Gardeners are easy to buy for, because the market abounds in useful products. The following list outlines my suggestions for that gardener relative or friend. Everyone is sure to find something appealing, appropriate or practical.

Small stuff

Small items may rate as stocking stuffers, but that doesn’t mean they are less useful than larger products. My first “small stuff” choice is a garden trowel. In fact, let me suggest getting several garden trowels. Here’s why.

Garden trowels are the most used and useful item in the gardener’s arsenal. Whether used to transplant seedlings or to dig into that hill of new potatoes, the simple trowel is indispensible. But all trowels are not made the same.

In years past, trowels were made of thick metal. Some still are. But today, thin, stamped metal has replaced the old, better-made variety. After even limited use, the tips of cheaply made metal trowels tend to bend over, and worse, the stamped-metal handles bend. Well-made metal trowels have none of these defects, making it worthwhile to spend more for something that will last for years, rather than months.

Today, many trowels are made of tough, resilient plastic, and though it seems counterintuitive, some plastic trowels last far longer than many metal trowels. Besides that, such trowels are inexpensive. So buy several, since trowels are easy to misplace. I lost a trowel about 10 years ago and only found it this past year. It’s quite easy to stick a trowel in the ground somewhere and forget about it. So make sure the gardener in your life (maybe that gardener is you) has a good selection of ruggedly made trowels.

Next in usefulness comes twine, another simple, cheap product. But oh, how we fly through twine. We use it for everything, from lining out rows prior to planting to tying up tall plants when they begin to lean.

My preference goes to natural materials such as jute, flax, hemp, sisal or manila. These blend into the background, as opposed to white cotton string that always stands out. Get your gardener several rolls.

After this, consider getting a hefty bunch of wooden plant stakes, the kind that resemble Popsicle sticks. These can be reused, but after a year in the garden, any written labeling will have faded. I use wooden stakes to mark plastic planting cells, and when the seedlings become large enough to transplant, the stakes can go with them.

White plastic stakes work well, too, but I prefer wooden stakes because they are natural and inconspicuous.

Here’s another garden item that has more uses than you can shake a trowel at. Soft twist ties can serve as plant supports, to wrap hoses and cords and as quick fixes for any number of problems. These are available in either rubber-coated wire or Velcro. Both come in large, economy-size rolls.

Next is a product that everyone should use but few ever do. It’s a soil test kit, and with it, you can determine soil acidity levels. According to the results, it may be necessary to add certain fertilizers in which the soil is deficient.

One cheap but very useful product, a spring-loaded seed planter, can handle tiny seeds. Planting lettuce seeds by hand usually results in rows that are way too thick. A seed planter not only saves seeds, it also avoids the need for later thinning.

Here’s another small but useful garden product. Hose nozzles are constantly getting stepped on and broken or left outside with water in them so that they freeze and crack in winter. Along with nozzles, pick up a few hose-menders, little plastic connectors that can link two sections of hose together. It goes against most people’s grain to discard a perfectly good garden hose just because it has one leak. But just cut the hose above and below the leak and fasten it back together with a hose mender and the problem is solved.

My last “small stuff” suggestion is a good set of garden pruners. These are a must-have for all gardeners. But beware of cheaply made pruners, since they won’t make a clean cut. Of all the pruners out there, bypass pruners probably represent the best value, since they last for years and do their job perfectly.

Maine course

Now we’ll discuss larger items suited for gardeners. My first suggestion is a Maine-made brown ash basket. Maine Indians produce these in quantity, and if properly cared for, such baskets will last a lifetime.

One type of ash basket produced here in Maine, the potato basket, can serve for most gardening needs. The shape and style of these traditional baskets has not changed for hundreds of years.

Besides utility-style ash baskets, some basketmakers produce what can only be called works of art. These demand a higher price, but the craftsmanship makes them worth it. Such baskets can become family heirlooms, handed down through the generations.

For those who put practicality first, rubber-coated wire egg baskets last for years, and while not something to hang on the wall inside, these utilitarian baskets can hold oodles of garden produce.

My next suggestion is purely utilitarian. Get your gardener a roll or two of thick black plastic. Some gardeners place this material on the ground and then cut holes in it to accept seeds or seedlings. But even if not used for direct planting, black plastic has another use. In early spring, place it on garden beds and anchor it securely with rocks or bricks. Leave it on until planting time and the heat generated by the black plastic will have killed back weeds that would otherwise grow large and then require hand-pulling.

If your gardener doesn’t have one, this next product may answer a real need. Garden carts come in all manner of styles and configurations, but all serve the same purpose, and that is to haul heavy items, such as potting soil or bales of peat moss.

Here again, you can spend a little or a lot. But no matter which you choose, a garden cart is always a good investment.

For those who like planting early-season crops or who do their best to get in late-summer crops, hoping they will mature before the first frost, grow tunnels make the perfect gift. These come in kit form, with any number of wire hoops that are inserted in the ground, along with special fabric to cover them.

These are made to allow access by lifting the fabric on one side of the tunnel. Grow tunnels, in addition to protecting sensitive plants from the cold, also keep birds and four-legged varmints at bay.

Next, everyone knows that cucumbers grow best when grown on a trellis. A variety of commercially made trellises are available, and all serve the same purpose. That is, to keep fruits off the ground, allowing for better air circulation and exposure to sunlight.

In addition to more traditional trellises, A-frame wire trellises are easy to set up and take down. They also fold flat for easy storage.

The next product is something I would never wish to go without. These are specially designed, hydroponic-style containers that are suitable for growing most plants. Of these, one brand stands out. I’ve mentioned these before, but now, at gift-giving time, they deserve another mention.

EarthBox is the name of the product and everyone should have at least one. These consist of a water reservoir on the bottom, with a grid on top of it that allows the rest of the rectangular container to accept potting soil. A fill-tube and bottom drain make watering easy and the drain prevents overwatering.

My only gripe with these is that they are not suited for root crops. But now, EarthBox offers a deep container specially designed to grow root crops.

Also, EarthBox Junior, a smaller version of the classic EarthBox, takes up less room and even though it is smaller, it works admirably for a wide variety of crops. I usually put two eggplant seedlings in one EarthBox Junior, and these keep me in eggplants all season long, with plenty left over to give away.

EarthBox Junior has merit, too, because even when filled with soil and plants, it is light enough to easily pick up and move to another location.

But no matter what size or shape EarthBox you get, one thing is for certain, and that is that your plants will grow like rockets. These devices are simply amazing.

Tom’s tips

Want to save money on seeds? Then remember that most catalogs carry much the same material. After all, Provider beans, for example, are Provider beans no matter where you buy the seeds.

So unless you have special requirements or are looking for niche products, shop the different catalogs and choose the one that has the lowest shipping and handling rates. You’ll pay less for the same product.