Gifts for the Gardener

By Neil Moran 

For the Bay Area gardener, it’s once again time to look forward to next year when we grow our best garden ever, right? To do so you need the right tools. I contacted a few gardening friends, including a couple of experts, to see what they would recommend giving the gardener on your Christmas list. What I got were suggestions for the practical, necessary and whimsical. Perhaps these ideas will help with your Christmas shopping this year.

          One practical idea came from George Africa, owner of the Vermont Flower Farm in Marshfield, Vermont. It’s possible that George’s knees are getting a little weak because he recommended a garden kneeler that makes it easier to get down—and up—from the garden. I thought this was a good idea for anyone in need of a little physical assistance in the garden. In addition to arms that help you kneel onto a built-in cushion, it also can be flipped over and made into a chair. The chair platform is adjustable so you can set it to the desired height.

           Sheila Bergdoll Stevenson, a Midwest gardener, is just looking to replace her old garden tools. Sounds simple enough. However, before you buy the traditional garden tools, check out some really nifty innovations to the standard garden tool that will help save you a lot of backbreaking work.

          For instance, a shovel isn’t just a shovel these days. There is the “Super Shovel,” from Gardeners Supply, that has some menacing looking teeth at the end of the shovel for penetrating stubborn soils. Then there’s the latest in hoes, like the stirrup hoe. A regular hoe does a good job of moving and smoothing soil, but it doesn’t cut through weeds so well, leaving the upper arms aching. The stirrup hoe slices through the weeds, leaving the soil in place. This adds up to less work for you.

Another dilemma is whether to buy a garden tool with a wood or fiberglass handle.  It is kind of like the proverbial “paper or plastic?” question at the supermarket. The answer, in terms of which is better, may be just as elusive. I’ve had experience with both types of handles over a number of years and can tell you it’s a coin toss. Fiberglass is a good choice because it won’t wear out quite like wood and you can leave it out in the rain without feeling guilty. However, it can break off where the handle joins the tool, relegating it to the dumpster. If a wooden handle breaks there is the possibility of fixing it.

A garden gift I recently received is more on the whimsical side–garden chimes. The first sound of the chimes in the spring brings back a summer of memories. Not just any chimes will do, however. The frequent gusts of wind around our region can bust a cheap set of chimes pretty easily. The chimes that dangle from a circular piece of wood sound nice, but I’ve had a couple of these break in the wind. I am now using aluminum chimes that are a little on the pricey side, but so far are holding up pretty well.

          Here’s a recommendation from Kathy Purdy, who lives in upstate New York and is author of the popular blog, “Cold Climate Gardening.” She says you can’t beat the Cobrahead weeder for “down in the dirt” type gardening or the custom-made and more versatile Hoe-dag, a tool for planting, tilling and weeding.

          Cindy Severance, who lives in upper Michigan, wants one of those fancy compost tumblers to turn her organic matter into a rich garden amendment. I’ve put a lot of thought into this and recommend the following. First, make sure the composter is large enough for the amount of organic matter you intend to use. Second, make sure it is critter-proof. These days I’m leaning toward the round tumblers that you can rotate with the handle attached to the side.

          Julie Hagstrom, of Okemos, Michigan, had a long list of garden items for Santa, including good leather-palmed gloves, garden clogs or shoes (washable), rain gauge, gazing globe (remember those?), work apron with pockets for tools and a tote for hand tools.  Finally, here is what Janet Moran Stack, an art teacher in Livonia, Michigan, has on her Christmas gift list: a new watering can. Here again, it sounds simple enough. However, some of the cheap ones really aren’t worth the plastic they’re made from. Quite often the seams split or the spout breaks off. The Dramm line of watering cans is arguably the best on the market.

Here is what I’m asking Santa for: new garden knee pads. Knee pads have really taken some of the agony out of the tedious job of weeding for this baby boomer. Neil is the author of the money-saving garden tips booklet, Store to Garden: 101 Ways to Make the Most of Garden Store Purchases. It can be purchased at, or from the author via 

Sites to help with your Christmas shopping:


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