I spent a morning lost in perusing “Flora Illustrata.” Published in November to mark the 125th anniversary of the New York Botanical Garden, the book includes excerpts from and essays about the garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.

This is not a book you could read in a sitting or even a week. You could spend that much time just gazing at the sumptuous art.

The pages include much more – reproductions of hundreds of historic pieces of garden art collected at the library and essays on the creation of the library, on garden books published worldwide, on different kinds of gardens and on plant research and classifications. The last half of the book is dedicated to North America: native plants, landscape design and the garden catalogs that brought these gardening ideas to the public.

It is a wonderful condensation of the impressive Mertz collection and provides an overview of people’s thinking on gardening at various times in history. The 300-page volume, listed at $50, would make a good last-minute gift for a gardener.

I read it as an electronic version sent to me by the publicist. “I ordered that book last week,” Nancy told me, when I mentioned my reading to her. Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had written about it in his online newsletter, she thought it sounded interesting, and she ordered it.

I’ll consider this a Christmas gift to me, and I’ll enjoy perusing the actual paper book – which is how I prefer to do my reading.


Gardeners do more than reading. They would like tools and plants that can make their gardening more enjoyable and even easier.

The most important tool for any gardener is a hand-pruner, but don’t give those as gifts. There are hundreds of models of hand-pruners. Felco, the best-known brand, has more than 10 models, as do other popular brands, including Pica, Bahco, ARS, Corona and Fiskars. Trying to pick a hand-pruner for someone else would be like trying to pick a mattress for them.

Instead, consider a lopper. The two-handed pruner for larger branches is another essential tool. I had a Felco lopper for a decade or more. When I lost it, I replaced it with a less expensive Fiskars with telescoping handles, which have a couple of advantages. First, you can reach branches that are higher off the ground when you extend the handles to their fullest. And the longer handles act like levers to allow you to cut larger branches with less strength. Nancy has a lopper with a ratcheting feature, which provides even more assistance with big branches.

Other gardening tools can make for good gifts, too. A gardening knife, which is about a foot long, has a sharp straight edge on one side and a serrated edge on the other. You can use it as a trowel to dig small plants and tough weeds and as a knife to cut roots, rope and packages. The one I use came from Lee Valley tools.

Trowels are not as personal as pruners, but I have fallen in love with the 14-inch Wilcox All Pro No. 202 that I bought after Justin Nichols of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay recommended it a couple of years ago. It is a single piece of V-shaped stainless steel with a sharp point on one end. On the other end, it curves into a circle and has a sturdy rubber handle. It is solid, won’t bend and stands up to abuse, while it still fits into the back pocket of my jeans when necessary.

What gardeners always want, however, is more plants. If you aren’t sure what kind to buy, try a gift certificate to a garden center near the recipient’s home.

If you want to give real plants, go with succulents, which are popular now. I visited three garden centers in early December, and all had lots of succulents – mixed in pots, or singles as small as an inch high. They are attractive and easy to care for, and they will provide joy inside all winter long and more joy when you put them outside in the spring.

Probably the best gift of all, if you have time, is gardening help. Older gardeners whose backs and muscles are failing often can’t take care of their yards as they used to. The same is true for younger people who work long hours and have to take care of their families. Offer gift cards for five or 10 hours of yard work. If you’ve been reading my column for a few years, you have the knowledge. Get out there and use it.

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 tomatwell@me.com.

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