Friday, December 10, 2010


Cheapies but goodies

Stumped for stocking stuffers for your favorite gardener? I’ve got some suggestions that won’t go amiss for dedicated dirt-monkeys
 Most of us who play in the dirt have one favorite pair of tools: our hands. Two obvious gift choices here—gloves and hand cream. Good gardening gloves need to breathe, be flexible and allow fine finger movements. They do not need to last forever or break the bank. Available at any home-improvement store, six pairs of three-to-five dollar gloves trump one expensive pair of a name-brand every time.

Keeping your hands soft

            When it comes to hand cream, the one I like best is No-Crack Lavender Hand Cream in the 16-ounce jar. What’s so special about it? It’s thick and penetrating without leaving your hands feel like they’ve been submerged in a vat of Crisco. It’s pleasantly but not strongly scented. Best of all, it’s actually made in the U.S., by the Dumont Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and is available from the Duluth Trading Company’s website, Or, if you can't find it there, try, a site run by a lady in West By-God Virginia who got tired of having to search all over the place for sources of this excellent stuff.

            If you’re as old as I am, you were raised that it’s tacky to resort to giving cash, or its modern incarnation, the gift card. It took years, but I managed to overcome my up-bringing: a gift card from any of the following companies would put a smile on my face come Christmas morning.

A cornucopia of catalogs
Duluth Trading Company, mentioned above, carries some sturdy, practical clothing—it’s the only place left in the world that stocks women’s overalls. Gardens Alive! ( supplies a wide array of mail-order organic fertilizers, pest control and vermiculture supplies, while Gardeners Supply ( is a good general source of gardenalia. Lee Valley Tools and The Kinsman Company ( and carry quality tools as well as garden accessories and ornaments.

Felco # 2 and # 4
with scabbard,
slightly used
Speaking of tools, a top-notch pair of pruners is always welcome. Tim and I both use Felcos: he prefers the heavier-duty #4, while I stick with my lighter #2s. Corona makes good-quality pruners as well. (A quick aside: When in the market for pruners, make sure you look for scissors-bladed models rather than the anvil type. Why? Scissors make clean cuts; anvils smash.) Both companies produce excellent hand-saws as well, for those jobs too big for pruners to handle. You can find both of both—Felco pruners and saws, and Corona pruners and saws—at both big box home improvement and finer garden centers. Yes, they’re both relatively expensive. Yes, they’re both worth it.

Kathy models a volleyball kneepad,
also available in white
 Another gardening pearl-above-price is comfortable, durable kneepads. Forget anything that fastens with buckles or Velcro: in addition to being hard to put on, they’re going to get painful fast. What does Kathy recommend? Nike’s Bubble volleyball kneepads, that’s what. They’re like soccer shin-guards for the knees—easy to pull on, easy to tolerate for those long days rolling out sod, easy to toss in the washer and dryer. And they last, for about a year of heavy use, indefinitely with lighter wear. We used to find them at our local mall, in Champs Sporting Goods, until the store closed. Now we go online to If your Champs is still open, you’ll save the shipping.

Balm for plant-induced itches
 Another specialty product, indispensible for those of us allergic to poison ivy and its evil cousins, is the Tecnu family of topical creams. Tecnu was developed during the 1960s expressly for the lucky fellows assigned to witness atom-bomb blasts, to “wash off” all that nasty radiation fall-out. It didn’t work so great at that application, but it does take urushiol, the oil that makes us susceptible ones so miserable, off the skin. Tecnu is not a cure-all, but I can testify that it helps, especially if applied before and/or immediately after contact. The Tecnu Extreme wash helps ease the itching, and can be safely repeated as often as necessary. I keep a supply in our truck at all times. If you or a loved one suffers from poison ivy sensitivity, Tecnu products are gifts that keep on giving. Find it at CVS, or order online from

On a less itchy topic, one thing all gardeners love is plants. Give yours the opportunity to choose something exotic with a gift card from a local nursery or one of the national catalogs. A list of some of my favorites has a distinct southeastern bias, but you get the idea.

When I lived in upstate New York, you couldn’t beat White Flower Farms for cool ornamental perennials and shrubs not readily available locally (  These days, I rely on Plant Delights Nursery and Wayside Gardens for unusual and experimental specimens ( and, respectively). When it comes to vegetables, I’ve had good luck with starts from Cook’s Garden ( For bulbs, my number one choice is Brent and Becky’s ( see my November 16th post for more details). Seed catalogs featuring heirloom varieties are legion: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Select Seeds, Territorial Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny’s Seeds, Renee’s Seeds, The Park Seed Company, and the venerable Burpee’s. All have eponymous websites and catalogs to make you drool. Many offer plant starts as well: I have had good luck with Select Seeds, who offers a selection of annual vines and flowers seedlings.
A gift that really counts

Does the gardener in your life already have every tool and tschotke he wants? Well, then, how about giving part of or even an entire starter garden to someone who could really use it? Heifer International ( turns your donation into potentially life-changing livestock or tree seedlings or, my personal favorite, a gardener’s basket, including “… everything a family will need to start a sustainable farm—tree seedlings, rabbits to generate organic manure, chickens to eat pests and a hive of bees to pollinate crops and increase yields,” to quote the catalog, along with on-site technical support to families in war-torn and developing nations, as well as poverty pockets—which are growing larger daily as the global economy continues to stagger—right here at home. Besides, as I understand it, that’s the kind of giving Christmas and all the other winter-solstice holidays are really about.

A hint for blog neophytes from my resident computer nerd: just click on any of the websites in the post and you'll be transported right to the site. No dithering required. To return here, click on the "back" arrow. He swears it works.

            So merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine. Tim says if anyone’s racking his brain for gift ideas for him, a Mercedes (any model) or a Rockwell Commander would be nice. Ha. What he really loves is chocolate, the real thing, Belgian or Swiss, crafted with high cocoa content and actual sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup (which, by the way, does not taste like sugar, no matter how many analyses agribusiness waves under our noses).
            Me? I’d like a pallet of fifty 25-pound bags of Black Kow, delivered.

           Thanks for dropping by. And promise me you’ll never use the oxymoronic phrase “free gift” again for the rest of your life.


  1. Thanks for the advice about the gloves. I just started gardening at our local community garden (so psyched to get a spot) and I had no idea which gloves to get. I do think I need something a little waterproof though since they don't want us getting the reclaimed water on us.

  2. Heifer International (HI) is an organization that claims to work against world hunger by donating animals to families in developing countries. Its catalog deceptively portrays beautiful children holding cute animals in seemingly humane circumstances. The marketing brochure for HI does not show the animals being transported, their living and slaughter conditions, or the erosion, pollution and water use caused by the introduction of these animals and their offspring.

    By definition, animals raised for food are exploited in a variety of ways. The animals shipped to developing countries are often subject to; water and food shortages, cruel procedures without painkillers, lack of veterinary care resulting in extended suffering as a result of illness or injury.

    A large percentage of the families receiving animals from HI are struggling to provide for themselves and cannot ensure adequate living conditions, nutrition, and medical care for animals they have been given. HI provides some initial veterinary training to individuals and the initial vaccines. But, long term care for these animals and their offspring is up to the individuals.

    To make matters worse, animal agriculture causes much more harm to the environment than plant-based agriculture. The fragile land in many of the regions HI is sending the animals cannot support animal agriculture. Although they say they encourage cut and carry feeding of the animals to avoid erosion, the reality is often quite different.

    The consumption of animal products has been shown in reputable studies to contribute significantly to life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and a variety of cancers. Regions that have adopted a diet with more animal products see an increase in these diseases. The remote communities supposedly served by HI have no way of dealing with the health consequences of joining the high-cholesterol world.

    While it may seem humane and sustainable to provide just one or two dairy cows here or there, the long term consequences are an increased desire for animal products in local cultures leading to an increase in production. These communities may be able to absorb the additional water use of one or two cows, what happens when there are hundreds or thousands of dairy cows, each consuming 27 to 50 gallons of fresh water and producing tons of excrement? The heavy cost to animals, the environment and local economies is not figured into HI's business practices.

  3. Vegaia--
    Thank you for your comments on the downside of Heifer International's program. Every intervention, indeed every action, has consequences, many unintended. And it's a tricky business, imposing the values of one culture onto another: but is it better to do nothing at all? That's rhetorical, of course--I certainly don't have the answers. I'm just one lucky gardener who doesn't face starvation if the vegetable plot doesn't produce.

  4. Katy--
    It's a little worrying that the water going into the ground could hurt your skin. Hope you're not growing edibles!
    Don't know where your are geographically, but waterproof gloves can be hot, and limit your ability to feel what you're doing. Alternatively, you might want to wear el cheapo breathable gloves and carry a tub of baby wipes with you when you garden, so you can "wash" off the reclaimed water residues.