The Best Gifts for Gardeners According to a Chef-Turned-Green-Thumb


Last winter my friend and downstairs neighbor, Celeste, decided to move out of the ground floor apartment she had shared with her husband for nine years. My studio had a pair of skinny windows that faced onto a noisy gas station and body shop, but Celeste’s unit received bright southeastern sun and opened directly into a secret garden. I called my landlord, signed the paperwork, and waited to move in.

Celeste, an avid gardener, had spent the last decade nourishing this Brooklyn space into a lush, dappled paradise—planting frilly ferns and pothos lillies against the shaded back fence, winterizing the fig tree in thick blankets before the first snow, and building and tending to three large raised beds where she grew vegetables and herbs that she’d harvest and leave on my doorstep, edible bouquets stuffed into a mason jar. Now the garden was mine.

I was eager to keep it going, but though I had worked with plenty of beautiful fruits and vegetables in my past job as a pastry chef, I’d never gardened and had no idea how to start. But friends came to my rescue, gifting me their time and expertise as well as actual amazing stuff, like the tray of onion seedlings Mindy drove up from Florida; a trio of worn tomato cages Bob dug out of his garage when I complained about my drooping vines; and giant bags of hay Jared brought over to keep my topsoil warm. They gave me exquisite heirloom starts, including psychedelic varieties like “reisetomate” tomatoes and “sugar rush peach” peppers and taught me how to make compost tea (a compost-and-water concoction that nourishes your plants).

The advice and items from friends and family members kept my garden alive, and while I can attest that the best gift for gardeners is the gift of self-sufficiency, a beautiful mosaic flower pot does not go unappreciated. I’ve culled this gardening gift guide based on my own experiences over a season spent digging, watering, weeding, and harvesting. These tools may not be the flashiest or fanciest, but they are the ones I use myself, and they’d make a wonderful holiday gift to anyone just starting out—even with just a few indoor plants.

Back when I’d spend 12 hours on my feet on hard tile, these used to be my kitchen boots. Now, they’re my gardening boots. They’re already perfectly worn in, and unlike clogs, they keep my ankles dry and safe from the clouds of mosquitoes that haunt my garden underbrush.

But if your favorite gardener prefers the on-and-off ease of clogs instead, this dependable pick from Hunter is hard to beat. Made with flexible, waterproof rubber and featuring the brand’s signature tread for good grip, they were specifically designed for tending the garden. The neoprene lining makes them comfortable, breathable, and easy to slip on and off.

While these indestructible stainless steel scissors aren’t necessarily pruners, they’re sharp and strong as hell. Cookware brand Material designed these with kitchen and cooking use in mind, but honestly my pair lives outside, where I use them to trim the unruly, thick branches of my lilac and fig trees and quickly snip herbs, salad greens, and flowers for my home. These kitchen shears make a great gift for gardeners and home cooks alike.

The hori hori is a minimalist’s dream. It can cut, dig, saw, till, measure, and more, doing the job of several gardening tools and essentially eliminating the need for a full arsenal of weeders, trowels, and hand forks. Consider this one of the best gardening gifts for both beginners and pros alike.

I’m one of those “bugs LOVE me” people—a quick lap in my garden, and I’ll have upwards of 25 welts all over my body. I wanted to avoid DEET-based repellents, so I took to Instagram to crowd-source more gentle remedies. Though I received hundreds of mosquito repellent recommendations (stickers, pumps, fans, full body mesh coverings…), I’ve personally found this non-synthetic, organic Badger Anti-Bug Spray to work the best for me, and its essential oil blend of citronella, rosemary, and wintergreen smells lovely, too.

Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray

I always carry a stick of After Bite because no bug spray is perfect and I cannot resist scratching. The solution tingles and burns in a very satisfying, sinus-clearing way while the baking soda dries out the bite. It works instantly—and for the first summer I did not have the scabby legs of an 8 year old.

After Bite Advanced Itch Relief (4-Pack)

This protective sun hat from Outdoor Research is made of lightweight, breathable cotton, and its wide brim will keep the sun off your neck, ears, and face. Plus, its UPF50+ rating helps block out harmful UV rays. It comes in two colors, sand and beeswax—both Gorpcore enough that you may find yourself wearing them beyond the garden.

Outdoor Research Saguaro Sun Hat

This pair of gloves is tough and durable enough to protect hands from digging and thorny stems, but not so thick that you sacrifice dexterity. Made with cowhide leather with extra stitching around the thumbs, these Barebones gardening gloves are water-resistant and soft enough that they’ll break in quickly.

Barebones Living Classic Leather Work Gloves

Plant lovers will appreciate the beauty of Anthropologie’s Nadya ribbed watering can. Made from delicate hand-crafted glass, it’s begging to be used year-round as home decor. It comes in three translucent colors and shapes—each one perfect for hydrating little windowsill houseplants and indoor herb gardens.

Nadya Ribbed Watering Can

A great garden apron is really just a great apron—one that works just as well in the vegetable patch as it does in the kitchen. This linen, cross-back apron from Terrain is lightweight and moveable, yet more heavy-duty than others of the same style. It also boasts two sets of big pockets that lend plenty of space for all of your gardening tools.

Lithuanian Linen Apron, Sky Blue

I keep a stack of durable woven straw baskets—like these fair trade, pine needle Mayan baskets, which I picked up at the food bookstore Archestratus—outside with my gardening tool set. When I’m ready to harvest, I grab a basket and fill it up with veggies. It would even make a thoughtful gift for a non-gardener—it looks as beautiful outside as it does inside, resting on my kitchen counter.

There are many ways to stabilize tall, spindly plants like indeterminate tomatoes (which are vining varieties, like Sungolds, that produce fruit throughout a season), but I use waterproof braided twine to loosely tie vines to wooden stakes. Besides being my favorite color, the hot pink hue is easy to spot while I’m literally in the weeds, and the stakes provide just the right amount of support for tall tomatoes, peas, and beans.

Conical steel wire cages are my go-to for determinate tomatoes (which have a shorter season of producing fruit and often grow fast, compact, and wide) and other high-yield bushy plants like peppers. They provide structural support on all sides once the plant starts producing heavy, fat fruit. The key is to lift the plant off the ground and encourage air circulation; the closer to the soil, the more likely the plant will be exposed to blight, rot, bugs—and, um, in NYC, rats.

Copal, a sacred tree found in Mexico and parts of South America, produces a sap that has been burnt by indigenous Mesoamerican cultures for thousands of years. Camille Becerra suggested I use it while gardening. Its bewitching scented smoke helps keep mosquitoes away (mosquitoes are weak fliers and hate smoke and wind) and brings me peace and clarity.

Mayan Copal Incense (10-pack)

Chemical insecticides, while being terrible for both animals and humans alike, also wipe out bee populations and pollute our water supply. So I stay away. Instead, I buy this organic, non-toxic Bonide BT spray (short for the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis). It doesn’t hurt beneficial insects (like pollinators and earthworms), but does kill the infuriating, destructive worms and caterpillars that gobble up my lacinato kale and other brassicas.

Although the majority of my vegetable gardening happens in raised beds, I keep about a dozen smaller plants (mostly drought-resistant herbs like rosemary, lavender, thyme, and rue, as well as persistent herbs that are prone to sprawl in beds, like mint) in ceramic pots lined up on a ledge. My most prized pieces are the pearlescent mosaic-coated terracotta pots from Brooklyn-based glass artist Kevin Newcomb. Whether your favorite gardener has indoor succulents or an outdoor herb garden like mine, every cluster of pots deserves a personal disco ball.

Growing a full garden from seed still feels too intimidating, but I did direct sow (that’s when you drop the seeds right into the tilled soil as opposed to in a small container indoors) about a third of my garden, focusing on quick growing, immediate-gratification greens like lettuces, arugula, and cilantro, and prolific vines like zucchini.

Seed packets offer way more bang for your buck than starts and are a great way to explore esoteric breeds, which are much harder to find in seedling form. Row 7 is based at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and breeds organic, non-GMO seeds with poetic names like midnight roma tomato, beauregard snow pea, and badger flame beet that are meant to be planted in moderate New York climates. At about $3.75 for half an ounce of seeds, it’s definitely cheaper than a visit to Blue Hill.

Row 7 898 Squash (2 count)

It’s expensive, but I love the non-greasy, scentless formula, which dries with a satiny finish. I slather it on before I apply bug spray.

The best gifts for gardeners are the ones that’ll last for years to come. The Dramm hose promises just that. Sure, it’s a bit pricey, but it’s known (and loved) for its heavy duty durability and ability to resist kinks. Bonus: It comes in a variety of colors like purple, blue, and yellow.

Dramm ColorStorm Rubber Garden Hose

And finally, shout out to my alma mater Cornell University for its stellar vegetable and flower growing guides, which are organized in a way even a gardening dummy like me can understand.

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