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Garden Gift Giving

My true love gave to me: a gas mask and a bottle of wine

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When we hear the lyrics, "dreaming of a white Christmas," we aren't likely to envision the milky, opaque sky of an inversion. The weatherman informs us that the white crystals drifting in the air or clinging beautifully to leaves like craft store flocking are frozen particulate pollution, and they're not the sort of thing we want in cherished dreams, either.

But the turkey carcass is in the stockpot; the relatives have sorted out arrivals and departures for the next holiday over pumpkin pie; and a thousand diehards were lined up at CompUSA on Thanksgiving at midnight. News shows—eager to report something more cheery and hopeful than our government can deliver—will feature the mobs in toy departments and retailers' daily analyses of shoppers' moods. The air will clear, generosity will reign and gardeners will recover their enthusiasm by late January. But what does the gardener want for Christmas? Socks are grand, and chocolate is better, but garden related gifts might be appreciated, too.

Anyone who owns a piece of property probably does some minimal amount of outdoor upkeep, if only to kick the recycling bin off the sidewalk. OK, maybe the garbage can off the sidewalk, because there is no recycling bin. (Front yards, I can tell you from extensive experience and observation, aren't necessarily a clue to the appearance of the back. Many people are shamed into some level of tidiness in the front, which is achieved only by higher and wider piles behind the gate.) When listing gift ideas, make a rudimentary assessment of yardwork convictions on a continuum of "Level One" to "Level Three." Keep it simple, Santa.

At the "one" end on the continuum are the folks my neighbor calls "yardtards," and there may be some among your friends or relatives.

For this set of folks, outside activities are called "yardwork," and it doesn't happen. For the yardtards, garden gifts are a poor choice. A pair of work gloves may provide the inspiration they need to attack the debris accumulated over years of neglect, but it's doubtful. A shiny new rake would probably just rust in the mayhem, and a broom is useless until the top four or five feet of rubbish have been removed. They are long past the application of pruners, but a chainsaw would be too tempting. A call to the city's code enforcement office might be the best thing you could give, but any ensuing violation notice probably wouldn't be received in the generous spirit it was offered.

Buy these people beer and pork rinds or a gift certificate to Burger King. (It should be noted that if the inhabitants of these eyesores are elderly or ill, we might schedule a workday for early spring, and bring our own gloves, rakes and brooms. No chainsaws.)

In the mid-range, or "two" on this survey, are the individuals who take pride in their surroundings, commit a significant amount of time, energy, money and equipment to their outdoor environment, but have jobs, families and other interests. They rake their leaves, but may not have the space or the passion to compost.

How many folks have raked, or are ready to rake, and discover they have none of those large paper bags the trucks will take to the city's composting site? A few packages of those would elicit a quizzical look on Christmas morning, delaying the love and extreme gratitude until as late as next fall. Although if you throw in a bottle of wine, the love could come sooner.

A high quality by-pass pruner, though not inexpensive, is a tool that anyone in the two range can cherish. If I had but one yard tool, it would be a garden fork, the one with thick tines and a D-shaped handle. Gloves are always useful, and there are numerous types for different chores. I've never found the fabric ones particularly practical. I own a half dozen trowels of varied shapes, sizes and quality, so I can often find one when I need it. A large watering can or two-gallon sprayer is helpful for people who keep color bowls or containers on the deck or porch. The long screw-on sprayer is a fine improvement over the hose end, but nothing beats the nozzle with the dial-up patterns. Caring gardeners blast tiny plants into the next state with the jet spray only once before learning to check the setting when pulling the trigger.

People in the mid-range of gardening desires and capabilities often struggle with poor landscaping self-esteem, but only because their hopes and expectations exceed what they can accomplish in the hour-and-a-half per month when they're not caring for children, buying groceries, working or doing laundry. A pep talk about patient plans and the lifelong objective of a beautiful garden may be a suitable holiday pastime. A bottle of wine and a cheeseball would be perfect for this occasion.

Finding garden gifts for people in the "three" range is paradoxically difficult and easy. While every tool would eventually be used, silver-plated trowels require considerable upkeep. Custom-fitted gloves are comfortable, but as likely to be buried in compost as those from the dollar store. Aspiring top-drawer gardeners imagine themselves making frequent, witty and precise notes in a charming journal of handmade paper, but most gardeners—who are suspended somewhere between two and three on the scale—are puffed with pride when they find the scrap that says "bns no germ by forsyth." Beans?

The genteel individual in the garden book photos is clean, wearing an eccentric but charming hat, smiling happily as a large basket is filled with organic vegetables and exquisite flowers for tasteful vases. Gold medal gardeners tell you that it's dirty work, and they sweat prodigiously. They might like the vase or the basket. Even the "ones" would enjoy the fragrance of herbal soaps, and the hint-hint of "gardening" on the label could forestall the nastiness of an intervention.

As for the nastiness of the inversion, perhaps gas masks for everyone?

Linda Jarsky is a master gardener, certified arborist and landscape designer.

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