gifts for gardeners: a better mower, more cats!

Cashmere upcycled cats by Jane Capellaro on EtsyDEAR SANTA: A girl my age doesn’t need any more “stuff,” so let’s emphasize the practical, shall we, old friend? Easier mowing; less mess with the kitchen scraps; more pro tools to process garden harvest into food that keeps; warmer (and also skid-proof) tootsies in winter; oh, and a tactic for truly flipping squirrels the bird (as in squirrel-proof bird feeders).  Those gifts would make garden types like myself truly happy. Those–and maybe just a small herd of the madcap cashmere cats that my neighbor makes from recycled sweaters?

better kitchen compost bucket

I just upgraded from my beat-up, age-old plastic kitchen compost pail to a snappy stainless one ($45.50), complete with replaceable charcoal insert in the lid to minimize odors.

Stainless compost bucket, Excalibur stainless dehydrator, Yaktrax pro grippers

steady as she goes

One of my favorite “stocking stuffers” to give to Northern types (or lately any types, since ice storms seem to be the new normal in unexpected locations): Yaktrax. These anti-slip grippers fit over boots or shoes. (Pro model about $30.)

dreams of dried fruit and more

Garden helper Susan made dried apple slices in a friend’s machine this fall, and when I tasted them, I kicked myself for not buying an Excalibur dehydrator and doing the same.  From under $200 to $300-plus (of course I want the 9-shelf stainless model with BPA-free trays).

Foraging and Feasting book, tomato basket, fermenting crock, The Art of Fermentation book

foraging! a field guide and cookbook in one

I met the author and illustrator of “Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook” this summer, and have been looking at my “weeds” and “wildflowers” with a different eye since. A-hunting in 2014 I will go, with a copy of this lavishly illustrated hardcover book of plant profiles and recipes ($40), paired with a handmade Vermont tomato basket ($125) to hold my loot.


Fermented foods are good for you. With Sandor Katz’s “The Art of Fermentation” and a traditional, heavyweight and beautiful Polish crock (about $90 to $158, depending on size), you’ll be all set to turn cabbage into sauerkraut or pickle other vegetables.

Brome feeder, stainless hori-hori, Atlas gloves

great gloves, in basic black

They’re cheap, but durable—and lately they come in basic black (how chic). I love the Atlas nitrile-coated glove (about $8), which allows me to still “feel” what I am doing with most garden tasks.

outsmarting squirrels

I have tried every “squirrel-proof” feeder out there, including many that are more expensive, and last year finally found a brand that outsmarts the big-tailed rats. Even if they can get a grip on it, a squirrel’s weight on a Brome feeder (models range from under $30 to $80-something) instantly closes access to all the seed ports, by sliding the outer part of the assembly down. My squirrels gave up pretty quick. Victory!

more upgrades to stainless

Two favorite tools—my half-moon edger and my Japanese weeding knife or hori-hori—share just one drawback. They’re not rust-proof.  I’m ready to swap both out for stainless models, specifically the Sneeboer edger (about $86) and the knife (about $40).

new breed of mower

My right shoulder will tell you I push a too-heavy mower around my hilly yard. I’m asking for an ultra-lightweight, push-button-start, eco-friendly one. My friend Lee Reich loves his battery-powered Stihl RMA 370—just 30 pounds and $750 with the rapid charger, but I’d like an extra battery, too, Santa. A charge lasts around 30 minutes, about how long juicing the backup takes. The deck is only 14ish inches wide, but I’m happy to make the extra passes as long as I’m not pushing 80-plus pounds.  (“Popular Mechanics” loved this one as much as Lee does, by the way, in their battery mower review.)

Stihl battery mower, Water Right hose, Smart Cart, Sneeboer stainless edger

lightest, smartest hose

Regulars here know that I took my heavy old hoses to the dump and traded up to Water Right’s colorful, super-lightweight, drinking-water-safe ones (which apparently can do double-duty as a holiday wreath!).  They have recently become a site sponsor, so you get 20 percent off if you click the ad on the right side of this page, and enter the code “GROW” at checkout. About $40 to $100, depending on length.

versatile garden cart

Photos of my heavy-duty but lightweight garden cart gets so many inquiries from readers, so here it is: the Smart Cart, available in various sizes (7 and 12 cubic feet capacity), from about $250 up. Handy feature: The tub comes off the frame, to use for mixing potting soil or amendments, or to fill with water for washing pots.

handmade linen apron

Who wouldn’t like a handmade linen apron when company’s coming, or anytime? This one, in natural color, is made by a neighbor ($104).

toasty tootsies, alpaca-style

Leave it to the Beekman 1802 Boys to upgrade the boot-liner to deluxe alpaca. Their inserts ($15) come in sizes, which you then trim down for a perfect fit. Happy feet!

Boxwood linen apron, cat placemat, alpaca boot inserts from Beekman 1802

for my good guy jack

“Frisky. Loyal. Always Hungry.” That describes my beloved Jack, and his new “Feed the Cat” placemat ($6.50) serves to tidy up the buffet area, where we currently have total kibble chaos.

a herd of cashmere cats

Jack isn’t as crazy about the idea of sharing me with a family of cashmere kitties like the ones up top of the page (about $30 each), but I cannot resist. I met these fat cats at the local farmer’s market this summer, when the neighbor who creates them (and also sells recycled cashmere blankets and scarves and such on Etsy) was participating.

A big meow, and happy holidays from me and my increasing feline brood.

  1. Jules says:

    Thanks for the great ideas! I too am at a point in life where I wish for no more superfluous stuff and wish to no longer give same said stuff :)! Cats are seriously cute though!

  2. Brian G. says:

    I didn’t know we could get a discount for those great hoses through your site. No excuse not to upgrade now. I think I’ll side with Jack though and skip the cashmere kitty cats:) Thanks and happy holidays!

  3. I can attest to the usefulness of the compost pail, the Excalibur food dehydrator, the Hori Hori soil knife, the Atlas gloves and the fermentation crock, as I am a long time user of these items! To spare my family the guesswork of buying garden gifts for me (of which i am very picky!) I ask for a gift certificate to AM Leonard, where I buy the majority of my tools and equipment now. (www.amleo.com)

  4. Sherry Jurykovsky says:

    We recently moved to a smaller lot, but it’s mostly up and down hill. My husband insisted on buying me a mower with an electric start and power drive wheels. I can’t believe how nice it is. You just give it a little extra gas when you need to go up hill. It’s definitely saved my shoulders from the wrestling.

  5. Lin says:

    My ‘lawn guy’ uses all electric power tools and then charges them in his truck with the solar panel that is on top. No extra battery needed…just sunny days ;)

  6. benjia morgenstern says:

    Just read about Sandor Katz and fermantation in YES magazine last night and now 1st thing in morning , I learn more. thankyou

  7. Stephanie says:

    Love the Atlas gloves! Cheap, comfortable, and incredibly durable. Will definitely order a hose, once I decide on the color…

  8. Thank you Margaret- I bought a Smart Cart 20 years ago and have loved it ever since. I’ve tried other carts but none compare. Unimaginably sturdy. We’ve used (truthfully abused) it at the nursery for 15 years! I’m talking commercial, daily use. After all this time it’s become geriatric; a whole in the bottom so we can’t use it to mix cement anymore; a few lost parts; the aluminum frame crooked, but it still works – about like an 80 year old. It’s time to retire the old work horse and bring in a new pony. Now I know what Santa can bring for the nursery.

  9. Dahlink says:

    I own that very same stainless steel compost container. Here’s my tip to you: each time you empty it, after washing it out, place one or two plain white paper towels at the bottom. That makes the next clean-up super easy. No more prying out decaying fruit and vegetables peels! The paper towels can be composted as well.

  10. Great ideas – thanks! We go down to Florida in January and stay until April (with daughter minding the house back north), so we need 2 of everything – such a long rose gloves and good pruners. So even though we have a copper compost bucket, I’m eying your stainless with charcoal insert version. Thanks for the idea! And happy holidays to you!

  11. Judith says:

    I have 5 of those Water Right hoses, in 5 different designer colors of course. They are one of the best garden investments I have ever made! They are so light weight and easy for my 72 yr. old self to move from place to place.

  12. Linda Blackerby says:

    I discovered Yaktracs about 5 years ago. They are wonderful for walking our dogs on icy streets and sidewalks. The next Christmas we bought a pair for each of our children. I hope they are enjoying them as much as we do. Hope you have a merry Christmas.

  13. Rosemary says:

    Thank goodness Margaret you send this Christmas list now with so many gardeners in my family they need it and so do I. My oldest brother had his garden farm opened for charity last year and said Never again I suppose his direct comments of All those people trampling around my garden where as his wife had a wonderful day talking to so many people who were interested in every thing in their garden from the beautiful hedging of their garden rooms and views of surrounding farms.

    I know every time I visit them he is either on his ride on mower or clipping the hedges

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, K. Adams. That story was from Xmas 2013, when the promotion was offered. You can be in touch with them and say you came via my website, and see what promotions are happening now if any. WaterRightInc.

  14. Maude Ciardi says:

    Yes I bought a Water Right Hose and it is lightweight, but I can not figure out how to coil it. How do you store it. Right now it just lays all over in a mess. Please help! Tell me the secret please!

    1. margaret says:

      Sometimes if it has been twisted I have to stretch it out and get it straight, then it’s easy to coil. Some people put a heavy pot down neat the spigot and wrap the hose around that — again, though, if it has been twisted in usage, it will need straightening first.

  15. Nicole Olivier says:

    Hi Margaret,
    Sadly the Kitty dinner playmates are no longer available (and they don’t even know IF they ever will be again! Big Bummer)
    And the cashmere kitties you feature I can’t seem to find. From your link it takes me to her Etsy site and those kitties are not listed but the tiny pocket size ones are… but I want the ones you show! Just wanted to let you know.
    I will pursue the Cashmere maker.


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