Simplify the Holidays: Give the Gift of Gardening

The clock is ticking down the days, hours, and minutes to the celebration of Christmas. Hanukkah has come and gone. Kwanzaa will make an appearance, as well as the Solstice, Yule, and Saturnalia. And we can’t forget the New Year. There’s lots of celebrating going on this time of year, and lots of opportunities for giving gifts.

Perhaps it is a little Charlie Brown-ish of me, but I often lament how the holidays themselves have become secondary to the commercial aspect of the season. Shopping seems to be the central focus for many people — just look how many people gave up their family time on Thanksgiving to go stand in line to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

But to me, the holidays are about being present, and not giving presents. Of course, I do give gifts for Christmas, but my focus is on celebrating simply and being present with those I care about — family and friends.

There’s a movement afoot to do just what I’m talking about — people who want to simplify the holidays and remove the commercial focus of the season. Whether you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday or a cultural one, or even celebrate one of the many other holidays during the season, take time to be present during the holidays.

The Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit focused on reducing consumerism and shifting the focus on community and family, has a program called “Simplify the Holidays.” It has an online calendar to provide ways to celebrate together and focus on simple celebrations and handmade gifts. I stumbled on it a few years ago, and I always appreciate the information every year.

Now, you may be saying at this point — why is he talking about this in a gardening column? And here’s my point — one way you can celebrate simply is by giving the gift of gardening.

It may sound like a difficult thing to gift, but I think there are some pretty simple ways that gardening can be given. Of course, there’s always the gifting of gardening tools and plants, or gift cards and gift certificates to favorite catalogs or garden stores. I also like to give homemade gifts from my garden — jams, jellies, pickles, herbs, and such. But let’s take a minute to look at meaningful gifts that mean a little more. Here are my ideas:

•  Give the gift of gardening help. If you are able and willing to help out a neighbor, why not give the gift of a voucher redeemable for help in the garden. This is especially good for older neighbors, friends, and family members or those with health and mobility issues. It could be as simple as helping tidy up the yard in the fall, or planting something in the spring. It will help the person out immensely, and you may just learn a thing or two.

•  Give the gift of fresh food. Many organizations that feed the poor and homeless use gardens to grow fresh produce, since they can’t often get fresh produce from food banks and grocery store donations. Make a contribution to one of these organizations in the name of the recipient and send a card with that information. In our area, one such local organization is Manna Meal, which feeds over 400 people every day of the year and depends on its garden for fresh produce.

•  Give the gift of self-sufficiency. Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime. Well, how about both? One organization, Heifer International, makes it possible to teach people in poverty around the world how to farm and provides them with the necessary tools and livestock to do so. In the name of your gift recipient, you can give the gift of seeds to plant, of a flock of chickens, or a whole cow (or water buffalo). Those who receive the items are taught how to raise them, to use what is produced to feed their families and make money, and to pass on offspring to another person in need. The nice thing about this gift is that you can give a small amount or a large amount — you can contribute $10 to a “share” of a goat (or the whole goat for $120) or give an Ark full of animals for $5000. One year I gave a share of a beehive in honor of my father (a beekeeper) and a flock of ducklings in my mother’s honor. It was their favorite gift that year. You can email, download, or have sent a gift card explaining the gift.

•  Give the gift of knowledge. Aside from giving books filled with knowledge, you can always give the gift of knowledge itself. If you are an expert gardener and know someone who wants to learn, offer to give them lessons. You can also give the gift of a Master Gardener class. I’ve had people do this before; people who pay for someone else’s class or part of the class as a gift. I’ll be starting a new course in February, and other counties may have classes available at different times. The course fee is $100. Better yet — give them the gift of the class and take it with them. If you aren’t in my area, contact your local extension office to find out more.

•  Give the gift of treasured plants. It may sound simple, but if you are a gardener you have access to many different gifts that people may want. Are you a seed saver? How about the gifts of your very own seeds? Or how about the gift of a start of a plant from your yard (redeemable at the appropriate time). You don’t know how many people I’ve heard say things like — “My uncle grew the best beans, I wish I had gotten seeds before he was gone.” You may have friends and relatives who would like nothing more than to receive a plant from you.

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