Extension Educator, Horticulture
Gardening is America's number one hobby. So it's likely you have a gardener on your gift list. Realize of course not all gardeners get a twinkle in their eyes and heart palpitations over a truck load of manure, so you may not get off that easy.
Hand pruners - Every gardener from the dabbler to the determined needs a good set of hand pruners. These will last a lifetime, but have replaceable parts if necessary. The scissors type pruners also known as bypass pruners are recommended over the anvil type. Anvil pruners (those with a blade on one side and a flat surface on the other) tend to dull quickly and crush the stem. Include a holster for easy access and for those quick draws on unruly branches. Expect to pay $40 and up.
Trowel - A heavy duty trowel is a necessity. Look for trowels with bright red handles and finger grips. The most durable trowels as with all hand tools are made of one continuous piece of metal. I've had one of these for ten years now and other than misplacing it a few times, it is still as good as the first day I bought it. There are even specially designed hand tools for people with limited mobility or reduced hand strength. Prices start at $7.
Garden bench - Even though most of us never get the chance to actually sit in our garden it's nice to know we at least have the option. Make sure the teak is plantation-grown teak.
Garden gloves - Gloves that really fit. Women especially have trouble finding work gloves small enough to fit properly. I like a pair of leather gloves for moving rocks or bricks, spreading mulch, trimming raspberries, etc. and a pair of goat skin for lighter work such as transplanting perennials in the fall. The new rubberized work gloves are handy for transplanting during cold damp conditions. Or how about a pair of leather gloves with long gauntlets to protect forearms from ravenous rose branches.
Special plants - Bonsai is a fascinating hobby, but be sure to include a how-to book. Many orchids such as dendrobium are easy to grow.
Books are always a good choice to keep the gardener content during the winter.
The U of I Information Services office and Extension offices offer a great series of books written for our area: Ground Covers; Dwarf Shrubs; Large Flowering Shrubs and Small Flowering Trees for the Midwest. Prices range from $10 -$15. Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest is quite a bargain at $12. Gardening Guide for Central Illinois offers tips on when to do what with lawns, flowers, herbs, vegetables and trees and shrubs. It is available through the Champaign Extension office for only $5.
Software - Some great plant CDs include Michale Dirr's Woody Landscape Plants. It's a 4 CD set with over 7600 images of plants including their buds, flowers and leaves. Horticopia includes 2 CDs devoted to trees, shrubs, groundcovers and perennial and annual flowers. It includes lots of great detail on plants as well as their required soil conditions and growth rates. You can even generate lists of plants with particular bloom times or seasonal interests. In the more weird than wonderful category is a true desk top garden called a "see-d". It includes a CD box, alfalfa seeds and a fabric disc for sprouting the seeds.
A few more ideas include: a coupon good for 2 hours of weeding, planting or raking leaves, tool carrier, work apron, poo pets fertilizer "sculptures," bag of Zoo doo fertilizer, sun dial, bird bath, boot scraper, garden clogs, leaf shredders, compost turners, indoor mushroom farm and a partridge feeder in a Bartlett pear tree.