gardening

I love a good garden gift as much as any gardener out there.

My mailbox is stuffed to the gills on a daily basis with catalogs promising the perfect gift for the person that has everything — gardeners included.

If all the promises I've been reading in the catalogs are true, my garden should practically grow itself if I would just buy the right tools, plants and other supplies.

There are some things that I see sold as garden gifts that I wish would just go away because they don’t really work — at least not how the catalog would have you believe. Just because something is wrapped in burlap, comes in a Mason jar or has some other trendy packaging, it will not magically alter the results.

Windowsill herb gardens are a great example that gets me irritated every time I see them in a catalog. Sure, it sounds like a great choice for the gardener or cook on your gift list. They promise the flavor of fresh herbs at your fingertips in your kitchen window any time of year.

The reality is that most herbs need WAY more light than any windowsill provides, no matter what time of year. In just about every example I’ve seen, these kits provide pots that are way too small for growing herbs. Herbs in general need at least a 6 to 8-inch pot to grow and mature. If you are one of those lucky people with a greenhouse, a well-lit sunroom, or indoor plant lighting, you might be able to combine these kits with the right pots and have some success.

The plant nerd in me also gets irritated with the fact that many of the seeds in gift sets are not herbs typically grown from seed -- usually because the seed takes weeks to germinate if they germinate at all. Lavender, rosemary and thyme are three popular herbs that are in general not easy to grow from seed. It can be done, under the right conditions, but a few seeds on your kitchen windowsill are pretty much doomed from the start.

I’m not just irritated with do-it-yourself herb garden gifts -- there are a lot of “not-likely-to-succeed” gardening gifts out there. Some other examples I’ve seen include growing bonsai trees from seed, growing fruit trees from seed, and growing landscape trees from seed.

I realize our modern society has all but abandoned the notion of delayed gratification, but some of the things I have seen packaged in pretty gift sets would take years to amount to anything if they can be coaxed into growing at all.

Your money would be better spent on a gift certificate to a local garden center so your favorite gardener can buy a ready-to-plant tree. Some of the "tree from seed" gift sets I've seen cost as much or more than a small to average garden center tree.

Gardening sometimes reminds me of cooking. It seems like every time I turn around there is a new set of items deemed absolutely necessary for some aspect of gardening. Never mind if the world survived without it up until now.

Terrarium and fairy garden kits continue to blow my mind in this regard. I have seen sets that cost well over $50 and don’t include plants!

Part of the beauty of terrariums and fairy gardens is harnessing your imagination in bringing it to life — no special equipment needed. Sometimes adults tuck their creativity away and forget how to use it. I will always remember a "fairy garden terrarium" class I taught where we invited adults to bring a child along to build a terrarium together. A couple of the adults that came alone brought a trinket or two, and what they brought were mostly “official” fairy garden items they found at a garden center. The children brought bags of treasures — all sorts of random tiny cars, dolls, rocks, bits and baubles. They were bubbling over with excitement and were immersed in the experience. It didn’t matter one bit that they didn’t have special fairy garden things to work with.

The biggest expense for most terrariums, whether you buy a kit or not, is the container. You can spend a small fortune on an “official” terrarium. There are a lot of inexpensive terrarium options out there once you start looking. Any clear, colorless glass or plastic jar has potential to become a terrarium. Take a closer look at jars in the grocery aisle, or at canisters or vases in the housewares aisle. Thrift stores can be a treasure trove of inexpensive and unique terrarium options.

Specialty tools, planters and other gardening equipment can make good gifts, but just like kitchen gadgetry, consider how much you or the recipient will realistically use the item. Sometimes a well-made basic gardening tool or planter will be used and loved much more in the long run than the latest garden gadget.

Do your homework before purchasing expensive specialty garden tools. Look for companies that offer warranties and good customer service departments, especially with more expensive items.

The internet is a great source for finding reviews of items -- but don't just rely on the company that makes the item you have your eye on. Consider reviews on blogs and gardener forums to get independent, unedited reviews. Questioning gardeners you know can be valuable sources of information as well, especially if you are not a gardener yourself.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season with its pressure to find the "perfect" gift can suck gardeners in just as much as everyone else.

Taking a step back, doing some research and considering alternatives can help you find and create great gardening gifts.

Jennifer Schultz Nelson shares practical ideas and information to bring out the gardener in everyone in her blog at www.groundedandgrowing.co.

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