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What Do Gardeners Want For Christmas?
by Yvonne Cunnington
by Yvonne Cunnington

I am a garden writer and photographer living near Hamilton, Ont. My articles have appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life magazines. My book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless (Key Porter Books) was published in 2003.

My husband and I tend a large country garden, which has been featured on TV’s Gardeners Journal and in Gardening Life magazine. We have had numerous bus tours visit our garden.

Visit her website at

December 22, 2002

wreath.jpg (185620 bytes)Believe it or not, what I want for Christmas is a real touch of winter, so I can sit by the fire without any nagging thoughts about what might be left undone in the garden. When your garden is as large as ours is - at last count we have eight huge beds, a shrub border, plus my husband's new rock garden - there's always something that needs doing. Once New Year's Day has come and gone, I'll start pruning our 75 plus young trees, and lord knows how many shrubs. It's a job I enjoy, despite the cold. Since the trees dropped their leaves, I've been studying their branching structure on daily walks to see how my cuts can enhance their architecture.

For the moment though, what I like best about this time of year is having nothing to do in the garden. I may be one of the few Canadian gardeners who loves winter, and who has a soft spot for both November (although it's still a busy month for us) and the unfairly maligned February, (it's a lot brighter than December, which should count for something!).

Winter is, of course, the time for dreaming and planning, and good garden books always fit the bill. I have two sisters who garden in climates harsher than my relatively balmy southern Ontario -- one in Chicago, the other in Calgary -- and for them, the perfect gift seems to be Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates, by Lauren Springer and Rob Proctor (Fulcum Books, 2000). It's a fine collection of essays on gardening, beautifully illustrated with their own photography. I only just caught up with this book myself, and I'm enjoying Springer's wry commentaries about starting a new garden from scratch in the foothills of Colorado. Springer is one of those dazzling enthusiasts who seems to have energy to burn: not only does she have a demanding garden and an award-winning writing career, but she also manages four dogs, two horses, 10 cats, three children and one husband.

The topics covered in the book range from soil to garden visiting. If you have clay soil, you'll enjoy Springer's "Ode to Clay", that "stubborn, independent" brand of soil she's learned to appreciate. "Like the weather," she writes, "clay is boss. Woe to the arrogant soul who attempts to dominate it, yet the respectful gardener is amply rewarded."

Proctor, also a prolific garden writer, is as entertaining as Springer. Here is he is on Garden-One-Upmanship: "When one writes about gardening, it's inevitable that people will ask to come and see the garden. Every bit of one's presumed horticultural knowledge had better be on display. Never mind the heat waves, seven-year plagues, hailstorms, or roofers (a natural result of hailstorms and just as destructive to the garden)....Visitors are only too happy to tell you the height of their specimens compared with yours (theirs are taller). They'll also compare floriferousness and vigor (in their favor). Whatever might be a prominent plant in full bloom in your border, they've banished from theirs as too common. And my favorite line in Garden One-Upmanship is 'Do you know what look really good with that?' The implicit answer, of course, is anything other than what you've chosen."

Of course, garden tools also make great gifts. If you're looking for a practical gift, here's a hint: if the tool is too pretty to get dirty, your gardening friend is unlikely to use it. One of my all-time favorite tools is the Ho-Mi digger, sometimes called EZ digger, which I use in place of a trowel. I discovered this handy tool after a bout of bad wrist strain from working on the computer (*!#*# mouse!), and it's so much easier to use that don't bother with trowels anymore. When using a trowel, you have to twist your wrist to make a planting hole. After planting a couple of flats of anything, you notice the strain. With the Ho-Mi digger, you simply make a couple of up and down motions while pulling toward you and you've got your planting hole. It's a lot quicker too. If your garden center doesn't carry this tool, many mail order seed catalogues have it. Try

At Canada Blooms a couple of years ago, I made another great garden find, a gardener's tool belt with loops for pruners, and other tools and large pockets that will hold all the odds and sods that you're constantly running around looking for: string, plant tags, marker pen, seed packets, you name it. You can find it at

Well, I've got my shopping done, and the gifts wrapped, and for the next few weeks, I'll be enjoying the snow (if we get any) and cozying up by the fire with a glass of sherry, or that single malt Scotch I hope somebody gives me for Christmas. Cheers, and happy holidays to all.


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