Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
In my opinion, if you have a gardener to shop for this holiday season, there are a lot of gift options out there. On the other hand, if you are a gardener, you may have a lot of gifts to offer and not even know it.
By now most every one of us has been affected by the horrible state of our economy. Garden related gifts may be a way for your gift recipient to save precious dollars during the year, or may be a way for you to stretch your gift-giving dollars.
Our office has received many calls requesting information on vegetable gardening. I know that the increasing cost of groceries is probably the major fuel behind this interest, but the idealistic side of me likes to think that more people are realizing that home grown produce often tastes a lot better than what you can buy at the store.
If you have some budding vegetable gardeners on your shopping list, University of Illinois publishes a handy reference called Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest. It covers everything from planning your garden to specific information on how to grow and harvest a wide variety of vegetables.
Vegetable and flower gardeners alike will benefit from a gift of a heat mat for seed starting. Many flower and vegetable seeds will germinate faster and more consistently with the addition of bottom heat. A heat mat used for seed starting costs around $30 and will pay for itself in a short time. Starting garden plants from seed is a very cost effective way to grow unique varieties for your garden.
If purchasing garden tools for your favorite gardener, keep quality in mind. With garden tools I have really found that the old adage "you get what you pay for" is very true. But keep in mind that a high price doesn't necessarily mean a quality product. Look for tools made with quality materials, and if they are repairable or not. A tool is not a bargain if it breaks in a year or two!
Tools with a lifetime guarantee are great, especially if the gift recipient or anyone in their household is hard on tools. I personally wish that more of my garden tools had a lifetime warranty. My husband has broken tools that I thought were impossible to break!
Another popular gift for your favorite gardener is a really good pair of gardening gloves. A good pair will cost around $20 or more. I have a hard time rationalizing this cost with my frugal tendencies, but I have gotten as far as trying on these more expensive gloves.
I have observed that more expensive gloves come in S-M-L sizes which to me seems to make them fit dramatically better than my typical $5 or less, one size fits all gloves. I have yet to actually purchase any, but I might actually wear gloves in the garden if I had some that actually fit! Maybe Santa will bring some for me this Christmas. We'll see.
If you yourself are a gardener, you may want to use your talents to create one-of-a-kind gifts this year which don't break the bank. Some of these suggestions may be too late for this holiday season, but you will have a head start for next year!
Everyone loves food during the holidays. Why not make some homemade goodies from your garden for those on your gift list? Salsas, jams and jellies are easily canned in a water bath canner and make lovely gifts. Tie a circle of Christmas fabric over the lid and people will think your name is Martha.
The idea of canning can intimidate people, but it is a great way to preserve the tasty fruits and vegetables grown in your home garden. University of Georgia publishes the "bible" of home food preservation, called So Easy to Preserve. Order a copy for you or your favorite gardener at: http://www.uga.edu/setp/.
Herbs from your home garden can be a welcome gift for the cooks on your gift list. Use dried herbs to create your own gourmet herb mixes. University of Illinois has tips about growing, harvesting and drying herbs at: http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/herbs/tips.html.
If you grow houseplants that produce lots of offshoots, like spider plants, or propagate easily, like Swedish ivy, consider potting up these plants in attractive pots and attach care instructions for a lovely living gift.
I'm sure most people have heard the idea of creating personal gift certificates for friends and loved ones, for everything from baby sitting to garage cleaning. But what about gardening help?
Friends and family new to gardening would love to have a gift certificate promising home grown seedlings, or better yet, a one-on-one lesson on seed starting. A new homeowner might like divisions of your favorite perennials this spring to start their own garden. How about a gift certificate for your garden tilling services once spring arrives?
You may have some gardeners on your gift list that find they aren't as young as they used to be, and the more strenuous parts of gardening may keep them from gardening. Giving a gift certificate for help in the garden this spring will help them keep their garden going strong.
Consider giving your favorite community-minded gardener the gift of Master Gardener training. The 2009 training begins on January 22, 2009, and meets weekly for 12 weeks. Classes are taught by University of Illinois instructors, introducing a wide range of horticultural topics. Trainees gain horticultural knowledge, and help University of Illinois Extension spread the Master Gardener educational mission of "helping others learn to grow".
Cost of the training is $150 and includes a two volume reference manual, all class handouts and refreshments. The first half of the training is taught in Springfield, the second half in Decatur. Scholarships and payment plans are available.
Trainees agree to give back 60 volunteer hours over a two year period participating in various community education projects, including answering homeowner questions. Call me at 877-6042 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.