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Santa in Your Garden : Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If all the gift-receivers on your holiday shopping list were gardeners, you’d have it made. No one is easier to shop for. Gardeners want everything.

For starters, we want tools. Forget all those “fairy-tale presents” in mail-order catalogues, advises veteran horticulturist Fritz Steinbach of Huntington Beach.

“Those are for playhouse gardeners,” he says. Real gardeners would really rather have a dibble.

“A dibble--now that’s a real gardener’s tool,” he says. “Once I started using one I found out I could transplant anything--even larkspur, which everyone says you can’t.”

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A dibble, which is narrower and has a more pointed end than a transplanting trowel, lets you

dig deep, straight-sided holes--perfect for transferring delicate seedlings without disturbing their roots, he says.

Gardeners can always use another pair of pruning shears, suggests Joyce Spiller of Costa Mesa. She’d be pleased, for instance, if someone bought her some long-handled ones. It would make cutting back the vigorous Queen Elizabeth climbing rose engulfing her garage less formidable. A smaller-scaled pruner especially designed for the female hand, which several manufacturers now make, is another tool many women might appreciate, she says.

Gardening scissors are another good choice, says Steinbach. “I use mine for a million things--cutting flowers, dead heading, saving seeds for germinating. Everyone should have one.”

Something to tote tools in is another gift option. Spiller carries her tools in a well-worn basket, but--since more often than not she forgets to move it with her from one spot to the next--she has often coveted florists’ their multi-pocketed aprons. She’ll be pleased to know that Heard’s Country Gardens in Westminster has a sturdy-looking, eight-pocketed gardening apron in stock.

Chris Franzen of Tustin also is in the habit of misplacing her gardening tools. The solution she’d like is owning a tool carrier too pretty to leave behind--a French wire basket, say, or, even better, a Sussex trug, the traditional English harvesting basket made of willow wood.

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“I’d love to have a trug,” she says. “Doesn’t that sound English? I even love the sound of the word.”

Gardeners go through gloves almost as quickly as they do potting soil. Steinbach--admittedly perhaps an extreme case--says he wears out several dozen pair a year. But anyone who does their own gardening will always welcome another pair, he says.

Since women both enjoy giving and getting baskets, how about buying one dozen pairs of cotton gloves in the brightest colors you can find, he suggests. Fan out each pair by fastening a rubber band just below the fingers, then present the whole bunch like a bouquet of flowers in a basket. Or put them in a vase. Gardeners can’t get enough of those, either.

Or splurge on leather. Kim Heffner at Heard’s says her favorite gardening gloves are the ones the nursery carries made of suede pigskin by Womanswork.

“They are designed for women’s hands and come in several sizes,” she says. “So, if you have small hands like me, you don’t have to put up with big gaps at the end of each finger.”

Brookstone has a pearl-gray goatskin gardening glove for women that feels as comfortable as a driving glove on, yet is thick enough to be protective.

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Skip gardener’s pants, smocks and vests, no matter how intelligently designed they may seem for the job. Gardeners won’t wear them.

“I just don’t like the idea of wearing something new I know is going to get very dirty,” Spiller says.

“I’d rather just wear old jeans.” Steinbach agrees. “You’d never use them.”

Rubber gardening clogs are different. Those who have them can’t imagine life without them.

“I love mine,” Franzen says. “I keep them by my kitchen door. Now what I need is a lifetime supply of inner soles, because I don’t think the clogs are ever going to wear out.”

Those who don’t own clogs would like to.

“I wear old tennis shoes to garden in, but clogs seem like a great idea,” says Spiller. “It would be nice not having to tie and untie your shoes all the time. You could just rinse them off with a hose when they got dirty. And, besides, they’re cute.”

Since gardeners spend much of their time in uncomfortable positions, devices like foam rubber kneeling pads that make those positions less painful are sorely appreciated. Steinbach, for instance, loves the padded kneeler reversing to a bench bought for him by a friend. (You can find them in catalogues such as those for Gardener’s Supply Co. or Gardener’s Eden.) “Kneelers are fabulous, I use mine all the time,” he says. Never as a bench, however. “I don’t think anyone ever sits on them unless it’s to watch the Rose Parade.”

Not so, says Franzen. “I only use mine as a bench,” she says. “It’s great

for pruning and dead heading. But I use a foam kneepad when I’m planting, because it’s quicker to move around.”

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Franzen rues not buying another comfort aid--a one-legged, pivoting stool for weeding--which she saw once and hasn’t again.

“There always another weed just out reach; it would have been nice for that,” she says. “But then I’d have three things to drag around, so maybe it’s just as well.”

If you like buying books as presents, gardeners will be grateful recipients.

Reference books are always useful. No gardener should be without “Sunset’s Western Garden Book,” for example. But references are like dictionaries. Half the fun is in comparing the information.

Another choice would be “The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Garden Plants” for its 4,000 color photos of plants--it’s nice to see what a flower you’re reading about looks like--and also for the way the information is arranged. If you look at your flower bed in fall, say, and wish there was something blue blooming in it, you can turn to a section that lists nothing but blue-flowered, autumn-blooming perennials and contemplate your choices. That’s handy.

Franzen’s favorite reference is “The Wise Garden Encyclopedia” for its information on cultivation.

“It’s very good regarding perennials,” she says. “I haven’t had my Wise long, but I’m already wearing it out.”

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Steinbach recommends “Perennials for American Gardens” by Clausen and Ekstrom, as does Heffner at Heards.

And, for the truly passionate gardener, Heffner says, “There’s the ultimate reference book, Hortus III, the Encyclopaedia Britannica of gardening books.”

Books that help gardeners lay out their garden are another good buy. Heffner suggests “Planning and Planting the Garden” by Times garden editor Robert Smaus. Spiller recommends “The Essential Gardener” by Derek Fell as “an excellent idea generator for the starting-out gardener.”

Readers Digest’s “A Garden for All Seasons” seen at Roger’s Gardens; “Beds and Borders, Traditional and Original Garden Designs” by Wendy Murphy spotted at Nurseryland; and “Right Plant, Right Place” by Nicola Ferguson found at the Nature Company are good reference books.

Then there are specialty books. Most gardener like herbs, so a herb guide would be a safe choice. Heffner recommends “Herbs: How to Select, Grow and Enjoy” by Norman Jean Lathrop.

“It’s an excellent reference,” she says. And, since it’s in paperback, it’s less than half the price of many other herb books currently on the market.

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“Include a few unusual herbs in 4-inch pots, and you’ve got a nice inexpensive present,” says Heffner.

For a gardener who needs a new challenge, how about “Orchid Growing Illustrated” by Brian and Wilma Rittershausen? The book, found at Nurseryland, takes you through orchid cultivation step-by-step with text and lots of black and white photos. Add a bag of orchid bark and a starter plant and create a new passion.

Other ideas:

* Magazine subscriptions to such gardening magazines as Horticulture, Pacific Horticulture, and Southern California Gardener, Lily Singer’s (KCRW’s “The Garden Show”) new publication.

* Calendars. Spiller loves Tolley and Mead’s herb calendar. “I’ve used it three years in a row. It has great pictures and great recipes.”

* Topiary forms. “Topiary is in again,” says Heffner.

* Birdhouses. Gardeners love them, and there are tons on the market now, one more charming than the next.

* Volunteer labor. “X hours of double digging--now that would be a great gift,” says Franzen.

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