December 14, 2006
story and photos by AMY STEWART
A couple days ago, my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. "You know what I want for Christmas," I said.
"No, I don't," he said. "I have no idea."
"Just last night," I said, "I was sitting up in bed reading the Vosges Chocolates catalog and I said that I wanted a box of absinthe truffles. But you just rolled your eyes, and now, only 12 hours later, you've already forgotten all about it."
It was true. I sincerely wanted some of those truffles. (They don't really contain absinthe, by the way. If they did, they'd be so boozy they'd be a fire hazard. What they do contain are some of the botanical flavors of absinthe -- anise, fennel and so on.) It wasn't a mixed message. It was a fairly uncomplicated statement, really. So what is so hard about gift-giving?
The point is that no one is really all that hard to buy for. We all know what we want, but what we want is often so silly and impractical that no one seriously considers buying it for us. This is especially true for gardeners, whose fondest holiday dreams usually revolve around a truckload of horse manure or some other hard-to-wrap gift.
So here, once again, I offer up my garden gift guide, with the hopes that you'll be able to find something for that special someone with dirt under her fingernails. This stuff is all available in garden centers around town -- the perfect excuse to shop local.
Tayberries. You heard me -- tayberries. They're a blackberry/raspberry cross, quite a bit larger than the typical blackberry, and they're black with a red flush. The flavor is just astonishing -- they're not as sugary-sweet as some berries, but they have a complex, almost floral flavor that will have you standing out in the backyard, picking them off the vine, and wondering just what magical combination of sun and soil could produce such an elegant little symphony of tastes.
Tayberries are available at nurseries now as bareroot stock, which means that the gift you'll be giving is a gnarled old thorny bit of vine with roots attached. Keep the roots packed in damp soil; they hate to be exposed to air or light. The time to plant them is now, and you'll be enjoying your first crop by August. If the lucky recipient has never grown berries before, consider throwing in a copy of The Backyard Berry Book by Stella Otto.
Left: Tayberry starts.
Really fabulous pots. This one's easy. You can't go wrong with a big, beautiful flower pot. Every gardener wants one, even (especially) the gardeners who never buy them. It's a luxury to have a stunning pot to set out in the garden or on the patio. And here's a hint: Blue goes with everything.
Channel your inner Martha. So there I was, dipping into the bulk organic fertilizer bins at Mad River, when I thought -- hey! Here's a craft project! Remember those sand paintings in jars we used to have to make in school? Turns out that organic fertilizers come in a rainbow of fabulous earthy colors. Consider the possibilities of greensand, kelp meal, bat guano, bone meal. Just layer them into a jar, tie a ribbon around it, and you're good to go. Sure, you may not know the exact nutritional needs of your loved one's soil, but these ingredients are mild and good for the garden. Just scatter them around lightly and rake them in. They'll provide a good boost to plant roots.
Magic Potions. I am totally intrigued by Pharm Solutions' line of organic pesticides, fungicides and foliar feeders. I'll confess that I am easily swayed by clever packaging, and these jewel-colored bottles with happy names like "Flower Pharm" are irresistible to me. You can get one to treat roses, another to treat vegetables and another for indoor plants. There's something for everybody here. Even if you don't know exactly what kinds of problems your beloved gardener may be battling in his or her garden, these colorful, organic products would be fun to play around with.
Right: Pharm solutions organic products
Give a little. Consider a horticulturally-minded charitable gift. The Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation is hard at work on its new garden; they offer naming opportunities, engraved pavers that will go in the garden and other ways to donate. Food for People can use your donation to help supply fresh, local produce to families in need. And on a global level, Heifer International (www.heifer.org) allows you to fund the gift of a cow, a flock of chickens or even a hive of honeybees to an impoverished family in one of 51 countries around the world.
A truckload of dirt. I'm not kidding about this. There's not a gardener alive who wouldn't love a big ol' smelly truckload of manure or compost dropped in the driveway this time of year. Go ahead -- try it. I guarantee it'll be the best gift you ever gave.
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