Yes, yes, it's better to give than receive. We all know that.
But we have it easy. We don't have to give to the mad gardener in the circle of family and friends. Because that would be us.
And shopping for gardeners, is, I think, extremely difficult. Of course, most of us always like plants. You can give me any amaryllis at any time, and I will be thrilled. Ditto a citrus tree in a pot. I'll be polite about an orchid, even though I have never gotten one of those inert things to bloom twice. I'll even take a whack at keeping a potted gardenia alive again, though I've killed a few of these in my time.
But when it comes to the hard goods, it's not easy to find something nice. Let's face it, we are really short of great merchants in our world. And the endless collapse of garden purveyors from the West Coast Heronswood Nursery to Smith & Hawken–as well as the slimness of most gardening magazines, with their relatively few advertisers–suggests that it is not easy to make money off of us. Are we too earthy? Too bored by material goods? Too cheap?
As a result, most garden things sold by most garden purveyors have no dignity. Too small, too silly. The only thing that's right about them is the price point. I mean, resin bunnies? Most garden ornaments seem to be made for children, and I don't think we gardeners are an exceptionally childish group.
Personally, I miss the old Smith & Hawken terribly, Smith & Hawken circa the early 1990s, when my mother-in-law, a very talented and considerate gift-giver, would send me a handmade white clay Guy Wolff pot at Christmas.
You can still buy Guy Wolff pots: his website sends you to a purveyor called Goods For The Garden, which has interesting pots by other makers, too, including these poppy pots:
It would be great if we could all persuade local potters to make reasonably-priced, cool things for our gardens. But I don't know…so few artisans seem to think of us, I suppose because we are so hard to make money off of! Always spending it on bulbs and not on stuff.
Of course, there are antique stores, which give the present-giver the opportunity to look for ten years without finding anything nice that's garden-related. Yet, I just found the perfect present for myself, and pretty cheap, too, in a New Jersey antique warehouse otherwise stuffed to the gills with gold leaf:
I've been searching for one of these big dragon pots for years: I love the color combination of olive brown, golden yellow and turquoise and I love the rough finish. My friend Bob tells me that these pots were used to store century eggs, weird Chinese preserved eggs, as in the wikipedia photo below.
Apparently, these give off such a powerful stench of ammonia that they are sometimes referred to as "horse urine eggs." You eat the eggs, I'll keep the pot.
It's still possible for an extremely devoted relative or friend to find very nice-looking English and Dutch garden tools on-line, but the great thing about the old Smith & Hawken was that it was a major advertiser and catalog-mailer accessible to non-gardeners, and it had fantastic tools. Again, I cleaned up here, thanks to my mother-in-law, who sent me wonderful elbow-length gloves for rose-wrestling and an English-made edging spade that continues to be beautiful and useful 18 or so years later.
Of course, if there is a sugar daddy or sugar mama in the picture, a gift-giver for whom price is no object, there are always English companies like Haddonstone that will make your garden monumental. But I think Elizabeth Licata, who has a cool piece of art in her garden, has the right idea: befriend a sculptor or ironworker, who will want to give you a holiday present or at least sell you his or her work at a price you can afford.