Earth-Friendly Gifts for the Gardener

Maybe you recently received the same email I did about an “import-free” holiday season. Basically, the message was: Skip buying cheap decorations and gifts, and carefully select meaningful items that support the local economy. Less junk, less clutter, and better for all of our neighbors.

Bring butterflies like this tiger swallowtail into the garden with perennials like hyssop.

Not long after, a blog I subscribe to had a post with gift ideas for people who support pollinator conservation. Already primed to the idea of meaningful gifts, I clicked on the blog link, but was dismayed to find that instead of gifts that in one way or another promote pollinator conservation, the “gift ideas” were actually an assortment of plastic items with an image of a pollinator on them.

Let me offer my suggestions, then, for gifts most gardeners will enjoy that also have the Earth in mind. Circle your personal favorites, then innocently leave this section on the kitchen counter for someone to see.

The gift of hummingbirds: Our native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is a small, multistemmed tree that grows to about 25 feet at maturity. Bright red flowers are borne in upright, cone-line panicles in May, just in time to provide nectar for returning hummingbirds. At home in moist, shady sites, red buckeye does not tolerate drought or hot soils, but will grow happily in woodland settings or under the shade of mature trees. Use this garden addition as an indicator plant to prompt the cleaning and filling of hummingbird feeders. Find this tree online, at your favorite garden center (to plant in the spring) or at Secrest Arboretum’s spring plant sale.

Nighttime visitors: Ever wonder who visits your garden or wooded path at night? Find out with a motion-activated wildlife camera. Many natural areas use this kind of camera to capture evidence of black bear, coyote and other nocturnal visitors. The Audubon BirdCam promises to be the most unusual gift under the tree (with the exception of the natural suet feeder, below).

Water recycling: Rain barrels have become increasingly popular. These large drums are connected to the downspout, and will provide a renewable source of water for the garden. Summit Soil and Water Conservation (http://summitswcd.org) offers two popular options, single barrels or linking barrels to provide additional storage. Check with the Summit Soil and Water office, or the office in your county, for 2012 barrel availability and prices.

For the birds: Providing a water source is one sure way to enhance the garden habitat and favor bird visitors. It doesn’t have to be complicated or require lots of maintenance. A birdbath can provide enough water for wildlife and is easy to maintain (rinse out and refill once a week during the growing season). Even a hardy, shallow decorative bowl can suffice — a nice option for the eclectic gardener who prefers a dash of color or an artistic addition.

Welcome butterflies: Few garden guests are as welcome as native butterflies. Perennial plants that provide a source of nectar will draw in butterflies. An assortment of sun-loving perennials with a succession of bloom will keep butterflies returning throughout the season. A gift certificate for a local garden center will let the gardener pick out plants once spring arrives. Some butterfly favorites: perennial phlox, goldenrod, hyssop (such as ‘Blue Fortune’), Joe-pye weed, purple coneflower, butterfly milkweed, salvia, catmint and mountain mint.

Birds in winter: Besides the obvious gift of feeders and seed to bring birds to the winter landscape, try an inexpensive heater that will keep birdbath water from freezing, offering a well-needed water source no mater how frigid the weather. Many birdbath heaters are available online for well under $50.

Apple pies for years: Give a gift certificate to Miller Nurseries (www.miller
nurseries.com) or Stark Brothers (www.starkbros.com). These two mail-order nurseries are favorite sources of fruit trees and other edibles for home gardeners.

An inventory of plants: Give a blank book or garden journal with plenty of pockets to collect tags and gather notes for all newly acquired plants.

Unlimited garden walks: Give a membership to Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, the Cleveland Botanical Garden or the Holden Arboretum. Members receive benefits, access and discounts, and can feel good knowing they are helping to support Earth-friendly organizations.

Natural suet: Finally, for an inexpensive gift that they’ll never forget, consider hanging a deer carcass bird feeder in a tree.

This Earth-friendly gift option comes from Dr. John Loegering, wildlife biologist with the University of Minnesota. According to Dr. Loegering, the practice of hanging a deer rib cage in a tree is common in rural communities in more northern states. The rib cage is hung about 8 feet high in a tree once the hunters have removed venison for human consumption. The remaining meat and fat provide a natural source of food (think suet) for many types of birds.

In northern climates, the meat remains frozen all winter, providing food for woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and tree squirrels into March. Because of Ohio’s freeze-thaw cycle, this practice is unlikely to have favorable (however memorable) results here. Perhaps a dozen suet blocks and a few wire mesh feeders might be a better option.

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