Toronto Star column – published December 20, 2014
Annual Gift List
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” ~Babatunde Olatunji, also attributed to Alice Morse Earle
Each year I publish my ‘gift list’ for the gardeners on your Christmas list and I receive a great response. In an effort not to let you down, here is the current edition.
Gardeners grow stuff. They read about it, they wallow in the dirt (in a good way), share their success stories, and they dream of a better garden no matter how successful they are currently. This list will provide some clues as to where the nuggets are.
A trip to your local hardware store or garden centre reveals a plethora of great gift ideas for Green thumbs. The hand tool section offers quality hand pruners, stainless steel weed diggers, and (my favourite) ‘scoops’ that move a large volume of soil without all of the effort of a small trowel.
The glove aisle reveals great improvements in glove design, especially for women. It is true that many female gardeners enjoy a manicure from time to time and as a result they like to protect their hands, fingers, and (most importantly) nails with gloves that feature reinforced finger tips, tough material on the palms and water resistance throughout. Non-gardeners are surprised at how much scratching we do in the soil, especially when digging holes for spring planting of bedding plants and small perennials. Soil is almost always wet and the scratching is necessary to get the hole ‘just right’ for planting. That is where the reinforced finger tips come in.
Speaking of pruners, look for a good gardening knife and sharpener. I have made it habit to carry a pocket knife on my belt every time I go out into the garden. It is amazing how often I use it to open bags, remove lower leaves from lettuce, chard and spinach plants, open seed packets and even to scrape dirt off of something important like my hand pruners (there they are again!). There is a new sharpener on the market that protects your knuckles on the downstroke AND provides an excellent edge to all cutting tools: a Mark’s Choice All-Purpose Too Sharpener for less than $20 you can’t go wrong. http://www.homehardware.ca/en/rec/index.htm/Tools/Hand-Tools/Carpenter/Finish-Sharpen/Sharpen-Stones-Guide/All-Purpose-Tool-Sharpener/_/N-2pqfZ67l/Ne-67n/Ntk-All_EN/R-I1074627?Ntt=1074-627
Wander into the seed section and look over the herb growing kits. These are easy to grow in any sunny window despite the low angle of our winter sun. You will also find ‘cat grass’ kits and seed packets there. Buy some for the cat loving gardeners on your list. It is SO easy to grow and every cat loves it.
Speaking of seeds, unless you know your gardening friends really well, it is best not to guess what vegetables or flowers they would like to grow next spring. Better to defer to a gift card and let them choose early in the New Year. Perusing the seed racks is a fun way for gardeners to waste some time mid winter. I know I’ll be there.
Closer to home there are wonderful publications available in hard copy and online. Canadian Gardening is the #1 publication of its kind and, chances are, a good gardener already has access to it. Visit http://www.canadiangardening.com/ where you can choose the gift subscription option.
Not as well known and newer on the block is Garden Making, a Canadian publication that won the prestigious Gold Award for Best Overall Magazine from the Garden Writers Association. This is big news in the gardening world, indeed. Garden Making had to compete with similar magazines from across the continent. Have a look and subscribe at www. http://gardenmaking.com/.
There is no better New Years reading than the Harrowsmith Almanac. It is a classic, filled with information that all of us really need: weather, folklore, country living tips for city people, gardening tips, and a couple of articles by yours truly. It is fun and packed with info. For only $5.95 you can’t go wrong. Available at Home Hardware and independent garden centres.
Speaking of reading, this year there is no shortage of great garden-related books. Look for:
Bees Make the Best Pets, ‘all the buzz about being resilient, collaborative, industrious, generous and sweet – straight from the hive’. Jack Mingo, Conari Press. Recently reviewed in this column (http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2014/11/21/the_sweet_music_and_savage_love_of_bees.html)
The Edible City, Toronto’s food from farm to fork, edited by Christina Palassio and Alana Wilcox. A compendium of essays focusing on the growing of food and the ‘food culture’ that surrounds it. Look for my favourite short essay by Lorraine Johnson, “Revisiting Victory: Gardens past, garden future”. She writes SO well and really knows her stuff. Coach House Books.
Therapeutic Landscapes, an evidence-based approach to designing healing gardens and restorative outdoor spaces. By Clare Cooper Marcus and Naomi A. Sachs. For people who are serious about the healing power of the gardening experience. Published by Wiley Press.
Taming Wildflowers, bringing the beauty and splendor of nature’s blooms into your own backyard. Hands-on experience for more than 25 years has taught author Miriam Goldberger a thing or two. All worth sharing in this great Canadian tome. Great pictures, too. St. Lynn’s Press.
Growing Urban Orchards, the ups, downs and how-tos of fruit tree care in the city. If you thought that a tree was just a tree, this book will expand your mind into the multi-functional and multi-dimensional category of fruiting trees. For shade, atmospheric cooling, community gathering, and of course for food. Susan Poizner knows of what she writes. A great Torontonian who deserves more attention for her work in this area. Published by Orchard People.
Here at the Toronto Star our own Sonia Day has been busy banging out edgy, colourfully written work (isn’t all of her work edgy and colourful?) and this year she did not disappoint. Look for Deer Eyes, Sonia’s first novel. A suspenseful tale about a deer hunter who meets a botanical artist from New York. Intriguing! In a way only Sonia can pull off. Self-published.
For Kids: What Pumpkins Dream. By Jeff Kendall and Clare Galloway. This book is about letting go, acceptance of our own place in the world and nourishment. It is fun and well illustrated. Self-published; ISBN #1499652704.
For reference: you cannot beat The Toronto Gardener’s Journal. This is a gardener’s calendar, reference to organisations of a ‘for profit’ and ‘not for profit’ nature, media outlets for gardening (including this column), a place for photos and a chart of relative frost dates. You can’t live without it. Produced year after year by Margaret Bennet-Alder. She does not disappoint. Available online or at Sheridan Nurseries. Go to www.torontogardenbook.com.
My most recent book is not about gardening. I have written 21 books now and this biography of Hugh Beaty’s life is a first. Title: Extra Ordinary. Hugh is a D-Day veteran, is 96 years old, lives in the same house that he was born in, and has lived a full and fascinating life. Twenty dollars will buy you this biography and all of the proceeds go directly to SHARE Agriculture Foundation (which he helped to start up 35 years ago). Go to www.shareagfoundation.org to order a copy. It is a quick, entertaining and informative read.
Merry Christmas and remember, blessed is the giver.