, Salem, MA

December 20, 2013

Ideas for sharing the gift of gardening

North Shore Gardener
Barbara Barger

---- — Last-minute gifts from last-minute gardeners (better late than never!):

A handwritten note is a promise of a job you will do in the future. Great when the purse is getting empty — but so valuable to the receiver!

It could be a promise to weed a garden once or twice next summer.

Or rake leaves for a favorite elder.

Or to deliver a bag of your very best compost in the spring.

Or promise to dig a garden in the spring for a friend with a bad back!

Or repot a favorite houseplant.

Amaryllis bulbs: the biggest and best bulbs are about $10. Add a clay pot and saucer — total cost, just over $15.

Tools for kids: Give the kids their very own tools — a hoe, a shovel and a three-prong cultivator, with 28-inch handles. All are painted red, so they won’t get lost (we hope!). Set of three, $24.95. And why not add kids’-size gloves? These are real work gloves, made of cotton canvas and leather — they come in three sizes to fit kids ages 3 to 10, and they are also great for women with small hands.

Dried flowers: flowers you dried from your garden this year — you did dry some this year, didn’t you? Use them in a basket arrangement with some greens or make potpourri and bottle in those jars you’re recycling. Add a bow — cost is zero.

Pressed-flower notepaper: Use some of those flowers you’ve pressed to make original notepaper. Carefully glue to paper with white glue.

Put together a basket of potting materials for a friend. Include a bag of soil, a clay pot, some green bamboo stakes, maybe some moss, special stones — anything used to pot during the winter ahead. Cost could be zero.

Give a tree. Any garden center would be glad to write a gift certificate for a tree, or other plants, to plant in the spring. Thinking about this gift might make the winter seem shorter. You set the amount!

Don’t forget Kitty — catnip or grass, grown in a small pot, is the purrr-fect feline gift. It’s almost guaranteed to keep kitty out of the other houseplants. (Note: I said almost.) Cost under a few dollars for pot and seed.

Q: In every Christmas story, I hear about gifts of frankincense and myrrh, what is it?

A: Frankincense and myrrh are both resins — dried pine tree sap. You probably got sticky tree sap while you were handling your Christmas tree or greens, and the fastest way to remove it is with turpentine or nail polish remover.

Frankincense and Commiphora (myrhh) are common to Somalia. The way that people collect the sap is similar to the way people collect rubber tree sap or pine tree sap. Cutting the tree’s bark causes the sap to ooze out of the cut. The sap used to create both frankincense and myrrh comes slowly and is allowed to dry on the tree. The hardened sap is collected and used as frankincense and myrrh.

Both in the time of the three wise men and today, frankincense and myrrh are most commonly used to create incense. You mix frankincense with other fragrant things like spices, seeds, roots, etc., to create different aromas. Traditionally, you burn the powdered incense with charcoal in a censer or on a small stand.

Frankincense and myrrh are extremely common today, and you can buy them locally.

Q: I can’t believe how dark my house gets in winter. This year, I’d like to try some growing lights — but make it simple, please.

A: If you have flowering plants or herbs, plants that require bright light, you will require about 1,000 to 2,000 foot-candles of light for about 16 hours each day. You can’t increase the intensity much over 3,000 foot-candles or you’ll burn the plant, but you can add to the number of hours the lights are on, which is your way of playing Mother Nature. You are simply making the growing day longer for the plant — and isn’t it fun to fool Mother Nature by buying a few hours extra of daylight during the dreary winter months?

Tips for gardening under lights:

Use a timer on lights. It will save fuel and aggravation, as well as your time. Who likes to be reminded, in the middle of the Patriots playoffs that they have to go and see if the grow-lights are on?

Turn your plants regularly — the light from artificial bulbs falls differently than natural light, and the plants tend to reach for every watt they can get.

And since you are supplying the light, you can use new space that you never used for gardening before. Why not have a bed of lettuce under the sink? It would be so convenient!

Q: This year my Christmas cactus is going to be more beautiful than ever. I took your advice and left it out longer than any of the other houseplants this fall, and you could see that there are going to be hundreds of buds and flowers. I brought the plant in to a partially sunny window where everyone could enjoy it as it bloomed — and one morning, a bud had fallen off! And the next day, it was the same — only this time there were dozens of buds on the table underneath the plant. Why? Now I think I will be lucky if I get few flowers. There are no insects I can see.

A: Any of these jungle cactuses share the same need: Once they set buds, they don’t like to be moved and turned to another direction of light source. The plant literally will twist itself off the plant to find its required light.

It’s probably too late to reverse direction. Enjoy what few flowers you get — and remember this for next year. Don’t move it around after midsummer.

Q: We are having difficulty controlling moles or voles. Any suggestions?

A: Sorry to be so late in my response — I’m trying to shoo a dozen turkeys from my yard and garden.

By controlling the moles and voles, may I assume that you mean trapping or killing them?

There are lots of ways to kill — you can poison them by placing poison bait around the hole. They are nocturnal, so check every morning, and you may be able to find a dead mole or vole daily. If you use poison bait be sure to keep it away from kids and pets — and yes, you could kill a child or pet that has consumed the bait.

Gardens Alive sells a safer deterrent that simply keeps them away but doesn’t kill them, and there are all sorts of metal traps you can use to catch and release.

There are several sound deterrents that cause very irritating vibrations that are harmless to small rodents and safer around kids and pets.

Whichever you choose, you should see a reduction in tunnels. Please write me again if you need further brand names. Good luck and let me know what you do!

This week’s dirt: My Christmas card to all my readers

Thank you for all your kindnesses this past year. A very Merry Christmas to all!

North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns are at