm (826-1991) will also load up your truck with a couple cubic yards of their premium soil amendment.

A FINAL NOTE TO GARDENERS: With so many ideas to choose from, I recommend that you circle/highlight/clip/make notes and leave this list lying casually around the house. Best of luck, and by the way you can take those little silver wheelbarrow earrings back and buy enough chicken manure to fill your whole car. Go ahead, I won't tell.

E-mail garden-related announcements, gossip, rumors and innuendo to Amy Stewart.


 December Checklist

  • LOOK for bareroot berries, asparagus and artichokes in nurseries now.
  • PLANT broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprout seedlings.
  • Sow seeds of sweet peas or edible peas for early spring harvests.
  • PRUNE roses and other summer-flowering perennials.
  • PROTECT tender perennials from frost by covering plants with a clear plastic tarp or polyspun row cover, available at nurseries. Try to keep the tarp from touching the plant to prevent leaves from freezing to it.


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