We gardeners are not — I repeat, not— difficult to buy for. The only thing you need to know is that the items you see advertised as gifts for gardeners — floral-printed oven mitts, silver trowel-and-spade earrings, CDs of peaceful bird songs — are actually not gardening gifts at all. They are gifts with a gardening theme, and that's a whole different deal. Trust me, the perfect gift for the gardener in your life comes from the garden center, that place where they sell the plants and the dirt. Or it might come from the bookstore. Either way, I'm here to help. My annual list of brilliant gardening gifts includes something for every kind of gardener. Here we go:
The Gardener Who Is Just Getting Started: If someone in your life just moved into their first home, or was recently spotted stroking the leaf of a scented geranium and enjoying it, they may be showing signs of imminent gardening behavior. You only need these two words to get them on the right track: Felco and Corona. Felco pruning shears are the gold standard among gardeners; they are easy to sharpen and last forever. Corona hand tools (trowels and spades) are forged of solid aluminum and are impossible to break or bend. Both companies put bright red handles on their tools, which not only looks festive under the Christmas tree, but also makes them easy to spot if you've dropped them in the garden somewhere. If you're feeling generous, throw in the newest edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book, the one reference volume that every California gardener should have.
The Gardener on a Budget: A budget is a terrible thing to impose upon a garden, but sometimes it can't be helped. Just because a gardener doesn't have Italian pottery or copper birdbaths in their garden doesn't mean they don't want those things. It's just that when we gardeners are forced to choose between plants and décor, the plants win every time. You don't need a big budget yourself to buy something luxurious for the garden. Gazing balls, stepping stones, bird feeders, lovely little flower pots — there are plenty of options. The trick is to match the bauble with the gardener. An arts-and-crafts bungalow with copper light fixtures deserves a copper garden ornament, while a Victorian could be matched with an interesting piece of architectural salvage. A gardener with a hip, ironic sensibility might go for a gnome or a pink flamingo, and someone who owns a lot of colorful pottery vases might go for a matching pot for their porch.
The Gardener Who Has Everything: Just because somebody has an enormous, perfectly accessorized, always-in-bloom garden doesn't mean they don't want garden gifts. Just focus on consumables. Seed packets, in whatever quantity matches your budget, are a wonderful idea. Because each packet only costs a few dollars, the recipient won't feel obligated to plant every single thing you give them. But if you take a little time to choose an interesting assortment, and write them a thoughtful note about why you chose the seeds you did, they're bound to be flattered and pleased. Think about herb seeds for chefs, sweet peas for flower lovers, or anything with unusual, brightly-colored foliage for gardeners with a strong sense of color.
Gloves are also a good consumable. I wear out a pair of gloves every year. It helps if you can sneak a look at their tool shed and find out what they wear, or get an idea of their size. But with prices ranging from $5 for the wonderful Atlas gloves, to $30 for the hip and fashionable Foxgloves or West County gloves, you may be able to pick up an assortment. Throw in some skin care products, like a mildly abrasive gardener's hand soap or some salve, and you're done.
The Wonderful, No-Fail, Always Perfect Gift for Any Gardener or Flower Lover: This is foolproof, baby. You can't go wrong. I promise. Are you ready?
Amaryllis. What is it? A giant bulb that produces one fat stalk topped by three or four gorgeous, showy, trumpet-shaped blooms. Florists, garden gift shops, and garden centers may sell them already potted and ready to bloom this time of year, or you may be able to buy a little kit that includes the bulb, a pot, and some soil. But if you really want to make a statement, you'll buy two or three bulbs and select a gorgeous pot or a glass vase filled with pebbles, which is all these bulbs really need to bloom. And if you want to order something for someone out of town, call your local florist and see if they can coordinate the order for you, or order online through White Flower Farm Trust me, there is nothing more magical than watching one of these enormous flowers open up on your desk during the middle of winter. It's the gift that keeps on giving.