Sherry Blanton

Southern Gardener columnist Sherry Blanton with just a few of the holiday catalogs she has received this year.

Suggestions for holiday shopping are everywhere. An email announcing a Black Friday sale arrived the first of October. I was still swatting mosquitoes when colorful seasonal catalogs began to arrive daily. At that point, I was not feeling especially festive. Each company seemed determined to outshine its competitors with over-the-top and worthless items.

At first I just chucked the glossy catalogs into the recycling bin. Then the catalogs with gifts for the gardener appeared. I stacked them neatly to be sure I studied them. (I felt honor-bound at least to scan the pages describing holiday items, since so many trees died to make just one catalog.)

After flipping through some of them, it appeared that “the experts” were clueless as to what a useful, practical or inexpensive gardening item really was. (I should print my own catalog, but I would hate to sacrifice a tree to make a dollar.)

The color and the beauty in the landscape for most gardeners comes from our plants, not some silly accessory.

(Hint: A gift certificate is a one-size-fits-all present. There is always a new plant to try. Nothing like getting to pick a bunch of plants for free!)

On occasion, if I add an inanimate object to my garden, it would be an inconspicuous statue of a cat, or a rock I painted myself. I can be a minimalist in the garden (except for the ever present pots of posies).

I am not convinced an oversized (6 feet), multicolored (garish) spinning metal flower would enhance my garden. Perhaps it would be an interesting piece of art, but my flowers might gather and re-gift it to an unsuspecting friend. I really prefer anything colorful to be in non-metallic flower form.

One catalog featured a white garden apron with large pockets to hold one’s tools. Who gardens in white? I could only imagine the first time I dropped my pruners into my pocket and they cut through those roomy pockets to land on the ground.

On the facing page was a pair of white cotton gloves that matched the apron. Seriously, white? This might be appropriate attire for the gardener who employs a staff of 50 to do all the dirty work.

A birdseed snowman was cute but mostly a delectable treat for every squirrel and raccoon for miles.

No yard would be complete without a pair of glass jellyfish bells for 60 bucks apiece! I can’t imagine the effect of Alabama’s wind, rain and storms on these delicate ornaments. My flowers might chuckle as I hung one in a tree.

An ostrich molded of recycled metal caught my eye. Even I, who admire the weird and bizarre in the plant world, could not add one of these to my garden. I can imagine my plants whispering, “You want me to get in there?”

Growing amaryllis from a fat healthy bulb to a magnificent flower is a holiday tradition beloved by many. There were hundreds shown in the catalogs – some in planters that brought the total to $50 for a bulb and container — without the shipping. Truly, an amaryllis does not mind growing in a terra cotta container. I bought an inexpensive collection of glass containers from Hobby Lobby (half-price) and they provided lovely homes for my flowers.

An air plant nestled in a glass Christmas bell looked pretty, but at $34 I decided to pass.

Many gardeners might be thrilled to receive a “tranquility garden:” a terra cotta container holding a few succulents (and I mean a few). A trip to a big box store and I could reproduce this for far less than the $89.95 plus shipping.

A mouse-shaped water can of hammered steel was dear. But would it get heavy filled with water? Would the steel rust if water remains in the bottom? A practical friend gave me a blue plastic watering can years ago and I treasure it. It works perfectly and sits proudly with my plants.

A monthly gift of live flowers delivered for a year almost looked interesting. But I guess I am peculiar. I like my flowers outside and in season. If the flowers are not fresh and delivered well, they are almost a waste. Please give me the bulbs and let me plant them outside. I will love you forever.

So what do gardeners really want?

While holiday catalogs can provide inspiration, there are many engaging items on the market for gardeners, perhaps just not in the Christmas catalogs advertising “the perfect gift.”

Here are some alternative, no-frills gift suggestions from The Southern Gardener:

• A delivered truckload of pine straw or mulch or the special gardening planting mix from Miller’s Landscape Supply. (The gardening mix is magic.)

• A gift certificate to a shop allows a gardener to stock up on gloves, fertilizers or any of the items we use in our hobby.

• Can a gardener ever have enough pruners and loppers? Not me. Splurge and give your favorite person a pair of Felco pruners. Good tools make a hard job easier.

• I am fond of the wonder tools (sometimes called “hand rakes” or “cultivator claws”) that look like a small pair of rakes that slide on one’s hands. They make moving a pile of debris a snap, especially if the gardener has small hands. (Hint: My husband likes them too and is often glad to pick up trash with my magic hands.)

• Two years ago I treated myself to a debris bag with two great handles. It is light and very durable and a wonderful receptacle for garden leftovers.

• Spools of twine or plant ties would also be appreciated.

• If anyone is listening, I would really like a label maker that makes permanent labels for plants. Perhaps I might be able to mark my plants and actually remember what is actually growing where in my garden.

• We also need nice fingernail brushes to get that last speck of dirt from our nails. Gentle gardening hand soap and lotion (fragrance free) are nice luxuries for hardworking gardeners. Winter gardening can do mean things to our hands.

• No gardener can ever have enough plant stakes (metal props to hold up a plant). They come in a variety of sizes and are easy to find. They can help the wayward lily stand up nice and tall.

• Foam plastic kneeling pads have protected my body from wet mud and sticky things for decades.

• A sweet friend of my own age gave me a small bench. It makes a great portable place to sit if I am just too tired to scramble up from the ground one more time. On one side I can sit, or I can turn it over to kneel and use the handles to get a hand up. It is always by my side.

• Trug tubs (tough plastic carriers in a variety of sizes) make a perfect practical gift. Whether we are hauling water, plant debris or soil, the sturdy handles make chores easier. The tubs come in bright colors, thus forgetful gardeners can always find them.

• A pick-up stick, found in most hardware stores, is a great gadget to gather pine or magnolia cones or trash. A pick-up stick is the epitome of the no-frills gift, but it surely makes a lot of jobs easier. Please choose a nice sturdy one; the cheap ones break really quickly.

• Rulers in the gardens are a big help – plastic, of course. That way, the gardener does not have to guess how far apart to plant the winter and summer annuals; we can measure. A gift of a dozen of those would come in handy. A dozen is good as clear plastic rulers are certain to get misplaced.

• To carry all of these things around, there is nothing better than a tool holster to strap around a waist. Mine holds my water, my keys, my cell phone and my pruners – all things I have been known to misplace.

Sherry Blanton writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at