Gardening gifts to please any 'green thumber'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Gift-giving for the gardener becomes easier each holiday season as new products and new plant varieties appear. Gardening, in fact, is on the upswing, and it's a rare shopping list that doesn't include at least one dedicated ''green thumber.''

Gardening gifts are always welcome, and they are available in every price range.

You can buy a packet of seeds for as little as 50 cents, or spend several hundred dollars for a small greenhouse. And there are a myriad of choices in between these extremes. There is little doubt that the gardener on your list would happily forgo the traditional blouse or necktie for a bit of greenery, a new set of gardening tools, or a collection of herbs.

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Bulbs, which belong in every garden, are always appreciated. It's hard to think of anything you can plant that gives so much beauty in exchange for so little time and work.

Along with the robin, the crocus is considered a harbinger of spring, and it is so easy to grow that anyone can have good results. Crocus bulbs multiply fast and live for many years. Tulips, daffodils, and narcissus would be equally wise and popular choices.

Don't overlook the bulbs that are destined to provide showy indoor blooms. Some are not suitable for outdoor planting but may be grown or forced in the house and planted in either soil or water.

You can buy shallow bulb planters for clusters of daffodils or crocuses, or a special glass (for about $5) for growing the elegant hyacinth in water. The glass is shaped like an hourglass to hold the bulb safely above the water so it will not rot.

Even more spectacular is the African hybrid amaryllis. Less than a week after the bulb is watered a green shoot appears, and a few weeks later the plant unfolds enormous white, pink, or red blossoms.

Houseplant devotees never seem to have enough of them. You can select a tried and true favorite such as ivy, ferns, palms, or philodendrons, or opt for an ornamental plant with brilliantly colored foliage. There's the croton - whose leaves are a combination of yellow, pink, orange, and green shades - and the popular purple and green coleus.

African violets and bromeliads grow successfully indoors. So do a number of cactuses and succulents. Children have a penchant for cactuses, so consider planting a small cactus garden for any youngster on your list. They are available in a bewildering array of strange shapes and will flourish with a minimum of attention.

Prosaic gifts are not to be scorned. An extra trowel is always greeted with enthusiasm (I perpetually mislay mine), as are gardening gloves, peat pots for starting seeds, weatherproof plastic markers, and the convenient clay flowerpots.

If you're looking for something a bit more unusual, think about an inflatable scarecrow or a container of earthworms, ladybugs, or praying mantis egg cases.

Combining related gifts is fun. You might fill a stack of three graduated clay pots with a mesh bag of onion sets, or give an assortment of bulbs with a special bulb-planting tool and a sack of bone meal.

Whether novice or veteran, the chances are that your gardener enjoys reading about the subject. I once sat up until after midnight one Christmas night, reluctant to lay down my new gardening book. Excellent books are available at every book store and nursery.

There's a wealth of general information, as well as specialized volumes. Whether you're looking for a book about Oriental vegetables, roses, herbs, or begonias, you'll be surprised at the variety of books on the subject.

Magazines are appealing gifts as well. A subscription to a magazine such as Flower and Garden Magazine or Organic Gardening and Farming will bring pleasure throughout the year.

When you're ready to go shopping for gardening gifts, remember that each nursery sells different merchandise and that many specialize. Call before you go to find out which nursery carries the plant, seeds, or tools you're looking for.

Although many florists sell house plants in addition to fresh flowers, you'll probably find a wider selection of both indoor plants and accessories in a plant boutique.

Finally, there are mail-order companies that offer unusual items. If you're in a quandary about what to buy, ask for a free catalog. These companies include:

* W. Atlee Burpee Company, Warminster, Pa. 18974

* Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321

* Geo. W. Park Seed Company, Box 31, Greenwood, S.C. 29647

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