Gifts Gardeners Dig – 2011

I’m in an anti-large-chain-retail mood. It’s not even December yet and I’m already overloaded by the constant barrage of buy-me ads littering my mail (both snail and e-), the Sunday paper, and the airwaves.

Not trying to offend anyone here but … I’m repulsed by television visions of early shoppers shoving, fighting, pepper-spraying, mauling and even shooting each other to get a bargain. I suppose this would be an appropriate spot to insert a video of such antics, but why?

I don’t appreciate pre-Thanksgiving Christmas music and holiday decorations and I fail to see why intruding on Thanksgiving is worth a low-priced TV, video game, hot toy or cell phone. Thanksgiving and the following weekend is my time for relaxed reflection on life’s treasures, to relish family, and to tend to autumn tasks – managing leaves, installing deer fencing, splitting and stacking firewood.

I acknowledge my views may differ from the mainstream … I don’t start holiday decorating until December is fully entrenched on the calendar … but because I don’t want to miss the gifts for gardeners idea boat, here’s my suggestions for plant lovers on your gift list.

Gift certificates to a local nursery.
I don’t know a gardener who does not appreciate the opportunity to stroll through their local greenhouse during cold winter months or a garden center in spring. Trust me. Do some sleuthing to learn your gardener’s local greenhouse of choice and get the gift certificate from there. If your gardener has physical limitations, offer to accompany him/her on the shopping trip and help plant the new greenery. Your time will be appreciated as much as the gift certificate.

Subscriptions to gardening publications.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA For Nutmeg State gardeners I recommend two bi-monthly publications, Connecticut Gardener and the Home and Garden Newsletter.

Connecticut Gardener is written by and for … you guessed it … Connecticut gardeners. I’ve subscribed to Connecticut Gardener for years and, in 2012, I’m slated to be one of their contributors.

The Home and Garden Newsletter contains research, updates and expertise of the University of Connecticut and it’s eight Cooperative Extension Centers.

There are a few national magazines I find consistently packed with good gardening information. Fine Gardening is published by The Taunton Press which also publishes many fine gardening books.

Then there’s a new online magazine, Leaf. It’s inaugural issue, Autumn 2011, hints Leaf will be interesting, humorous and trendy. Purchase a print copy to wrap and be sure to suggest the gift recipient sign up for future issues online

Organic Gardening is ideal for food gardeners, Mother Earth News fits do-it-yourself types, and The Herb Companion is a thoughtful choice for those who love cooking with and growing herbs.

A gift membership.
The Connecticut Horticultural Society offers educational programs, garden tours and trips (read more in my next GOOPs post on December 1, 2011). Membership to The Connecticut Botanical Society – they focus on plants in the wild – brings a newsletter, notice of the group’s walking tours, and events and access to the society’s dried plant library of more than 36,000 entries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The American Horticultural Society, a national educational version of state-based hort education groups, sends their print magazine, The American Gardener,to every member.  It, alone, is worth the membership fee . Members can also take advantage of discounted entry to many botanical gardens and to some flower shows.

This idea list is mostly tallied from personal experience. It should get your creative gift-giving juices flowing but if you need more ideas read my Gifts Gardeners Dig article from last year or stay tuned for my upcoming post, Books for Gardeners.

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This gardener gives thanks

For the sunrise through winter trees.

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For autumn’s display.

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For a beech leaf on snow.

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For blueberry buds and opening ferns.

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For blooms and creatures.

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For photogenic fungi.

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For these few wonders and the millions more that wait for our eyes to behold, each day, each season, each year.

For freedom, family and friends; for health, home and harvest; and for you, dear readers.

Garden thoughtfully and, in the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (courtesy of The Quote Garden),

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

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Autumn’s Leafy Bounty

Feeling engulfed by an ever growing pile of fallen leaves? Leaf season can be overwhelming. Within hours after they are finally raked, blown, swept, sucked-up or otherwise removed from lawns, driveways, walkways, decks, patios and gardens, they return, begging for more raking, blowing, and sweeping. Children love playing in mounds of leaves. Most adults curse the perennial piles, but we shouldn’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Autumn leaves are future soil. Just think of what happens naturally in woodlands. Trees drop leaves onto the ground where they become shredded by wind and under hooves or paws of woodland creatures. Leaves become weighted by rains and flattened by snows. As they decay, leaves break into smaller pieces. At ground level they begin to turn into leaf mold – Mother Nature’s protective mulch for her forest floor. Worms, insects, and an incredible number of soil microorganisms work their magic on leaves in contact with the forest floor. Before autumn rolls around again on the calendar many of previous years’ fallen leaves are transformed into nutrient rich soil … all without human intervention.

It’s when humans get involved that complications arise. We plant gardens and lawns amongst trees, lawns and gardens we prefer not to have buried in mounds of leaves, then we curse trees for doing what comes naturally each autumn. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when a few planned steps will turn autumn’s fallen leaves into valuable soil amendments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Mow leaves that fall on the lawn. Mowers, particularly those with mulching blades, chop leaves into small pieces that slowly decompose and provide nutrients to grass-growing soils. One of the best, low-cost, low-labor supplements you can give your lawn is it’s own clippings. When left to decompose between grass blades, these clippings help feed the soil. Chopped leaves do the same.

If your lawn is covered with too many leaves and you have a lawn mower with a bag attachment, use the mower to chop up extra leaf piles. The collected, bagged mix can be used immediately as mulch on planting beds or around mature trees, or can be piled into a temporary fenced circle. You can follow the steps in this Fine Gardening article to turn your fenced-in shredded leaf piles into leaf mold – another term for leaf compost.  Not this ambitious? Then save shredded leaves in clean, unused trash barrels or fenced-in piles to use as garden mulch next spring or to cover vegetable scraps added to compost piles over the winter. No compost pile?   See how to start a compost pile. Now is the perfect time to get one going. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you must rake or blow leaves into adjacent woodlands try replicating nature. Make sure leaves are evenly spread out over a large area. Piles of un-shredded leaves will eventually decompose, but it takes a year or two.  If you must pile leaves, pile choose a different spot each year. If your property has an area of disturbed or uncovered soil – exposed soil is damaged soil –  cover the area with leaves and let nature rebuild the soil while you get on with your life.

In Connecticut, leaves are a mandatory recyclable item – they do not belong in the trash. CT’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) has about 100 registered leaf composting facilities to handle leaves that fall in areas that do not accommodate on-site composting.

If none of these solutions work for you find out if your town collects  and actively composts leaves. Many towns now do so, then allow locals to use the composted result in gardens the following spring.

The bottom line: don’t let this free and rich source of garden and woodland nutrients go to waste. Nature provides the gift of leaves for us each autumn … we should use this gift wisely.

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