Toronto Star column – published December 14, 2013
As the gardening population continues to grow in this country I find it very interesting (and comforting) that they are getting younger. It is not just that ‘gardening is good for you’ and therefore gardeners age more slowly than, say, mountain climbers or skydivers [ask your insurance agent if you don’t believe me] but the average age is coming down due to an influx of young people. Like knitting, if you want advice on how to start gardening, you might be smart to turn to one of the young converts in your circle of friends.
Which is to say, based strictly on my anecdotal, thumb nail estimation of the situation, 20- and 30-somethings are getting into gardening in record numbers. Just have a look over the fence of any community garden or allotment and you will see them there, hanging out with their kids, some literally hanging on to a modern day papoose or ‘snuggly’, firmly strapped onto their parents’ back.
As you contemplate what you are going to buy for the gardeners on your list I ask you to ask yourself the more pertinent question, “What IS a gardener.” The answer is not the person in baggy overalls, dirty knee patches, leaning on a shovel with a home grown chicken under her arm. Well, maybe the part about the chicken fits the modern day image of a gardener.
To truly understand what a gardener is in the year 2013 [almost ‘14], read on.
A gardener is best defined by their ancillary interests. A gardener is, for example:
A Walker and a Hiker
Gardeners enjoy the activity of gardening: bending, stretching, observing, and, of course, walking. By extension, they also love to hike and walk elsewhere, especially in parks and other public green spaces. Buy them a pair of walking sticks, quality binoculars for looking at birds and trees at a distance, warm ‘wicking’ socks [that pull moisture away from the foot], flexible gloves, a small pocket-sized digital camera, a hat, sunscreen [stocking stuffer!], and speaking of consumables you can’t go wrong with bug spray.
Maybe your gardener does not leave the house. Maybe they are one of the aforementioned hikers and walkers. Regardless, they are ALL birders. Not all birders are gardeners though. Gardeners not only LOVE birds, they go out of their way to attract them. They plant flowers and shrubs for birds that feed on their nectar, nest in their branches, and munch on their fruit.
Buy the birders on your list quality bird food [without cracked corn and millet in it that most birds push out of the feeder anyway], a seed feeder, hummingbird feeder, blue bird house [which will attract song sparrows and swallows almost for certain], a bag of bird peanuts [which are distinctly different from human peanuts as they are salt free –never feed birds salt], binoculars [another pair – you can’t have too many], a folding stool for sitting in the garden to observe birds, bird books/videos/magazines, or a bird calendar.
Go to a good hardware store, a birding retailer or full service garden centre for [almost] endless ideas.
A Star Gazer
Well, maybe not ALL gardeners like to look at the night sky. But a good many of them do. Our fascination with natural light, cloud formations, and weather generally does not end when the sun goes down. A telescope, constellation guide books and videos would all be a big hit. How about a subscription to the Toronto Star, with a suggestion that they check out the gardening column in the New Homes and Condos section each week? Ok, a bit of a stretch. I tried.
A Nature Lover
A naturalist is different from a naturist. A naturist does not wear gardening clothes. Or any clothes for that matter. A naturalist loves nature while wearing clothes. Frogs, toads, worms, wind, earth and fire. You get the picture.
To help them enjoy nature, consider a magnifying glass, hat, digital camera, photo album for the hard copies of their best pictures, new books on the subject, historic books and posters, sun glasses, membership in a local conservancy organisation, tickets for a train ride to the Agawa Canyon [a one-day wilderness excursion that transports you 114 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie], and much of the stuff mentioned under the heading ‘Hiking and Walking’ above.
Gardeners are keen observers of the passage of time. We are, you could say, in the business of investing in time. We measure the passage of time by the growth of a tree, the evolution of the season by the flowering period of a perennial or shrub, and the arrival of winter by the shutting down of natural systems as they go to sleep late each fall.
I recommend that you look at the new Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation calendar. It features the most incredible photographs, by renowned Canadian nature photographer Gerald Dillon and text by the incredibly literate and articulate naturist, sorry, I mean naturalist, Lorraine Johnson. What an amazing calendar. Small, so it sits nicely on a desk. The photographs are ‘framable’ quality. As each day passes you are reminded in a gentle way just how important our urban trees are.
For $20 you can’t go wrong. Net proceeds support the good work of the foundation. Go to www.torontoparksandtrees.org for details and to place an order.
You might think that this is a stupid thing to say. Let me be more specific then: gardeners have a refined pallet. They appreciate, more than the average non-gardener, the tart sweetness of a fresh, tree-picked apple, the earthy flavour of a carrot, pulled from the ground and cleaned on your jeans [I prefer them wiped on the grass], leeks pulled from the earth after several late season frosts, the first tomato of the season.
All of this is to say that seeds, soil, hand tools like a quality trowel, cultivator or dibbler [Google it] are always appreciated. Hand pruners, gloves, a buck saw for pruning thick branches, a hone or sharpening file, a clay pot and twine to hang in the tool shed, a new pocket knife with holster for the belt, a metal garden planting ‘meter stick’, or plant markers all work. And never mind if they ‘already have one of those’ every gardener can use more of the aforementioned gear. There is no such thing as too much.
Ok, not all gardeners are cooks. But a lot of them are. And not the ‘tear the label off a package and put it in the microwave’ type of cook. Gardeners who like to cook like to do so from scratch. And like a scratch golfer, they love, above most anything, specialized equipment for their chosen discipline. A trip to your local kitchen shop is in order. There you will find the specialized gear to prepare a scratch meal. A good kitchen store is heaven with a two way door on it for foodies. Once they have loaded up they can escape to the reality of their own kitchen. And garden. Regardless of their age.
Of course you could always buy them a gift card to their favourite retailer.