Overpriced, useless, or just plain bizarre: an anti-garden gift guide


Gnome image courtesy of Shutterstock (Only kidding on this one. I heart gnomes.)
Gnome image courtesy of Shutterstock (Only kidding on this one. I heart gnomes.)

Inspired by the wonderful Haters Guide to The Williams Sonoma Catalog, which you have no doubt enjoyed via its countless Facebook postings, here is a similar look at the world of garden-related mail order. Sadly, a) I am not even one millionth as funny, and b) the gardening world lacks the rich diversity of overpriced and utterly superfluous crap that the food world has in such abundance. 

We gardeners are—pretty much—practical folk and we’re not as likely to throw our money around as much as rich and bored foodies might. Fortunately for me, W-S has ventured into the gardening realm, and a lot of their gardening goods are just as WTF-ish as their food-related offerings. In fact, Deadspin has plenty to say about their chicken coops. (I don’t really mind those. They help maintain living creatures, at least.) And there is other stuff that might not be expensive, but provides little benefit, unless you think we need more landfill fodder.

potting A “hardworking table.” It better be.
Remind me again why it’s necessary for me to use a table made with “reclaimed 19th-century European pine salvaged from buildings scheduled for demolition” as a surface for putting plants and dirt into pots and taking plants and dirt out of pots.

trugBut it’s bespoke!
This might look lovely as a stationary indoor fruit basket or some such—and at least it’s not $100 any more—but as for actually using the thing, all I can think about is the bumping against my hip and the scraping against my arm.

agrarianHeheh. They said agrarian.
This is priced at $12.95–$269.95. The $12.95 part is the replacement liner. Now. I have nothing against raised beds. But this is not a truly useful raised bed. This is a dumb-looking wooden crate that will yield a few herbs and lettuces to be used in a salad that—I will inform my dinner party guests—was just picked from my garden.

bulbshovelStupid bulb tricks.
There’s an argument to be made for expensive handmade garden tools. But this is not the item that would convince me. I plant hundreds of bulbs a year, and one thing I’ve learned is that you really don’t need a special tool for it. Stick a spade in the ground, drop the bulb in, cover it up. Boom. Better yet, stick a big shovel in the ground, throw a bunch of bulbs in, and cover them up. Double boom. This is $50 plus a backache.

greenhouseRecipe for fail, part I
Oh, seeds. Oh, seeds, seeds, seeds. I’ve learned my lesson with seed-starting and learned it the hard way. I am thinking that if, and only if, you filled up the cell part with better stuff and put it in a real greenhouse, you would likely get seedlings, but I’m also thinking that people with real greenhouses wouldn’t be buying this.

hydrofarmRecipe for fail, part II
And it looks so uninviting, like stuff you might wear to protect against against toxic waste. To get folks to spend $35, I would have gone another way with this photo shoot.

greenLEDI have no idea what this is or what it does, but it has the word “farm” in it.
On the other hand, it is only 17 bucks. Maybe I should buy it, put it on, walk around with it for a few days—yeah, at work would be best—and see what happens. People keep talking to me, and it’s annoying.

Got some useless garden gifts you’d like to complain about? Or—much more likely—do you want to rebuke me for needlessly trashing things that other people might really like and that might encourage them to garden? Regardless, I hope you all get great gardening gifts—including the best gift of all: a honking big gift cert to your favorite IGC!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. The green LED head lamp is for checking up on your indoor garden during the dark cycle….for a certain high profit crop.

  2. the heat mat and greenhouse combo is a highly effective seed/cutting propagation item. If you consider the heat mat by itself is $30 the price is good. The miners headlamp is for those growing “tomatoes” or “tomatoes” indoors. They are a great gift for someone growing an indoor medicinal garden….like in Colorado

    The TROLL

  3. I bought just the heat pad for starting seedlings and a lamp. You can use normal plastic sheeting to cover the seed tray and a bag of seed starting mix, so I don’t think you need the “green house” part or the pellets. Because I am a nerd, I did a controlled experiment, and I found that the heat pad accelerated germination by 1-2 days. So if that’s important to you, go for it.

    I’ve also used the heat pad to get dough to rise in my cold house…

    • Thanks for the heat mat/dough-rising tip! My kitchen is farthest from my heat pump and therefore the coldest room in my house so baking bread is a sloooow process in the winter months. I love multi-taskers!

  4. I got the heat pad as a gift & have used it for seed-starting. But Like Mary ^^, I find it better for helping my dough to rise.

    The raised planters are helpful for gardeners who can’t lean over far, stand for long, or are in wheelchairs. When my Mom, a lifelong gardener, was housebound by emphysema (her oxygen tank tether kept her from venturing more than a few feet off the front porch) I did what I could to bring the garden to the front porch so she could get her hands in the dirt. I thought about buying a few of these, but in the end frugality won. My Dad & brother took one look at the photos & made several similar boxes-on-legs for a fraction of the cost of one from W-S. We put ’em on the porch, added dirt, & a chair on wheels. Mom could once again sit in the sun & grow tomatoes or petunias or whatever her heart desired.

  5. I totally agree with you on all but one of these: the head lamp. My husband has used his to work on our old tractor so he can get better light than available in the barn and have both hands free. (Unless the darned thing has died out in the woods, usually he is working on it in the barn and it won’t start.)

    I have actually tried the Jiffy pellet things and found that I had to take the pellets out of their little “nets”. The nets never seemed to break down. I found them more than a year later still intact in my compost pile.

    • I haven’t used them in at least five years, but I still find the nets in my compost. I don’t think they’ll ever go away, but the marketing said biodegradable so I’m stubbornly sticking it out.

  6. The headlamp thingy (with a normal light bulb) is actually invaluable during power failures. You’ve got your light with you; you don’t have to fumble for a flashlight, and best of all (for me, at least) – you can read!! The rest of it seems pretty silly – to say nothing of vastly overpriced.

  7. One of my best finds was a cedar or teak potting bench that was sitting by the curb as the owners were moving. I stopped and asked them if I could have it and got the truck and picked up. Bolts needed tightening that was all. this was O bet 6-7 yrs ago. i use my heat mat but it can really dry the seed starting media out so I have to watch carefully.
    I have one SIL who farms and they built a great chicken coop on an old hay wagon and it beats any ready made overpriced coop!

  8. I thought the headlamp was for when you want to garden at night because you just can’t stop even though it’s dark. I have felt that way–having so much fun.

  9. I use my headlamp to check on my rabbits early in the am before daylight and in the evening when days are short. I don’t have electricity out in their shed. I tried several LEDs before realizing that the floodlight was more practical than the spotlight…and I love it!!! I’m not a farmer, just a pet owner who piddles in the yard. Wow! that sounds wrong! The raised bed gardens are a godsend for gardeners who can’t get down on the ground anymore…not that they cannot be built easily if one has access to a handy person. My advice..for what it’s worth..is to think beyond your own abilities a bit before you slam something.

    • As an urban gardener, the headlamp was just unfathomable to me. Now I see what people use it for.

      But I will and do slam anything that I think is overpriced and limited in its usefulness, which that raised bed most certainly is.

  10. My favorite didn’t make your list. It is the $22.00 paper clip with a succulent cutting from Flora Grubb Garden Nursery in S.F. – I love this nursery and the owner is out of this world talented and business savvy – I applaud anyone who can sell a succulent cutting on a paper clip for $22.00.

  11. I confess I bought the jiffy pot greenhouse thing. It was end of season and 99 cents. So of course I forgot about for a few seasons. When I finally got around to using it, it worked great. Must have been beginners’ luck. Went out and bought it full price, and not much sprouted and what did died. But that was probably caused by the cat who I caught napping on it.

  12. Hey W&S. Hey Elizabeth. Get your tanks off our lawn!


    Agree about some of the the prices. And the trug.

    Bulb planters are excellent if you got hundreds to plant and much, much better if planting in a lawn for instance. They are also great for making golf holes! This one is ours http://www.worm.co.uk/products/long-handled-bulb-planter – about the same price but a much better length.

    You should see what we have to reject from our selection – now THAT would make a cracking facebook page.

      • Plugs? Your supposed to put them back over the bulb aren’t you? We use a thick piece of wood to push them back out, but don’t try and do it with you hands though – dem cutting ends are sharp!

  13. “On the other hand, it is only 17 bucks. Maybe I should buy it, put it on, walk around with it for a few days—yeah, at work would be best—and see what happens. People keep talking to me, and it’s annoying.”

    Hey Eliz, this made me guffaw — I disagree about you and the one millionth as funny thing. And omg I’m glad you showed me the Hater’s Guide to the W-S Catalogue. I quit Facebook (again, 3rd time) and this is the kind of thing I miss.

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