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Bottle terrarium

Avoiding Garden Gift Gimmicks!

Holiday catalogs are filled with gadgets for the person that has everything, and gardeners are no exception. As our inboxes and mailboxes fill with offers and catalogs promising the "perfect gift" that will make gardening quicker, easier, cost less, yield more, and are the key to a perfect garden, you might start to wonder what to believe.

There are a lot of gifts on the market that sound like a great idea, but to put it bluntly, they just don't work, or they work only under very specific circumstances. Windowsill herb gardens are a great example of a gift that 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 a lot more light than our windowsills will provide, no matter what time of year.  In addition, many of these kits provide pots that are way too small for growing herbs.  Most potted herbs need at least a 6 to 8 inch pot to grow and mature. Those of us lucky enough to have a greenhouse or well-lit sunroom and some adequately sized pots could potentially have success with these kits.

But also keep in mind that many of the herbs offered in gift sets as seeds are not typically grown from seed-- usually because the seed takes what seems like forever to germinate, or a low percentage of seeds will actually germinate. 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 don't mean to beat up on do-it-yourself herb garden gifts-- there are a lot of well-intentioned gardening gifts that fall into this category of not-likely-to-succeed without special interventions. Some other examples include growing bonsai trees from seed, growing fruit trees from seed, and growing landscape trees from seed. I know as a society many would argue we are lacking in our tolerance for delayed gratification, but some of the things I have seen packaged in pretty gift sets would take years to amount to anything, if you were able to get the seeds to germinate in the first place. Give your favorite gardener a gift certificate to a local garden center so they can buy a tree that is ready to plant-- many of the "tree from seed" gift sets I've seen cost as much or more than a small to average garden center tree.

There is no shortage of gardening gifts that lead you to believe you must have a special set of items to accomplish a particular gardening task. Terrarium and fairy garden kits immediately come to mind. Just about every holiday issue of gardening catalogs I've seen this year feature kits marketed for building your own terrarium or fairy garden. Many of them are quite pricey for a few simple components ($50+ ) and most don't even include plants!

Terrariums and fairy gardens are great projects in their own right, but you don't need special equipment. Honestly, I think both projects are more enjoyable when you use your imagination. If you are running low on imagination, just find a child and borrow some of theirs. Throw in some materials you have on hand or can buy inexpensively and you have a heartfelt gift or better yet-- spend time with your friend or loved one creating this garden project. Some of the most ingenious fairy gardens I've ever seen relied on found objects from junk drawers, recycle bins and thrift shops.

Any clear, colorless glass or plastic jar has potential to become a terrarium-- look critically at food containers when grocery shopping, and check out the kitchen or home goods aisle for attractive options without the markup that seems to happen as soon as you label a jar as a terrarium in the gardening department.

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 must-have.

If you do leap into the world of specialty garden items, it pays to do your homework. For example, many of the specialty tools on the market are sold at a wide range of prices. Usually lower price correlates with lower quality, but not always. Look for 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.


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