There are several items after which I, as a gardener, lust. Some are more expensive than others, but all would make very nifty gifts for a gardener you might know, or for you to ask for yourself.
At the top of my list is a set of English stainless-steel hand-tools. I've seen them in catalogs. The Brookstone store at Tysons Corner carries something very similar, in rust-proof cast aluminum -- very tough and enduring. Whether stainless steel or aluminum, they are virtually seamless, made of one piece of metal. I have the bad habit of leaving my hand-tools in the garden, where they get rained on, muddied and sometimes buried. Pretty soon, they also rust, and break when I'm in the middle of putting in seedlings, all of which is irksome. I've never owned high-quality seamless tools, but my guess is they'd last longer and do far better than the plastic and shiny aluminum ones I get from the hardware store.
Among the tools I already own that I've found extremely practical is a good pair of pruning shears, the small kind used for clipping rose canes, small branches and grape vines. They're especially good for cutting back weeds that get so large you can't pull them, or for keeping overhanging branches from over-shading flowers or vegetables.
Another tool I love is my grain scoop. This is a very large shovel, in effect, that is also very lightweight; I use it to fill bags of sawdust I get from the sawmill and to move or spread light mulches such as sawdust or leaves. It also doubles as a snow shovel and is really far handier than any snow shovels I've ever owned. Grain scoops are available at feed stores.
The regular farm pitchfork is vastly underestimated as a garden tool. I find mine invaluable for digging potatoes, getting out large weeds and making trenches.
Something I've also found very useful is a Hav-a-heart trap for catching pesky mammals -- rabbits, raccoons, possums, squirrels and even skunks -- that might invade the garden. I borrowed one to trap skunks and have used it with great frequency and success to trap rabbits without harming the little critters. I like it so well that when I return it to its owner, I'm going to invest in one for myself. These are widely available.
Something I probably will never buy for myself, but that I've always wanted, is a sundial. They come in all sorts of configurations, but the simple, traditional sundials are by far the most attractive, and they really can be practical, if you keep in mind that most of the time you'll be reading one will be during Daylight Savings Time, so it will be exactly an hour off.
There is no such thing as too many baskets. There are basically two kinds of baskets, herb and produce. Herb baskets are usually rectangular and quite shallow, like a tray, with a high, arching handle. Produce baskets are deeper, like a large bowl, and come round or rectangular. Look for a fairly coarse, wide weave, rather than the Chinese narrow-weave styles. These seem to withstand water and abuse far better than the more delicate, reedy types. And, of course, go for handmade baskets every time.
Another fine gift, especially for a beginner gardener, is a sample of your own experience as a somewhat more experienced gardener. Design a practical and attractive plot of a reasonable size, based on what you've grown successfully. Use graph paper, and put in names of varieties that you particularly like. Make sure you remember to include garden paths in your design, and package the finished plan with seed packets of varieties you recommend. If you can't get the seeds in time for Christmas, include an old catalogue from this year and a gift certificate.
And finally, give a gift of time. Make up attractive coupons for a couple of hours or a day or a weekend of your labor in someone else's garden. This is the simplest and probably the most appreciated kind of gift.
NEXT WEEK: Christmas alive.