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Hamptons Life

Nov 27, 2017 10:11 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Gifts For The Gardener, Part I

Many local garden centers have a good selection of orchids for the holidays. These can make great gifts for the beginner or advanced gardener and range in prices from $20 up into the hundreds of dollars. ANDREW MESSINGER
Nov 27, 2017 11:12 AM

This week, a jump on some holiday gift ideas that may take some time to find or get delivered—and, next week, more gift suggestions.

And don’t forget that gifts are for giving, to others as well as to yourself. These gifts are suggested as items you may want to give, but at the same time they may also help you drop some heavy hints. Simply cut out or print this week’s and next week’s columns and circle those gifts that you’d like to have, and leave the copy somewhere that it will be seen. On the kitchen table, or maybe mail it to your intended.

Let’s start with the children and grandchildren first. For stocking stuffers or the eight nights of Hanukkah, how about a packet of seeds for each day or night. Think about seeds and plants that children will get a kick out of growing, and this can be a gift that not only gives but also grows. These can be gifts that teach the lessons of life, lessons in science, and lessons in patience.

Some possibilities are:

Pumpkin seeds for color, shape and size—but this is not a seed for children who need to see results yesterday, as most pumpkins take months to grow and mature.

If it’s fast results that your child might need then consider some radish seeds. Choose a mild variety that matures in 25 to 30 days.

Carrots come in all sizes, shapes and colors, and some can even be grown outdoors in pots. This is bit of a challenging crop for younger children, because patience is necessary, and you can’t see the carrot as it develops, only when it’s harvested. But what a way to let a kid grow his or her own healthy vegetables.

Sunflower seeds are large, easy for children to handle, and result in plants that not only are colorful but can provide seeds that can be eaten or stored for bird food. The seed heads can be only a few inches in diameter to over a foot wide, and from only a few feet tall to as high as an elephant’s eye.

Ornamental gourds also can be a winner, but these seeds get planted early in the summer then forgotten. The surprise comes in the early fall, when the gourds seem to magically emerge on their sprawling or hanging vines. You can order seeds now for fast delivery from burpee.com.

For adults (and maybe kids), there’s the gift of light. Artificial light has been used for nearly a century for growing plants indoors, and changes in lighting technology and indoor gardening have brought us compact fluorescent lights, LED lights and some more exotic lighting that’s being used for commercial indoor growing but that’s easily adaptable to home growing.

This can take the form of a single grow light or an entire lighting setup that allows a gardener to grow virtually anything indoors. In fact, it’s now possible to create a complete indoor greenhouse, sans both the glass and the challenges that a greenhouse can present, at a tiny fraction of what a greenhouse might cost.

Some garden centers sell simple grow light setups that are considered desktop or tabletop models that can cost from $50 to hundreds of dollars, but for the more adventurous grower there are multi-tiered units that are about 15 inches wide and from 2 to 5 feet tall, with as many as four levels. These setups can cost from just under a hundred dollars to nearly $500, but with one of these units your gardener can start vegetable plants indoors and not on a windowsill—and they also suit plant collections that range from cacti to African violets, orchids and unmentionables.

These units can be put in a closet, on a tabletop or in a spare room, and I’ve even seen some set up as plant displays in living spaces. It’s an opportunity for year-round growing in a very small space, or for creating a grow room for a collection of plants. A great gift for a gardener who wants to keep growing year-round.

Ask at local garden centers to see what’s available nearby, or go online. Charley’s Greenhouse had a number of options that you can find here—http://bit.ly/2iKAyii—and you can find many more.

The two live plants that I really think make great holiday gifts are amaryllis bulbs and orchids in flower. Each appeals to a certain type of gardener with certain skills. The amaryllis can be a one-shot thing or it can keep on giving for years and years.

You can find the bulbs now at local garden centers, or you can buy them online from White Flower Farm at whiteflowerfarm.com. Choices at local shops may be limited, but WFF has dozens of varieties and package deals where you can simply buy the bulb or buy an entire bulb kit, or several. For the one-shot gardener, all you need to do is plant (unless it comes pre-planted) and water, and in about eight weeks there’s a magnificent flower or two that will last several weeks. For the gardener who is up to a challenge, the bulb can be forced to rebloom every year, and the parent bulb will even produce kids as time goes on.

When buying bulbs, remember that a pot (at least an inch larger than the diameter of the bulb) is necessary, as is some basic potting soil. Clay pots are best, and you can put together your own combo for about $20 or buy the entire self-contained kit for a bit more. WFF now has a promotion where you can buy three kits and have them sent to three different addresses for about $130.

As for orchids, these, too, can be for both novices and more accomplished gardeners. Novices will be wowed by the colors and simplicity of care (which needs to be followed), and more advanced gardeners will welcome the challenges of bringing these plants back into flower.

The cymbidiums are among the easiest that you’ll find at local shops, and the cattleya a bit more difficult. The best of the orchids go quickly, but you can buy one early and keep it in a cool, bright room, where it will probably be just fine until the holiday. Choose a plant that has not only flowers but buds, and don’t be timid about asking for help in your purchase. Expect to pay from 20 bucks up to hundreds. It also can’t hurt to include a good book on orchid care by either David Frowine or Ellen Zachos.

Many more suggestions next week, both big and small, inexpensive and bank busters, so come back for more—and, of course, keep growing!

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