By Stephanie Cavanaugh
THERE WAS a terrific article that I didn’t read on making your own terrarium in last Sunday’s New York Times. Terrarium construction is something I have no interest in, as it’s the kind of fiddly project that turns into a mess, with dirt everywhere and a small fortune spent on plants and tools. If you would like to tackle one, though, here you go.
Terrariums do make great gifts, though, whether you make one yourself or pick one up ready made. Like snow globes, terrariums are little worlds under glass, and are self-sustaining, so they say.
You’ll find plenty of other gifts for gardeners online at Amazon, Wayfair, Frontgate and various other popular outlets, which will save trips to the post office—though maybe you like a bit of Soviet-style suffering to offset all that holiday joy. But I hope you’ll first try looking in local plant and garden shops, especially this year, as retailers struggle and grope their way through winter, still amid the financial uncertainty of The Plague.
Yes, you’ll probably pay more. But most often you get something you won’t find on-line or in a big box store—help. Like the guy at Ginkgo Gardens on Washington’s
Capitol Hill who took the time to discuss cyclamens with me on a busy Sunday afternoon. Was there any way, I wondered, that I could keep those velvety, ballerina-colored plants in my window boxes over the winter. Don’t the Brits do it—at least in London? Is their climate so different?
Imagine that discussion at Home Depot.
Spend any time at all in a garden shop and there’s bound to be something for everyone from the rank amateur to the seasoned pro. And don’t worry about duplicating an item already in someone’s arsenal: There’s always room for backups.
For instance, I don’t know anyone who digs soil who wouldn’t like new gardening gloves—maybe elbow-length ones if they cultivate roses. These goatskin gauntlets are so handsome I’d wear them to the opera.
The same goes for secateurs/snippers/clippers, which are often either lost somewhere in the shrubbish or so dull of blade that they’re next to useless. And really, when does anyone get around to having them sharpened?
Same goes for various diggers and trowels. How many I have unearthed at the end of the season? You know, the phone rings, you wander off and . . . nuts. There’s such a variety of shapes and specialized uses, like a CobraHead digger that makes quick work of tough weeds and hard ground.
Bird feeders are cool, and one or an assortment—tailored toward the type of birds you’d like to attract, from hummingbirds to vultures—would be a swell gift for someone with a window on nature. Make sure you include the bird food, so the recipient gets hooked on viewing before they have to shell out for more seeds, which can total a tidy tab.
For twining and climbing houseplants now . . . and for next year in the garden . . . there are stakes covered in preserved moss, which gives a more naturalistic look than wire or wood. Some of these are quite long and can be bent into hoops, circlets and swirls, making you look positively genius, which is always a good thing.
Flowering plants are a particular delight in winter—and they’re plentiful and varied this time of year.
Orchids are such gorgeous things, but they can be a little guilt-inducing. While the flowers are very long-lived, when they’re done you’re left with pretty ugly plants for what seems an interminable period.
You can feel free to toss bulbs, however, since most won’t do well a second time around. Heavenly (heavily) scented paperwhite narcissus pack an amazing lot of perfume for such dainty flowers. (They don’t have to be offered in the usual saucer of pebbles, by the way; they’re perfectly happy in a pot of dirt. Maybe stick a bulb or two in a one-off teacup or wine glass, a clever way to get rid of those.) And amaryllis seems to come in more colors and color blends every year.
Most people toss poinsettias, too, though I know at least one person who has grown one into a small indoor tree. They too sport more colors each year: Think pink, purple, yellow and pure white. And bromeliads, which will reproduce with tinkering, will add a touch of the tropics in such psychedelic hues that a grouping can appear like a Japanese monster movie from the 1950s.
Getting back to the beginning. Cyclamen, I’m told by the helpful gent at Ginkgo Gardens, will survive down to 32 degrees. They may flop about the way pansies do if the air is too chilly, but a little sun and . . . sproing! They’re back. If you have a brick wall that soaks the sun all day, the retained heat should offer some protection. If the temperature is going to plummet and stay down there, you’ll want to cover them or take them inside. Worth the fuss for such loveliness, methinks, particularly once you partake of the price tag.
And, oh yes, terrariums. Ginkgo’s has several already made up, in Victorian-style cases and under glass cloches. They also offer an array of beautiful containers and small plants to either make your own, have one made for you or help you fill one you already have.
Ask your local florist or garden center if they can create one—or help you make one—for a gift that will be a pleasure through the howling depths of winter. And beyond.