Holiday gift ideas for gardeners

branch of a fir tree with holiday lights in the background

Can you hear them? Tiny little elves are softly singing carols. The holidays must be around the corner.

If you’re scratching your head for gift ideas for the gardeners in your life, the Master Gardeners and I can help. Here are a few suggestions to make smiles wider and green thumbs greener.

Tools are cool. Yes, we say we really don’t need yet another tool. We lie. Our eyes light up at the flash of steel and the smoothness of a wooden handle. 

A Hori Hori soil knife – a multipurpose tool with a serrated edge and slight curve that digs, plants, cuts, weeds, and more – is a perennial favorite.

hori hori sitting on garden soil next to planted garlic
Used here to plant garlic, a Hori Hori knife also digs, cuts, weeds, and more.

Folding saws are a marvel for pruning in tight spots. Garden kneelers let you work sitting or kneeling with grips to give you a boost in getting up. If you’re over 50, you get it.

We gardeners are always looking for our next favorite garden glove. I have two: a waterproof glove and a sturdy but breathable pair with cushioned fingertips and palms.  

red garden gloves
A good pair of gloves is an indispensable gardening tool and a fine holiday gift idea.  

Gardeners love books. Doug Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope and Bringing Nature Home top many Master Gardeners’ wish lists as do other conservation-minded books.

Magazine subscriptions make fine gifts, too. How about Horticulture, Fine Gardening or Birds & Blooms? 

I treasure handmade gifts, both to give and receive. Gifts from the garden – such as pesto, jam, and herbal liqueurs – are especially welcome.  

If you’re crafty, sew a garden apron, paint garden markers or make a hypertufa pot. If bigger is better, make a birdhouse, potting bench, or trellis. 

Good things also come in small packages. Seeds make great gifts.

Botanical Interests offers blends for butterflies, pollinators, and more in beautiful, informative seed packets. The Hudson Valley Seed Company sells heirloom seeds in incredibly artful packets. 

Bundle small gifts into a pot or gift basket. One Master Gardener fondly remembers an upcycled vintage bushel basket filled with bulbs, a bulb planter, and handmade plant markers.

Still stumped? How about a gardening calendar for year-round enjoyment or a garden-themed jigsaw puzzle that keeps twitchy gardening fingers busy in the winter months? 

You can’t go wrong with a gift card to a favorite garden center or online store. I used to disdain gift cards, but now embrace them because the recipient can get just what they want and need.

Always welcome is the gift of time. Why not give a busy gardener a coupon good for a few hours of planting, weeding, watering, or tending? For many of us that is the best gift of all.

Among my many gifts are my Master Gardeners. Thanks to Master Gardeners Lori, Ann, Will, Chanelle, Marcia, Dusty, Michelle, Susan, Catherine, Karen, Judy, and Sharon for their suggestions for this column. 

We hope we’ve given you some ideas to jump-start your holiday gift-giving. 

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

Holly is entwined in holiday traditions

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

This traditional British Christmas carol highlights the prominence of holly in our holiday celebrations.   But where did that tradition begin?

Because holly retains its green leaves all year long, many ancient cultures believed it had magical powers.  The ancient Druids were the first to give it supernatural significance, bringing in boughs to attract woodland spirits.  

Other cultures followed suit.  Holly was hung in homes to ward off evil spirits, worn by warriors for courage, eaten to purge impurities, drunk as tea for strength, and put under pillows to inspire prophetic dreams.

Romans hung holly in their temples and homes during Saturnalia, the midwinter festival honoring Saturn, god of agriculture.  Holly’s evergreen boughs celebrated the return of longer days and the hope for productive farms in the coming year.

The Roman naturalist Pliny added to holly’s lore.  He believed that a wild animal could be subdued by throwing a stick of holly at it and that holly trees planted near a home would protect its owners from both bad weather and witchcraft. 

Early churches adopted pagan rituals as their own.  Christmas Eve was designated as the time to decorate churches and it was forbidden to bring any greens into a home before then.   

Those bans on early decorating inspired the belief that bringing in holly too soon would cause misfortune.  I wonder what the ancients would think of modern day stores’ policies of putting up Christmas merchandise the day after Halloween?

Holly also spoke of love and relationships. Henry VIII wrote a love song, “Green groweth the holly” which extolled being ever true.  And one tradition dictated that the first one – husband or wife – to bring holly into the home at Christmas would rule the roost in the coming year. 

Grab that holly, girls!

Sex and the single holly gets complicated.  Most hollies are dioecious, having separate male and female trees.  You need both for the female to get berries. 

Oh, and those berries aren’t really berries.  They are drupes, a fleshy fruit with pit that contains a seed. There, you’ve had your botany word of the day.   

Ilex is the scientific name for the over 500 species of holly trees and shrubs. Most are evergreen, but a few are deciduous, losing their leaves in fall.  And their berries can be red, white, yellow or black. 

Holly’s berries feed a multitude of birds from mockingbirds and thrushes to robins and bluebirds.  They’re an important food source for other wildlife as well. 

But don’t try snacking on holly berries yourself.  They can make you ill or worse.  In medieval times physicians touted holly berries as a cure for colic.  The results were sometimes fatal.  Whether you display it for love, protection, good fortune or beauty, let holly grace your holiday home to honor traditions that have been handed down through the ages.  

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.