Friday, May 25, 2018
Home and Garden

Christmas gift ideas include garden gifts

A truly succulent gift

Unusual, hard-to-find and collectors' cacti and succulents, along with pots and the soil mix they like; $2 to $200. Shop 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 1220 LaBrad Lane, Tampa.

Mitch Kessler has been my go-to guy for information on all things succulent for years. He's been a president, vice president or some other officer for the Central Florida Cactus and Succulent Society more times than he can count, and his yard is amazing — a jaw-dropping landscape of cereus and opuntia trees and pachypodium shrubs.

Mitch has a thriving day business, but his side gig is Kessler's Cacti & Things, a source for amazing varieties of crazy succies. Two of my favorites are colorful top moon cactus and neon yellow tiger jaws. Top moon is easy to grow and takes medium light, Mitch says. Tiger jaws is slightly more finicky and wants lots of light.

On Saturday, Mitch will have these and hundreds of other plants available at a holiday sale at his home.

"Succulents and cacti are great because they're cool plants: funky looking and easy to care for," Mitch says. "Just learn the plant's needs, just like people."

In my family, the adults draw names for Christmas gift giving on Thanksgiving Day. It's all very hush-hush. No one's supposed to know who drew whose name until the big exchange on Dec. 25.

As matriarch of the family, my mom's exempt from the name draw. Instead, on Christmas she gets flurries of good-for-you technology she doesn't want. What she does want is to be in on all the secret name-drawing fun. So she is.

She'll call me the day after Thanksgiving.

"Whose name do you have, Penny? I think I know who has yours. What's on your list?"

This year, the answer's easy: a subscription to Florida Gardening magazine.

It's a luxury item that used to land in my mailbox every couple months. Always a treat. I enjoyed the articles by and about gardeners from the Panhandle to the Keys; letters from readers; editor Kathy Nelson's "Germinations" column.

Florida Gardening is all glossy, full-color photos and helpful information published by a down-to-earth husband-and-wife team. And it's just $21 a year. (Why have I not just gotten it for myself?)

This is just one of the homegrown gifts that may be the answer to your holiday shopping prayers this year. If you know a gardener, you know you don't have to spend a whole lot of money to make him or her happy; we're cheap. We tend to like local stuff. We're into repurposing. We appreciate creativity. And we're grateful for anything that makes our labors easier.

Here are a few more gift ideas that address all of the above.


A huge selection of roses for Southern climes and soils, including antiques; $24.95. Saturdays only, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 6011 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; [email protected]; (813) 839-6151.

I'm a big fan of Hardin's Nursery, the rose emporium that's served Tampa Bay for decades. Today, it's run by the founders' son, daughter and daughter-in-law, who give their time not for money, but to keep a legacy alive.

If your gardener is afraid to try roses, ask John Hardin about the easiest to grow -- it worked for me. And go ahead and get the $15 planting soil set. It's worth the money.

Along with the tried-and-true easy varieties (Belinda's Dream, Souvenir de la Maisson), Hardin's has some fun new suggestions.

"Pope John Paul II (VERY fragrant), Voluptuous (fragrant), and Barbara Streisand (a beautiful purple that we've not been able to get for more than 10 years)," Karen Hardin writes. "We also just started carrying a floribunda, Love Song, that is such a beautiful big bloom it looks like a hybrid tea."

Every flower garden needs roses. If your gardener has a rose phobia, your trip to Hardin's is a wonderful gift.

Penny Carnathan can be reached at [email protected] Find more local garden stories on her blog,, or join in the chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt. Follow her on Twitter at @digginpenny.

A little help

Gift certificates for one to three hours of hands-on, in-home help building a raised bed, setting up a micro-irrigation system or anything else your gardener desires; $75. Information:; (813) 215-3876; whitwam [email protected]

I know David Whitwam by reputation. He's a passionate Tampa organic gardener who was finally able to give up his day job and launch his business full-time two years ago.

David's all about the science of the soil, and he explains it in the simplest terms imaginable. While his business, Whitwam Organics, offers all sorts of products and services, he says the most popular are his in-home consultations. These are more than just a chat. First, he talks with the gardeners about what they want to do. Then he sets up a game plan, shows up with loaner tools, and provides some muscle to help make it happen.

He'll be at the Sunday Market at Sweetwater Organic Farm, 6942 W Comanche Ave., Tampa, from noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 16 and 23, or just give him a call.

Get edgy

Tools (and knives) sharpened and cleaned for $5 or less each. Call (813) 986-1568; email [email protected] Address: 12213 Langshaw Drive, Thonotosassa.

Last spring, I attended a Hillsborough County Extension event with lots of vendors, including Bill Hebert, tool sharpener. Serendipity! I'd been driving around for months with my dismembered Felco pruners in a body bag in the trunk, hoping I'd run into someone like him.

After observing my pruners were the most thoroughly destroyed he'd ever seen, Bill was grim about their prognosis. But he fished around in his toolbox and, sure enough, he had one lone package of Felco parts. In no time, he resuscitated, sharpened and cleaned my pricey snippers. I was thoroughly impressed.

How happy your gardener will be to have a toolbox full of professionally cleaned and sharpened pruners, loppers, hoes, shovels and axes?

Bill retired from IBM and started this hobby 15 years ago. He says he's the last sharpener he knows of in these parts. His fans include rose societies in three counties and the Hillsborough master gardeners.

If you decide to buy your gardener new tools instead of refurbishing her old ones, he offers this tip: Although Felco tools are coveted, they have no lifetime guarantee. Buy Fiskars. "They have no qualms about replacing stuff."

Backyard Bling

Handmade glass totems; $15 to $35. Shop 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16 at an "open garden" at 811 Knowles Road, Brandon; (813) 685-8141.

I learned of Myrtle Cail's sparkly garden jewelry in 2010, when it won second place in the Hillsborough County Recycled Yard Art Contest. (She has since won two firsts.) It's crafted from clear and colorful glass vases, bowls and other pieces, some of which are antiques. They're permanently secured to a metal stake that you stick in the ground. Plant them and they look like gems floating among the flowers.

Yes, I've already purchased a Bling for someone on my list. Now I just have to figure out how to wrap it.

• • •

Another beautiful and original option? Garden Whimsies by Mary are totems and sculptures handcrafted from china and ceramic pieces scavenged at thrift stores by Tampa's Mary Mirabal. They sell for $25 to $65, and she'll deliver for free locally. For information:; email [email protected] or call (813) 928-9124.)