Beware of a woman bringing gifts for the garden—not! Really, if you are a gardener or pretend to be a gardener or just know someone who is a gardener, gifts in the general direction of that sacred entity are more than welcome. They are a pleasure, and more often than not, they are a necessity. Trowels? Where did I leave them? I just had them in the carrot bed. Weeding implement? Where did I leave that? I just had that in the carrot bed. Hand cultivator? Same thing. But here are some things to replace the lost garden implement, to give pleasure to the person who has not lost anything but could use more of something in the garden. Of course, it is better to give than to receive, though in my experience, a gardener finds an equal amount of pleasure in giving and receiving.
A very good trowel and three-tine cultivator can be had at Klehm’s Song Sparrow ($48.95). If you are feeling really generous and have the stamina for the huge amount of gratitude headed your way if you should add the handheld weeder to your gift, Klehm’s also offers a great one ($43.95). I know this because it is the handheld weeder that I love, and at one time I had six of them, mostly gifts; now I am lucky if I can find one.
Some other essential gifts for the garden: a Felco F2 pruner (around $52). That is the basic pruner, the essential pruner. Yes, you will be able to find a pruner that costs less, but it will do all sorts of annoying things like get dull quickly or not make a clean cut, and then you will take the name of he who must not be named in vain. And you must have some knee pads. Your son's old football padding would do nicely, true, or a deflated cushion from the sofa you have just paid a man to cart away to the dump would be OK also, but why not invest in a pair of waterproof stretch knee pads to be had from Gardener’s Supply, costing $19.95?
Gardener’s Supply has a trove of useful gifts for the gardener (real or imagined): a pair of gloves called “Nitrile Gloves” ($4.95), which seem to offer good protection for your hands in general, but your nails in particular, especially if you do not have them painted with a gel nail polish, a polish that prevents you nails from breathing naturally. Also there, you will find some little pocket snippers ($12.95) that are handy for places where the Felco is too cumbersome, and what used to be called a garden apron but is now called a “Bloomin Smart Tool Belt” ($29.95), but is the exact same thing as the apron, really. I suppose a woman would rather wear a tool belt than a man would wear an apron. All the same, this is such a good thing to have in the garden, for you can stick all sorts of little things in the compartments, the little shears and the larger Felco pruner, for instance, and various packets of seeds—all sorts of things except for the trowel and things like that.
If it is too late where you live to plant spring-blooming bulbs, White Flower Farm has a wonderful selection of amaryllis, paper whites, clivia and forced-into-bloom tulips and daffodils. What you must resist as you scroll through that catalog online is the abundantly floriferous tree wisteria on the last page. I was once given two of these as a present. The only thing I have of them in abundance are their annoying roots; no matter how much I dig them up, they continue to break ground.
As for books: Every gardener must have The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. It is like the first proper dictionary you possess until you discover Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Then there are Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens by Wayne Winterood, Elements of Garden Design by Joe Eck and The Explorers Garden: Rare and Unusual Perennials by Daniel J. Hinckley.
One last and special suggestion as a gift for the gardener, the pretend gardener or the someone who only knows a gardener: a truly essential necessity for the garden, though one always overlooked, for it seems to be such an extravagance (in truth, just to make a garden is a definition of extravagance itself). It is hiring help for you in the garden. And this help should be a gardener herself—but if she is good at this, she will never let it cross your mind that she is anything but your assistant in the garden, for the garden is yours! This good garden help should cost you between $25 to $30 for an hour's work (though I have known people who charged $50 an hour; such people never heard from me again).
A good helper-gardener is knowledgeable and skilled in the garden. She will weed on a hot day or she will weed on a day that is not hot, but on that day you wish to sit on a chair and look at someone working in your garden (yes, the garden is full of surprises). You must thank her profusely after she has completed her tasks, you must offer her a glass of cool water, especially on the hot days. She will think well of you.
Now, if for some reason you find that you have to make an unexpected call to her home, and as you walk into her yard and pass her garden and you see that her garden is beautiful, much more beautiful than yours and that her garden is made up of plants, shrubs and perennials that are exactly like the ones to be found in your garden—I mean, down to the double- and triple-flowering platycodon that have sported in your garden—do not say a thing about it. Certainly do not call her a thief. She is following in the steps of a long-established garden tradition: the Cottage Gardener. It is in this way the Cottage Garden came into existence.
Jamaica Kincaid is a gardener and the author of My Garden: (Book); Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya and five novels. The latest, See Now Then, was published in February of this year. She is a professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.