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Some Timely Gifts for Lovers of Yardwork

December 20, 1986|ROBERT SMAUS | Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine

Gifts may be uppermost on your mind this last weekend before Christmas, when everything else, including gardening, takes a back seat to the holidays close at hand.

Gifts from a gardener can be special for the recipient. As an experienced gardener, you can give something that is hard to come by--your knowledge of plants and how they grow. For instance, you undoubtedly know a few roses that do better than others here in Southern California, something that can't be found in books and may have taken years to learn through trial and error.

A Good Gift Choice

Roses are a good choice for a gift plant since practically everyone likes them, and they are just now appearing at nurseries as bare root plants. Being dormant, leafless and cut back, they are very packageable, and they don't have to be planted immediately if their roots are protected (though they should be planted within the week).

Bulbs are a real bargain right now, many having been marked down by half, and they can still be planted, even after the holidays. They, too, are easy to wrap and give.

If you think back, you can probably think of plants in your own garden that others have commented on. Match the plant to the person who liked it and you have yet another gift idea. Now you just have to find another like it at a nursery, and figure out how to wrap it.

More Difficult

Gifts for a gardener are a little more difficult to come by. But through the years I've observed that beginning gardeners, and even some expert at it, skimp on garden tools, so you might consider some quality tools. I am not talking about something exotic or imported, but tools carried by any good nursery.

Here are two marks of quality in a garden tool: The handle should be hard and sturdy so you can lean into it, and the metal blade should be one piece of iron, with no welds. A common brand that meets these criteria is the Union "Deluxe" line, and they aren't very expensive.

The most important tool in the garden is the spade, yet I am always surprised by how many gardeners make do with a shovel, and a cheap one at that. A spade is not a shovel--its blade is flat, long and can be sharpened. It is for improving the soil and for digging, and its honed blade will sever turf or roots. If you want to add a stocking stuffer to this package, include a 12-inch "mill bastard file," which is what you need to sharpen a spade.

Hard to Beat It

There are plenty of gimmicky hoes around, but in my book it is hard to beat an ordinary, old-fashioned one. Again, look for one-piece construction or the hoe blade is going to break from its shank when it encounters its first stubborn weed. The bastard file also keeps a hoe sharp, and sharp it should be.

The other important tool in any gardener's arsenal is the steel rake. Look for flat, one-piece construction--one of the tangs should be bent back and secured to the handle.

I have also observed that very few fellow gardeners have a decent pair of pruning shears, and here let me suggest a pair of Corona pruners. Corona pruners are the ones with the orange handles you see in a leather holster riding on the belt of most professional gardeners. These pruners are made right here in Corona, Calif., and, for my money, they are unbeatable--simple, rugged tools that can be lost in the bushes and still work a few weeks later when found, something to which I can testify firsthand.

My favorite is the smaller No. 60 hand pruner, but I also have a pair of the extra-sturdy No. 5 grass shears that I don't use on the lawn but to trim back perennials or nip away at the shrubbery. And if you feel real generous, look for the extra-long-handled loppers, which every amateur orchardist should have for that huge winter pruning just around the corner.

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