In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
December, 2010
Regional Report

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Well-designed yard art can elevate even bowling balls and plastic rods.

Think Outside the (Gift) Box

Gardeners need "stuff" of all sorts, all year long. Use the choice of a holiday gift to deliver what they really want, and give back to Nature, too.

Practical and Personal Garden Gifts
A top-quality tool always pleases, especially if it's better than you'd buy for yourself. A big plastic can full of potting mix can come with the promise of a repotting party. Set up a mowing service or give someone a subscription to a CSA in their area for produce delivery. Think big: A person who's good with a tiller can give coupons for friends and family to redeem for a new bed. Handy types can build a trellis or pergola for a loved one; less handy givers might arrange for one to be installed.

Use your gardening insights when choosing gifts for other gardeners and wannabees. It takes only a minute to come up with a gift they'll actually enjoy and remember your kindness all year. If Aunt Mae loves African violets, but can't keep one alive, get a look at her apartment. Low light? Get her a simple light stand and set it up for her. Dry conditions? Repot her violets into reservoir pots to simplify watering and fertilizing. A neighbor with a large container garden is easy: choose a decorative pot or a group of classic clay pots. You won't go wrong with a garden cart, a cute red wagon or even a hand truck for an older relative or anyone who dislikes lifting. If you know Papa will be starting seeds next month, fill a stocking with his favorites. For the sophisticated gardener on your list, go straight to your favorite garden center for a gift certificate or gift card. The gift of yard art can be formal statuary, funky and funny, or recycled all-weather items turned into surprising permanent "plants" like bowling ball shrubs.

Give Nature a Gift Too.
In ten days or so, the wreath, tree and garlands you brought inside after Thanksgiving are likely drying out. Indeed, the best case for artificial greens and trees may be that they are reusable for many years because they were never live trees; they do not dry out. However, Christmas tree recycling gives cut trees a continued life in the garden and community. At home, treat the birds by using the tree outside as a big feeder after Christmas. Get rid of the lights and tinsel, but popcorn and cranberry garlands are fine to leave on or add now. Cut citrus and tubes of birdseed hung on strings in place of ornaments make fine, edible decorations. Let the kids roll sweet gum balls in peanut butter and seed for "southern suet", hang them up, and watch the fun. Many communities offer recycling programs that grind trees and garlands into mulch that you can pick up later for garden use, and more should.

Community Projects
Being a daughter of Louisiana, it is with mixed feelings that I report on the demise of the state's coastal restoration program that built brush fences from recycled Christmas trees. The practical data from years of efforts shows little impact on coastal erosion and budget cuts finished it off, but proponents remind us that each recycled tree is one less for the landfill. Some local projects will continue, and perhaps other uses will be found for the brush fences, such as controlling local erosion or pond overflow. To see a good picture of a brush fence, use this link: http://www.cgernon.com/sptf/recyc.htm to the website of Shady Pond Tree Farm.

Perhaps neighborhoods will go retro and turn used Christmas trees into temporary forts for creative children. Or gather up a truck full of trees and friends for a New Year's Eve bonfire. This tradition usually includes a little ritual: everyone writes a private message on a slip of paper to be added to the fire at midnight of the New Year. The message might be a resolution, a prayer for peace or words to let go of the old year's troubles. Where bonfires are legal and safe, they are an amazing way to end one year and begin another, and unlike the slips of paper in fortune cookies, no one is obligated to share their message as it burns up the night.


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