Gardening: Giving Earthly Delights

Pretty blooms, tasty vegetables, and other gifts from the garden take hard work to produce. Harvesting holiday gifts for the gardener is easier. From heirloom seed packets to spiky sandals that aerate the lawn, a range of products is available to please novice and master gardeners alike.

"The best gifts for gardeners are ones that make their lives simpler," says Douglas Welsh, extension horticulturist at Texas A&M University in College Station, Tex. For example, portable greenhouses "save gardeners the hassle of hauling everything in for the winter," he says. Listed in the Langenbach catalog as foldaway cold frames ($46), these polycarbonate structures snap together to shelter outdoor plants, keeping them warm during cold weather. For plants that gardeners want to move around, Gardener's Supply has new, lightweight pots made of foam resin ($34.95 to $49.95). They look like traditional terra-cotta or sandstone containers but are 90% lighter. "Sure spares the back," says Welsh.

Sparing the back, not to mention the neck, arms, and fingers, are ergonomic tools. Pruning, hoeing, raking, weeding, and other tasks put individuals at risk for developing repetitive strain injuries. Indeed, The Physician and Sportsmedicine magazine ranked gardening as one of the top 10 ways to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve disorder characterized by pain, numbness, and tingling in the wrist and forearm.

Ergonomic tools minimize stress on muscles and joints and may help prevent this condition. "They have larger handles with padded, no-slip grips and are angled so they don't force your body into awkward positions," says Bonnie Appleton, a nursery specialist at Virginia Tech's Hampton Roads Agricultural Research & Extension Center in Virginia Beach, Va. The One to Grow On and Walt Nicke catalogs have wide selections of ergonomic tools. Prices range from $12.95 for a pistol-grip trowel to $58.95 for rotating-handle pruning shears.

For the environmentally responsible gardener, bugs make a great gift. Ladybugs and green lacewings gobble up garden pests, including aphids, whiteflies, and thrips. Gardens Alive! breeds and sells bugs that have voracious appetites and, unlike chemical pesticides, do not produce toxic runoff. Packages cost $13.99 and contain enough insects to patrol a 1,000-square-foot area.

Gardens Alive! also sells an all-natural fertilizer made from a byproduct of corn syrup production that, in addition to nourishing plants, kills subterranean weed seedlings before they have a chance to stick their unsightly heads above ground. A 25-pound bag goes for $26.99. To help with such soil treatments, give $14 aerator sandals from Smith & Hawken. Their spiked soles poke holes in lawns to provide ventilation and facilitate the absorption of water and fertilizer.

Gardeners also appreciate gifts that will lower water bills. Battery- or solar-powered moisture meters that plug into the soil indicate precisely when to start and stop watering. Found in catalogs and home-and-garden retail outlets such as Home Depot and Builders Square, they cost $40 to $75.

SUPER STRAINS. Good stocking stuffers include plant oil repellents that protect against poison ivy, oak, and sumac. A.M. Leonard offers Tec-Lab's Poison Armor "pre-exposure" lotions ($5.32). Gardeners are always delighted to get seed packets, especially of varieties that have been passed down through generations, because they produce fruits, vegetables, and flowers of superior beauty and taste. Johnny's Selected Seeds and Shepherd's Garden Seeds are good sources.

Seeds that grow vegetables with extra vitamins are another option. Park Seed and W. Atlee Burpee sell supernutritious veggies, including Ingot and Beta Champ carrots, that have up to twice as much beta carotene as regular strains. Also look for Caro-Rich and Double Rich tomatoes, which have elevated levels of vitamins A and C. Not exactly sugarplums, but what better way to wish your favorite horticulturist a happy and healthy New Year?

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