The hardest thing about buying Christmas gifts for a gardener is that people don’t do much gardening in Maine during December. Gardeners are planning for the coming season, maybe even thinking about some plants or equipment they want, but they won’t be able to do much outdoors until April.

That means that even for people who disdain the idea of gift certificates rather than actual gifts, the certificates make sense for gardeners.

Contact the independent garden center nearest the person you are shopping for and order a gift certificate. Or go to one of the many great Maine mail-order seed companies — Fedco, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds — and order a gift certificate online.

Simple and done. But some people just don’t feel comfortable with gift certificates, so here are some alternatives:

The tool that gardeners use most often is hand pruners. They prune shrubs, cut flowers, create bonsai and cut back perennials at the end of the season and deadhead. Most gardeners automatically grab their hand pruners every time they head out into their gardens.

The Swiss company Felco is the first name in hand pruners, and the standard is Felco No. 2, but the company makes a lot of different pruners — pruners for smaller hands, left-handed pruners, pruners with a rotating grip, two-handed pruners and ergonomically designed pruners. They are available at most local garden centers and online. They are well-made and trouble-free, and range from about $40 at the low end to about $80 for the upper end.

Another good brand name in pruners is Bahco, a Swedish company, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) has a pair of Bahco’s for $29.95.

Pinetree Garden Seeds (superseeds.com) has a bypass pruner, with no brand name mentioned, for $6.95 that the catalog says is well built and should last for years. If the gardener you are gifting is the type of person who puts tools down and can’t find them later, maybe the $6.95 pruners — or several of them — would be ideal.

A tool used as often as hand pruners does require some maintenance. One neat tool is a pruner sharpener. You clamp it into the pruner blade, and you can sharpen the blade simply and at the proper angle. Johnny’s has one available at $12.95, and Lee Valley Tools (leevalley.com) has another version for $12.50.

While you can’t give people outdoor garden plants for Christmas, you can give them seeds. The Heirloom Garden of Maine in Montville (theheirloomgarden.com) offers four seed collections that would make good gifts. They all are $16.50 if you pick them up at the store, and the only time they will be open this year is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 17). They are $29 if you want them shipped, and you have to order by Friday.

The four collections are of heirloom flower seeds including sweet pea, hollyhocks, cosmos, zinnia and nasturtium; a vegetable seed collection including carrot, bean, chard, lettuce, tomato and snap pea; a Shaker herb collection including basil, lavender, sage, calendula, dill and parsley; and a butterfly garden collection including cosmos, morning glory, zinnia, parsley, sage and lavender.

The Heirloom Garden also sells a variety of decorations, soaps and household items.

L.L. Bean is not a gardening company, but it is a Maine company, and it has some items that would be of interest to gardeners. Bean (llbean.com) has an amaryllis gift set, including an amaryllis in a birchwood pot that will bloom in four to eight weeks, for $29.95. Bean also sells a lot of balsam wreaths and balsam centerpieces, but people who live in Maine probably would do better buying them at local shops.

Want to show your patriotism? Wood Prairie Farm (woodprairiefarm.com), a family-owned organic farm in Bridgewater (way up in Aroostook County) offers a red, white and blue seed potato collection, with 2.5-pound bags of three different potato varieties — the red-skinned, yellow-flesh Rose Gold; Butte, the classic russet baker; and All-Blue, a blue-skin, blue-flesh potato variety. This $39.95 package is enough to grow three 25-foot rows of potatoes.

Another great gift is memberships. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay (mainegardens.org) is urging its members to give memberships, which cost $45 for individuals, $65 for couples and $75 for families. Membership gives people free admission all year, discounts on program fees and in the gift shop, and a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

For people in western Maine, a membership to McLaughlin Gardens (mclaughlingarden.org) might be more appropriate. The garden’s membership page is being updated, so I don’t know what the cost of a membership is there.

Another membership idea is in Fedco (fedcoseeds.com), a seed cooperative in Clinton founded in 1979. This year, for the first time, it is offering memberships for $100 as a method to raise $600,000 for a new warehouse and office building. This is a lifetime membership, with the $100 covering an entire household and refundable at any point.

People who buy the membership will receive a 1 percent discount on all orders; an invitation to, and a vote at, Fedco annual meetings; and a chance to buy some varieties of plants or seeds that are in limited supply. 

Fedco offers a wide variety of seeds, does not offer genetically modified seeds, and offers organic varieties of most of its seeds. A membership would be a good thing for any serious gardening family — not just for the benefits but to support a great organization.

The Fedco Trees segment of the co-op specializes in shipping bare-root stock. The discount order deadline is Jan. 20 and the final order deadline is March 9, so in Maine you have to make your plans while there is still snow on the ground.

And getting back to the idea of gift certificates: To give a gift certificate at Fedco you have to mail a check to them, and the gift certificates can be used only on paper orders, not online. It is one of the oddities of dealing with a small co-op.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth, and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]