It’s just weeks until gifting season, and this year I’m writing my annual gift column in the hope of offering some inspiration as you try to find the right gift for your favorite gardener. I really enjoy this time of the year because it gives me a chance to show my thoughtfulness and creativity. Nonetheless, giving a gardening gift can be quite a challenge if you don’t know the intended’s needs, likes and interests. If you happened to know they need a pruner then it’s simple (or not), you get them a Felco. If they’re a newbie there are plenty of books and tomes for beginners or gardeners that have particular interests such as hostas, peonies or Japanese maples.But what if your John or Jane just likes plants and gets giddy as the new plant catalogs arrive every winter and the boxes arrive in May? It’s risky buying them plants since you don’t know what they have, what’s on their wish list or what’s going to be new for next year. And that’s where the handy dandy gift certificate comes in. You still have to do your homework to find the right nursery to get one from, and to do that you need to do some detective work. What nursery do you buy from? What nursery will have the right plants? And what nurseries are known to have great reputations and offer outstanding plants and shipping? Yes, shipping! There’s nothing like giving a gift certificate to a nursery that has a shady reputation and a known track record of poor shipping practices and high rates of DOAs. So here are my tips and suggestions:
If you’re lazy and have money to burn there’s that safe bet, the White Flower Farm. Just go to www.whiteflowerfarm.com and right smack in the center at the top of the page you’ll see a “gift certificate” button. Starting at $25 and in increments of $25, they make it simple and easy (plus a 10-percent discount on certificates over $50). Fifty bucks will get your John or Jane two or three perennials, a small shrub or maybe a tool or some bulbs. There are hundreds of choices and a few will be WFF exclusives. John or Jane will also get a catalog and will be able to read the musings of the venerable but nonexistent horticulturist Amos Pettingill. The plants aren’t the biggest, the value isn’t the greatest, but you can’t go wrong.
One of my all-time favorites and top-rated nurseries is Klehm’s Song Sparrow (www.songsparrow.com). A family operation that’s been going for several generations, they offer a good range of perennials, shrubs and trees. They have an incredible offering of magnolias and they’ve been the source of my growing magnolia collection. You’ll see their gift certificate offer on the left of their home page, and here too you can get 10 percent off on $50 or more. I consider Klehm’s to be a premium nursery, and their plant material tends to be larger than you’ll get from other nurseries, while their shipping is second to none. I’ve never had a damaged or dead plant arrive and the one time one of my shrubs ended up in Denver by mistake they shipped me a replacement the next day.
If your John or Jane is a plant person extraordinaire then you may want to consider Plant Delights Nursery (www.plantdelights.com), with the gift certificate also on the left of their home page. Their spring catalog contains some of the more unusual perennials (hardy and tender) as well as incredible plant information and tips, and if your Jane or John is interested in a hardy orchid collection (they are expensive and challenging) then this is the gift certificate they’ll want. This is another nursery that’s on the pricey side, but with offerings that you can’t find elsewhere. Shipping can be an issue and I’ve had some losses, and since they are in North Carolina tell your giftee to place orders early.
For beginners or gardeners with simple taste there’s Bluestone Perennials (www.bluestoneperennials.com). Type “gift certificate” in their search window and you’ll get to their ordering page and, yes, another 10 percent discount. I’ve been buying from Bluestone for close to 40 years and while their varietal selections can be limited, the quality of their plants, the size of the plants shipped and their shipping in general gets them lots and lots of (green) thumbs up. This is the first nursery I go to when I need lots of one variety. The sizes might be smaller than what you can get at local garden centers, but after a season in the garden there’s no difference other than having paid half the price.
If you know that John or Jane is into peonies or might like to start a collection, then Peony’s Envy is the place for a gift certificate. Go to their website at www.peonysenvy.com and click on the “shop our catalog” on the left. On the next page click the third from the left picture and you’re there. Certificates start at $26. An odd amount? No, because $26 is their price for a single root. Their selection is huge, their website great and they’re close by in New Jersey, so shipping is quick. They also have the only variety of peonies that grow in the shade (in the woods) and naturalize.
Now if it’s hardy lilies as in Asiatic, Oriental or Orienpet and others, then B&D Lilies is the place to go. Other mail order nurseries offer some lilies but B&D offers the widest selection of top-quality bulbs that they ship both spring and fall (I suggest fall planting over spring). Go to www.bdlillies.com and type “gift” in the search box to get to their gift certificate page. Gift certificates start at $35 and their catalog arrives in late winter and again in the summer. They’re out in Washington State but they ship priority mail and it’s never been an issue for me.
For the gardener interested in trees and shrubs there’s the Forest Farm Nursery out in Oregon. I don’t know of any other retail nursery that offers the number of varieties that they have in the area of trees and shrubs, and this gives any gardener the opportunity to start a collection or their own nursery with incredible diversity and variety. Plant material shipped isn’t huge but in the”‘starter” category, which in some cases is better than larger plants. Go to their home page at www.forestfarm.com and you’ll see the gift certificate on the bottom left side of the page.
And last, but by no means least, is the Lazy S’S Nursery. You can find them at www.lazyssfarm.com, and you’ll need to search around to find their gift certificate page but it’s there. The website is not the most user friendly but they more than make up for it with their listings of close to 2,000 perennials. This place has what I think is the largest listing of perennials in the U.S. I’ve found countless plants here that no one else offers and that’s nothing less than a gold mine for perennial addicts. Everything is online, though, and there’s no printed catalog, so let John and Jane know they need to spend their gift online and that it can take a day or more to peruse their offerings. It’s a wonderful thing to do on a cold winter day and any plant addict will remember you for it.
For vegetable seeds there’s Renee’s Garden Seeds at www.reneesgarden.com. High Country Gardens (www.highcountrygardens.com) out in New Mexico has interesting plant material, and for gardeners who might want to experiment, their Xeric collections have the potential to do really well out here. Lots of possibilities with the choices I’ve noted. You still have to decide which is the most appropriate (or give several), and of course, keep growing.