Gardeners are difficult to shop for. If they need a tool, the probably already have it. They are used to the tools they have and will feel uncomfortable using anything else – even if it is supposed to be improved. You can ask them what they need or want, but gardeners in Maine aren’t gardening now, so they don’t remember that they broke the tip off their trowel or used the last of their garden twine.

What gardeners really love are plants. Fortunately for you, the shopper, the gift plant industry is huge, which you probably realize because catalogues are pouring into everyone’s home.

At this time of year, you’ll be considering indoor plants, and not just every green-growing, possibly flowering product in a pot will do. You want to give people plants that will last. That means you don’t give gifts of paperwhites, forced bulbs, amaryllis or poinsettias that will be enjoyed for the season, composted and forgotten.

Something like Christmas cactus, which will bloom every year, is better, and is linked to this time of year.

You want plants that are timeless, and you may want a plant that can eventually be moved outdoors – something like a potted evergreen. An obvious choice is a dwarf Alberta spruce, Picea glauca “Conica,” which is cone-shaped with soft-looking although prickly-to-the-touch grass-green foliage. They are available in small sizes, and they grow slowly, but after a couple of decades outdoors, they will grow up to 10 feet tall.

A dwarf Canadian hemlock would make a good present, if you can find one. They come in weeping varieties and there is at least one gold-colored variety.

A dwarf chamaecyparis, like the golden hinoki “Nana Lutea,” would add texture and a gold color to your recipient’s garden. Junipers, some of which are native to Maine, are another good choice. They come in green, gold and blue.

If you’re buying your baby evergreen at a local nursery, you’re fine – what they sell will live outdoors in Maine year-round. If you’re buying it at a grocery store or a big box store, what looks like a nice evergreen may not be hardy enough to survive a Maine winter out of doors. Buy that small locally grown evergreen, and eventually the person who gets your gift will be able to plant it in their garden. It is, to borrow a phrase, a gift that keeps on giving.

Keeping with the tree theme, a variety of fruit trees can be grown inside.

A dwarf citrus tree, whether lemon, lime or orange, is among the most popular. They even can produce fruit, but without pollinators flying around the house they will have to be hand-pollinated, usually using something like a Q-tip. It’s not difficult, and many gardeners on your list may welcome the challenge. These citrus trees will need a south-facing window or supplemental full-spectrum light from fluorescent bulbs, and they have to be well-watered. Temperatures of a typical Maine home in winter will suit them fine.

Dwarf olive trees are another possibility, though I’ve never tried growing them myself. Olives are a Mediterranean plant (but you know that), so they can tolerate the dry area of a Maine home in winter, and you could put them outside during the summer. You probably won’t get fruit indoors because they need a drop in temperature in order to produce, but the foliage is lush and attractive.

You also can grow fig trees inside, so if the gardener in your life is a fan of the fruit, the tree might be a nice surprise. They don’t want to be in the south-facing window but they will want a bright space. And because they self-pollinate, you can get fruit. Brown Turkey and Chicago Hardy are two of the varieties that are suggested for the best production. The leaves will change color, then drop off in the fall. At that point, the trees should stay in a cool area, and be watered only when the soil is bone dry, until spring, when the leaves will come out again.

The Christmas fern is a much easier plant to tend than the fruit trees, and despite its name, it is not generally considered a holiday plant. An evergreen, it keeps its foliage all year long. Christmas ferns are a good houseplant because they actually prefer the shady parts of the house. The fronds drape, so your recipient may want to hang the pot in the air or place the fern on a plant stand. And they should keep the soil moist and mist the foliage occasionally.

Orchids would also make a good gift. But give them to a patient gardener as getting them to re-bloom is a challenge. If you want to know more, read a piece I wrote a few weeks ago.

If you are short on time or are getting a gift for someone who is strictly an outdoor gardener, consider a gift certificate to the garden center nearest his or her home. Add a couple packets of seeds or a nice pair of gardening gloves if you want to wrap something more than a paper gift certificate.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living and gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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