Holiday Gifts For The Gardener

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It’s time to do some serious thinking about what you’re going to get your favorite gardeners or gardener wannabe for the holidays, and this week’s column, and next week’s too, will offer a start.The choices are nearly endless and limited only by your creativity, insightfulness and your willingness to do some leg or keyboard work. I love the challenge of giving the perfect gift, and let’s hope the recipient is appreciative of your efforts. But keep in mind that sometimes the simplest gift like a plant or some seed packets can be just what Santa ordered.

If your intended has a penchant for fungi of the mushroom form, how about a mushroom kit? These kits have been around for years, but they’ve matured and many require only the skills of reading and adding water. Of course, a bit of patience is handy as well, but these kits are pretty cool for nearly instant gratification.

The kits come in several forms; the simplest are pre-planted or inoculated and all you need to do is add moisture to get the process going. In some cases you (or your intended) can have a crop in just three to four weeks, and some kits will continue to produce for several months, providing several pounds of ‘shrooms.

Yes, they may be cheaper at the supermarket, but there’s nothing like growing your own. Best of all, this is an indoor gardening project where there’s no need for a sunny window or a greenhouse, and most of our home temperatures are just perfect for mushroom culture. In fact, most of these mushrooms prefer the cooler months of late fall through early spring for indoor culture.

Ready-to-grow kits from suppliers like Mushroom Adventures (www.mushroomadventures.com) take up as little space as a square foot or less, cost under $30 and are virtually foolproof as long as you follow the simple instructions. Among the varieties you can grow are crimini/baby bella, elm oyster, white button, portabella, shitake—and you may find more.

And don’t limit this as a gift for adults. Even if kids don’t eat mushrooms, they may find the growing process pretty fascinating, and who knows, they may even be tempted to have a taste. Remind them, though, that they should never eat wild mushrooms, and take the time to explain why.

You can find plenty of vendors selling kits online, but I noticed that some are already sold out for holiday shipping, so if you think this is a gift that might work now’s the time to order. Most kits will “hold” for a couple of weeks once you receive them, so keep that in mind also.

More than once I’ve recommended an amaryllis bulb as a gift. In fact, why quit at one; how about several? One problem though is that I’ve never been sure that these bulbs were available for holiday buying or shipping, so this year I inquired at several garden centers and the White Flower Farm (www.whiteflowerfarm.com)—and I got great news. Several local garden centers told me that if they don’t have the bulbs on display they can often order them, and WFF tells me that while the more popular varieties do sell out they always have a number of varieties ready for shipping right up to their last holiday shipping date.

My thinking is that the bulbs should be given in the raw, that is, unpotted. You may want to box the bulb(s), but let the giftee take care of the pot and the soil or give those as stocking stuffers. On the other hand, if your intended is horticulturally challenged, maybe a pre-potted bulb that just needs to be watered might be a better idea.

And then there are the orchids.These go fast, and sometimes the growers and local nurseries get wiped out at Thanksgiving, but it can’t hurt to ask and shop around. Buy from a local garden center, as they tend to buy their orchids from local and regional growers, unlike the big box stores that get theirs from growers down South and even from Canada. Try to get plants that have a number of unopened buds but at least a couple of buds that show what the flowers will be like. If you can keep the plants in a cool, bright room before you gift them they will retain their flowers and buds for several weeks.

Most of the orchids you’ll find are the moth orchids or phalaenopsis, and you can expect to pay from $20 to more than $80 for a larger plant. There are also vandas, cymbidiums, oncidiums and dendrobiums, but do a little bit of reading or ask about them at the shop so you’re getting a plant suited to the giftee’s abilities. The weather can be a wee bit temperamental in December, so if you’re enticed to buy an orchid plant from an online retailer do it with great caution. This is one gift that you should really shop for locally.

I was also thinking that a bonsai plant could make a nice holiday gift, and again some local garden centers keep a few in stock or can order them. Keep in mind though that there are tropical bonsai plants that are grown indoors and can be brought outdoors in the summer, and there are hardy bonsai plants that have to live outdoors year-round since they need cold dormant periods. One company is offering both types by mail and this gave me some pause. The company is the largest seller of bonsai in the U.S., but I don’t think I’m going to be ordering any cold-hardy bonsai plants from this company, whose headquarters and nursery is in … Mississippi?

Another possibility are some dwarf conifers. One Southampton garden center has had a collection of these plants in pots for several years at the holidays. These could make great gifts as a collection, especially if you know someone who might use them in a garden or their landscape. For $20 and up you could give a selection of five different dwarf conifers for about a hundred bucks. Just remember to keep these outdoors and bring them in only on giving day.

There will be more ideas for giving next week. And in the meantime … keep growing.

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