By Denise Seghesio Levine, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
It seems like just yesterday was Thanksgiving and tomorrow is practically Christmas. We have only a few days left to gather the perfect gifts for friends, families and associates so the pressure is on for those of us who have yet to begin. But if the object of your affection is a gardener, aspiring or experienced, there is a wonderful gift for that.
For outside gardeners, among my favorite garden extras are nice cushy knee pads or kneelers. The older I get, the more my knees appreciate something soft between them and the rocky ground. Knee pads are handy because you can strap them on, usually with some kind of Velcro fastener, and simply wear them as you garden. But the beauty of the bench-type kneeler is that it makes hand weeding and planting seeds or seedlings easier. Flipped over, it is the right height for a little bench. The height is just right for parking in front of a large bush to prune or deadhead, or simply to take a break, sit and look at all the work you did when your kneeler was flipped the other way.
Starting seeds is fun and economical. And since January is a good month to set up a seedling area and start warm-weather crops such as hot peppers and eggplant, consider giving your favorite gardener everything they need to get a head start on their summer garden.
Nurseries and garden centers carry a variety of mini-greenhouse trays, with individual cells to plant individual seeds and a clear plastic top to retain moisture. Potting soil specifically blended for starting seeds is recommended for successful germination. The fine texture is better for seeds than heavier potting soil; never use soil from your garden. Electric mats made for seed starting can speed up germination. Include a seed-starting book and you may have just grown a new gardener.
You will find a multitude of choices when it comes to seeds. In my experience, many seed packets contain daunting amounts. One of my favorite seed sources for home gardeners is Renee's Garden Seeds, with its curated collections. There are two things I especially like about these seeds. First, while Renee's offers many single-variety seed choices, I like being able to choose an heirloom eggplant mix with purple, white and light green eggplant, a mix of winter lettuce in three colors or the specialty Italian eggplant trio which I have started from seed for the last three years. A single packet yields a variety of compatible plants and minimizes the number of aging seed packets in my drawer.
In one envelope, you can find seeds for carrots in a rainbow of colors, including yellow, red, orange, purple and white, or a melange of beets in five different colors. These seed mixes are color coded with edible food colors so you actually know what you are planting. For gardeners with little space, Renee's Garden also has one of the best selections of diminutive varieties that do well in pots on a balcony or porch.
A decorative ceramic pot with a bag of organic potting soil and a packet of sweet-pea seeds could be a nice gift to brighten someone's winter and bring new joy in the spring. Or a pot brimming with blooming violas or pansies, or red and white cyclamen, brightens winter days with color and is a thoughtful, non-wine choice for a house gift.
Is there anything more fun than watching hummingbirds feed at a hanging feeder or little birds delight and splash in a full bird bath? Hummingbird feeders, bird houses, bird baths, garden sculptures and globes all can make a garden or even a corner of the garden magical.
Wind chimes are another thoughtful gift. Be sure to listen to different tones and qualities of the sound. These can be very personal.
And, of course, at this time of year, little Christmas trees in pots to be planted out in January, fragrant wreaths and other holiday-themed plants and gifts surround us.
But consider one more possible gift for gardeners, or even just someone with indoor or outdoor space to care for. Consider gifting your time.
Someone you love might prefer a few hours in the garden or kitchen with you. Consider a gift certificate for a few hours of weeding or pruning, or an afternoon doing chores at the recipient's direction. Your time might be the most wonderful gift of all.
Next events: “An Apple a Day: Choose the Right Apple for You and Your Garden” on Thursday, January 2, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Napa Library, 580 Coombs Street, Napa. The talk is free.
UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will conduct a workshop on “Rose Pruning” on Saturday, January 11, from 10 a.m. to noon at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. For more details and online registration visit http://ucanr.edu/2020rosepruning or call 707-253-4221.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.