gifts for gardeners 2014: best boots, cool beans, weed encyclopedia and more

boots and weed bookI MADE A LIST and checked it twice—only to find out I am nothing if not consistent. My gifts for gardeners included many of the same things in past years, but thankfully there are some new highlights, too. Those first:

for the field-guide freak: watch out, weeds!

I SAY THANK YOU to the University of Chicago Press for investing in “Weeds of North America” (above) by Richard Dickinson and France Royer. The Canadian authors have created a massive work (800 pages paperbound) covering 500 of the continent’s pest plants, including aquatics. Key ID tips include not just flower and foliage photos, but also images of seeds and seedlings.

This serious reference volume illuminates other reasons to consider the plants as pests, beyond the space they steal from natives. Such traits include toxicity to livestock (like milk thistle) or transmitting a disease to a valuable crop (like barberry does with a rust affecting wheat, or hedge bindweed, chickweed and common burdock do in cucumber mosaic virus). Did you know that purple nutsedge is the world’s worst weed, affecting 52 crops in 92 countries? $35 cover price ($25ish on Amazon). All my favorite field guides are here.

for the hardworking feet on your list

AT GARDEN OPEN DAYS and just around and about, people often ask me about the big black boots (top photo) that I often wear. I confess I have had my Muck Boot tall “Hoser” style pair since not long after Muck started marketing them. They are indestructible, it seems, and comfortable in all but hot weather. The current version, which is slightly different from my oldies, is about $110 at Amazon or from Muck.

lacrosse bootsWANT SHORT, waterproof boots instead? My little black rubber ones from LaCrosse get a lot of “Where’d you get those?” questions, too. In chartreuse or red as well as black, $90ish at Amazon.

noble-outfitters-muds-stay-cool-womens-6-boots-1-768x7122016 UPDATE: LaCrosse sold out and has discontinued the women’s model, but men’s Hampton boots, in olive, remain in stock. I was ready for a new pair, and am loving the very similar Noble Outfitters’ MUDS Stay Cool short boots, left, about $80.

johnny's soil blockers

for the seed-sower: soil-block makers

TAKE YOUR SEED SOWING to the next step, and get rid of all those plastic cellpacks in the process, while reducing transplant shock. Make soil blocks from bagged seed-germinating mix, using a soil-blocker. The version sold at Johnny’s Selected Seeds was developed in conjunction with organic farming expert Eliot Coleman. Form 20 small (3/4-inch) blocks at a time (for small-seeded crops like lettuce) or five or four bigger ones (1-1/2 or 2-inch squares), depending which blocker you order. Soil blocks are $25.95 to $30.85, at Johnny’s (and get a bag of their 512 soilless seed-starting medium while you’re there).

 vortex binoculars

for the bird-lover: focus on binoculars

NO TIME to run downstairs and find the binoculars when you spy something flitting around from the upstairs window. I’m a believer in two-binocular households, minimum (a third for the glove box is ideal). A couple of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s 2014 “staff picks” included the highly rated Vortex Diamondback 8X42 or the entry-level Vortex Raptor 8.5X32.

Christmas Lima heirloom bean

for the cook: heirloom beans, and more

RANCHO GORDO’S heirloom beans are not just delicious, but incredibly beautiful. ‘Christmas Lima’ (above) is a favorite in my house, but each variety is dintinctive in look, texture and even taste. While you’re there, I recommend Rancho Gordo’s New Mexican red chili powder and collection of sauces—hot, hotter, hottest, and also chipotle. Most items around $5.95, or choose an entire gift box “sampler” of goodies. The Rancho Gordo shop.


say cheese: ticket to home-dairy workshop

WOULD SOMEONE on your list like to add homemade dairy products to their kitchen repertoire? The next session of hit cookbook author Alana Chernila’s and my home-dairy workshop, where you learn to make crème fraiche, yogurt, butter, ricotta, feta, cream cheese and mozzarella, is February 7 at my place in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA) area. All-day workshop plus two meals, $160.

squirrel target practice

squirrel hater’s gag: vintage target-practice print

THIS ONE’S A GAG GIFT, but gardeners everywhere complain to me about squirrels, unhinged by their relentless antics. Have a squirrel-hater on your gift list? This might make them smile. From $8ish (unframed) to $35-plus (framed), from various Etsy merchants. (A P.S.–Again, this is a gag gift. I don’t shoot squirrels, or anything else, of course.)

2 books media mail

‘peace’ and ‘parables,’ my two latest books

MY TWO LATEST BOOKS would suit any gardener, and the earlier of the two, “And I Shall Have Some Peace There,” seems to have found another kind of audience, too. Many people have written to say they’ve found it a good choice when making a life transition, whether they garden or not. All my books, gift-wrapped and otherwise.

Brome feeder, stainless hori-hori, Atlas gloves

my classic recommendations

AT THE RISK of repeating myself, the things I recommend over and again to other gardeners, and rely on in my own garden year after year:

(Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links yield a commission.)

CategoriesFeatured how-to
  1. amen kahwajy says:

    Those Muck boots rule!
    They are expensive as compared to knock-offs, but
    a true long term value. My first pair lasted about 8 years
    and that was a time of daily horse stall management (aka mucking)
    as routine farm and gardening time.
    Also, they are great for in town rainy days as the sole have
    Thanks for the other ideas, that soil maker/seed planter thing
    may be worth a second look…

    Thanks again.

  2. Joan Grusensky says:

    I would like to purchase a Hori Hori knife to help with things like dividing perennials. Many brands and types on Amazon with different prices. Can you recommend a specific one? Thanks.

  3. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    Wonderful ideas! Rancho Gordo beans are deliciously the best … and why did I never think of a soil blocker??? Your books are treasures. Thanks Margaret.

  4. Martha in Texas says:

    OFFENSIVE is not sufficient. The “gag gift” Vintage Squirrel Target is Horrid! Mean! Gross! Ugly! Just what we don’t need nowadays is ANY kind of appeal to targets! Sure, squirrels can be a nuisance, as all of us can. I shudder to contemplate what a piece of visual encouragement evokes in squirrel haters–or in others like one of my rural neighbor who brags about target practice with crows, squirrels, birds, hedgehogs, my cats, another’s young corgies. Coming from you, one of my main-stay-wise-women, this is revolting. What were you thinking Ms. Margaret?????

    1. Reno Gardener says:

      Get real! Take a joke or not, squirrels are pests! I love to rid my garden of the pesky ground squirrels but i wouldn’t think of shooting a cat or dog unless they were rabid
      lighten up!

    2. margaret says:

      Sorry to unintentionally offend, Martha. As I said: gag gift. To be clear: I have never harmed a squirrel or shot anything, of course.

  5. Carol says:

    I agree about the Muck boots. I have worn them for yours. I wear the Muck shoes to work everyday. My feet stay so dry, and they are as comfortable as bedroom slippers. How about selling signed inserts to place in your books for those of us who already have (and love) them?

  6. Ellie says:

    I have an old green pair of the high Muck boots. Just repaired a small tear in the neoprene and am taking them along on a voyage to Antarctica in a few weeks. Warm, waterproof and good traction–everything you need!

    Also love my stainless steel Japanese farmer’s knife and have half a dozen pairs of Atlas gloves. Still mulling over which new garden cart to buy. Those soil block makers look nice too. May have to buy myself a gift or two. :)

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