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GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published Novemeber 28, 2014

Now that Black Friday has arrived, most of know it is time to start our holiday shopping, if we have not already. If you are looking for a great gift for the gardener in your life, I have a few suggestions…

My favorite place to shop for other gardeners and also for myself is Lee Valley & Veritas ( It is like Cabelas, but for gardeners instead of hunters and outdoors men. They offer high quality garden tools including Felco and Lowe pruners; hand tools, shovels, rakes, spades, weeders and hoes including the ergonomically designed Radius brand; tool sharpeners; Haws watering cans; a full line of drip irrigation supplies and so much more.

One Lee Valley catalog item that has piqued my interest is a pair of Hog Ring Pliers and clips. The original intended use of these pliers was for attaching ear tags to hogs, but gardeners can use them for repairing wire fences and tomato cages, attaching netting to support wires, and more. (You might be able to find a pair at a local farm store.)

Another tempting item from Lee Valley is the Gardener’s Wash Basket. It is a chrome-plated wire basket used for washing vegetables fresh from the garden. Produce is placed in the basket and hosed off with potable water. It should be especially handy cleaning freshly dug potatoes and root vegetables.

If your gardener is into natural, homespun garden gadgets, checkout Minnie and Moon ( They offer a solid oak dibber; balls of green and natural jute twine on an oak spindle; oak plant tags; paper potters for creating seed pots from newspaper; and more. The Minnie and Moon garden trug is on my personal wish list. Both the small and large trugs are made from Pacific Northwest myrtlewood, fastened with copper nails, and finished with food safe mineral oil. Lightweight, functional and sturdy enough to use for toting garden tools or harvesting veggies, they are also pretty enough to use for home decorating.

Consider giving an amaryllis bulb to gardeners who are already pining for next year’s gardening season. Amaryllis can be grown indoors for bloom this winter. Some fairly inexpensive bulbs with red, white, or pink flowers are available right now at local discount department stores. I have been tempted to buy a few just for myself. Plus, amaryllis bulbs will bloom again next winter if cared for properly.

Specialty mail order companies offer more spectacular amaryllis cultivars than can be found locally. Bluestone Perennials ( sells some lovely double flowered amaryllis, like Blossom Peacock with white and red bicolor petals or Double Dragon with velvety red petals. Their bulbs come in kits that include a large amaryllis bulb, a white plastic pot, and growing mix. White Flower Farm ( has a wider variety of single and double flowered amaryllis cultivars.

Finally, every gardener and homeowner with a lawn, landscape, or garden should have an open-sided soil sampler probe for taking cores of soil from the lawn or garden to a depth of 17 inches or more. It takes the guesswork out of determining when the soil is dry and needs irrigation. Probes can get to be pricey, but Ben Meadow’s ( offers an economical low-cost one made of nickle-plated steel from JMC (item # 106078) for $41 and a steel one electroplated with copper and then chromed from Hoffer (item#220160) for $80. A soil probe is an awesome gift, but you may have to explain what it does.

The great thing about shopping for all the garden gifts that I have suggested is that you can shop from the comfort of your home while sipping a hot cup of tea.

Published: 11/28/2014 12:29 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Usually at this time of year I share some great gift ideas for the gardeners on your holiday list. Repetition is boring, so this year I’d like to talk about some unusual gift ideas for gardeners.

When looking for new ideas, the first to catch my eye was the Wearable Gardening Stool. This stool gets strapped to your bottom side with a harness and you ‘carry’ it with you wherever you go in the garden. An adjustable harness made of soft nylon is attached to a sturdy 11.5 inch wide plastic seat. Beneath the seat is a peg or pedestal leg that’s height is adjustable from 13 to 18 inches. For cushioning, there is a coil spring at the bottom of the leg with an anti-slip base. As the gardener moves from place to place, the attached gardening stool goes along too.

The stool was originally intended for use by farmers when milking cows. When the University of Wisconsin’s Healthy Farmers, Healthy Projects began looking for efficient farming tools they came across the stool and wondered if it could help small scale vegetable farmers increase their efficiency. They found that the weird strap-on stool helped lessen the stress on farmers’ backs and knees by letting them sit instead of bending over or kneeling to plant, weed, or pick. The wearable gardening stool can be purchased on-line for about $65 from Clean Air Gardening ( who feature ‘environmentally friendly lawn and garden supplies.’

On the same site you can find special ‘High Tech Plant Examining Glasses’, sunglasses with purple lenses and bright yellow frames. The purple lenses supposedly help you see stressed green plants because they block out the green color reflected from the chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants. Unhealthy plants that are stressed by drought, nutrient deficiencies, or drought will be an off color green or even yellowish. Since the glasses block out green, the wearer will see black or gray instead of green. Sick or stressed plants will show up as different colors, such as red, coral or pink, allowing wearers to discern the problem earlier than they would without the glasses.

According to Clean Air Gardening the $70 glasses use technology developed by NASA scientists. I must say I don’t know if these glasses work or not, but I do know that some individuals that are color blind and can’t perceive the color green, are able to see plant stress more easily than others.

You’ve no doubt heard of a plastic eating utensil called a spork that’s part spoon and part fork. Well, English gardener Rob Todd came up with the idea of creating a new garden tool that is part garden spade and part garden fork called a ‘Spork.’ According to the official Spork website the Spork ‘cuts in like a fork and digs a spit like a spade. It chops roots, slices turf, and breaks up heavy ground.’ The head of the Spork has a sharp jagged edge for cutting and is made of hand-forged carbon steel. De Wit who manufactures the Spork is known for making quality garden tools. You can order the Spork for $70 on-line from

One thing I know for sure is that a gardener wearing a pair of High Tech Plant Examining Glasses along with the Wearable Gardening Stool and digging with a Spork will be the talk of the neighborhood.
Published: 12/9/2011 9:35 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Recently, I was on my way to the store when I saw a statue in a front yard. It was a very nice, very large statue but it seemed strangely out of place. I’m a fan of good garden statuary, but some pieces just don’t seem to fit. Like a piece of furniture in your home, statuary has to “fit” with the style and scale of the decor, or in this case with the house and landscape.

Peter C. Cilio, creative director of fine garden accessories for Campania International, says that a common mistake gardeners make when buying garden statuary is the size or number of pieces in the garden. He indicated that the purchasers tend to select pieces that are just too small for the space or they overload their garden with too many pieces. He says, “In garden statuary the guiding principle usually is that less is more.”

Tres Frome, a planning and design specialist, points out that numerous pieces in the landscape create a cluttered and complicated appearance. The eye isn’t able to focus and enjoy each piece. Frome advises “Under the less is more principle, one well-suited piece will create a presence and a focal point, introducing harmony rather than chaos into the garden.”

When you’re selecting a statue or decorative piece for your garden, keep in mind the style, scale and feel of your house, landscape, and garden. If your house and garden resemble a Mediterranean villa, a grand tiled fountain out in front won’t seem out of place, but it probably isn’t a good “fit” in front of a one story modern rambler.

If you’re having trouble picking out tasteful “art” for your landscape, Cilio’s suggests thinking about your landscape as a blank wall in a room. Take cues from the style of your “room” which in your landscape or garden is the size of the space and the arrangement and shapes of the shrubs, trees, and other plants.

I think it’s especially hard to pick out the right statue or artful piece for a front landscape. What people see reflects your personal taste and style. The backyard and garden can allow you to indulge your wild side a little more, especially if your yard is surrounded by a fence or screened by trees and shrubs.

Unlike the front landscape, backyard gardens tend to have multiple different view perspectives often with different themes that invite different types of garden art. A small concrete lop-eared bunny figurine can be tastefully placed in the vegetable garden and that classical Greek goddess might fit in well in the rose garden.

Selecting the right statue or piece of garden art is simply like selecting a painting for your home. Each of us has different likes and dislikes. The important thing is to know what to consider when selecting art for your garden.

My favorite piece of garden art? It was the large concrete sea serpent that used to sit in a Richland front yard. It was whimsical and brought a smile to me every time I drove by. I knew a little about the owners, just by what art they had in their yard.

Published: 1/15/2011 3:23 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Most gardeners that I know appreciate useful gadgets and treasure good quality gardening tools. If you’re considering gifting a gardener with something they will cherish, I have some ideas.

One tool I have found especially useful this past gardening season is a Hori Hori knife. Originating in Japan, the Hori Hori (meaning Dig Dig) is not a heavy duty pocket knife. It’s a versatile garden tool with a wide beveled blade that’s typically serrated on one edge and sharp on the other edge. Not only is it used for digging like a trowel, it’s also handy for weeding, transplanting, and dividing perennials. The blades of many Hori Hori knives are engraved with depth measurements to make planting easier.

In purchasing a garden knife or Hori-Hori, look for one with strong handle construction and a sturdy blade made out of polished stainless steel or carbon steel. Because of the sharp edges these blades often come with a sheath to keep you and the blade protected. Good idea! You can find true Japanese Hori Hori knives with hardwood handles or there are mass produced “garden knife” versions with plastic grip handles from well known companies like Fiskars and Oxo.

I always seem to be snipping, cutting, or pruning something in the garden so I carry around three indispensable tools for the job. For “snipping” of delicate stems and flowers, I use Fiskars Softouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snips. The micro snip blades are stainless steel. It comes with 5-inch ergonomic handles that work well in small hands like mine. These little snips work well when deadheading flowers or cutting herbs. I’ve put mine through some pretty rigorous testing for the last seven years and I’m just beginning to think about getting a new pair.

For cutting, I turn to another Fiskars implement, Fiskars garden shears. I like them because they’re tough and take abuse. The garden shears take over where the little snips leave off. I use them for cutting somewhat woody twigs and flower stems along with other cutting tasks in the garden, such as cutting apart plastic plant packs and pots, opening bags of potting soil, or cutting back ornamental grasses. With the ergonomic orange handles and curved, notched cutting blade, they’re up to the task. They also prevent me from mistreating my household shears. You’ll find there are also other brands of garden scissors available. The ColorStorm Garden Scissors are designed to reduce carpel tunnel syndrome and may be worth a try.

When pruning in the garden, I like a pair of ratchet hand pruners with an anvil blade. I use Florian Ratchet-Cut Pruners. Without straining my hand, the ratchet mechanism allows me to cut woody stuff that’s too tough for snips or scissors. The teflon coated, high carbon steel blades will cut branches and twigs up to 3/4 inch in diameter. This pair of pruners is both sturdy and light, made of fiberglass-reinforced nylon. I especially like their bright yellow handles that help me find them when I put them down in the garden.

My final recommendation for a great gardening gift is a stainless steel transplant shovel, loop or stirrup hoe, or a Haws watering can from Lee Valley Tools. They’re not in my tool shed yet, but I wish they were.

Published: 12/11/2010 10:38 AM


written by Marianne C. Ophardt WSU Extension Faculty for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA At this time of year I like to share my ideas for gifts for the gardeners on your shopping list. Garden gloves, shovels, and garden books are my picks for this year. So many gardeners that I work with say they don

t really like wearing garden gloves. They note that gloves impair their dexterity or hamper their sensitivity of touch. I

ve used to feel that way too, but garden gloves have come a long way, plus my hands don

t tolerate as much abuse as they used to. One company known for it

s quality gloves is Women

s Work. They prides themselves on being a “friends and family” run business that sets high standards for quality, fit and style. I haven

t seen their Micro Suede Stretch Gloves but, I

d like to give them a try. They

re made from brightly colored spandex and a micro-suede fabric that protects the fingertips and palms. The gloves have a longer cuff with a velcro wrist closure to keep soil from finding its way inside. The best thing… is the terry brow wipe placed on the thumbs. Definitely a great feature for gardeners in our region. Women

s Work also sells other gloves including gardener

s goatskin gloves, heavy duty cowhide gloves, high performance (made from durable lightweight synthetic fabric) garden gloves, nitrile weeding gloves and their original sueded pigskin gloves. For more information go to: Last year I received a wonderful pair of Foxgloves gardening gloves. Foxgloves are made out of a durable nylon and Lycra fabric that provides “support and breathable comfort”. The stretchy fabric is snug and allows for great dexterity. They

re machine washable and the company notes that they

re “versatile enough to be worn as dress gloves.” My pair of gloves is the Foxgloves grip style with little oval silicone dots covering the palm to provide for a good grip when using them with garden hand tools. For harsh tasks, Foxgloves are light enough to be worn as a liner under heavy duty type gloves. For more information go to: These gloves are the “creme de la creme”, but if you

re looking for a simple inexpensive stocking stuffer get a pair of stretchy nylon gloves dipped in nitrile. Some of this type are available from the Benton-Franklin Master Gardener Foundation at the Extension office in Kennewick or from local hardware stores. They don

t have all the nice features of the fancier garden gloves, but they still work and will be appreciated. Gardeners know you can

t have too many gardening gloves. Tools are another great gift for gardeners. About a month ago or so I talked about some of the newest pruning equipment available from Fiskars, so I

ll turn my attention to other garden implements that gardeners might want. A great place to purchase gardening tools on-line or via a catalog is Lee Valley ( They carry a complete line of quality spades, forks, shovels, rakes, trowels, pruning equipment, watering cans, hoes, and weeders. Most gardeners won

t splurge on a shiny new shovel for themselves, but you can make their day with one of Lee

s stainless steel line. Stainless steel is durable and doesn

t rust. One of these beauties is likely to be handed down from generation to generation in a family of gardeners. They come with tubular steel handles with molded plastic covers or with kiln dried ash handles. The ones with the ash handles are lighter and shorter, making them the better choice for average height or shorter gardeners. Gardeners without herculean strength or stature often note that their favorite shovels and spades are ones with smaller blades, such as Lee Valley

s smaller border spade or narrow transplanting spade. Brightly colored garden gloves and shiny new shovels will sit idle during the winter months, but a good gardening book is always welcomed by a forlorn gardener dreaming of spring. Encyclopedic reference books on plants can be dry and dull, but not if the author infuses it with his personality and candor about preferences and dislikes. Since I like trees and shrubs, one of my favorite “garden” book authors is Dr. Michael A. Dirr. I

ve owned three editions of his “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses” and would be lost without it. The only place it falters for some is the lack of photos, but these can easily be found at various places on the web. Dirr is a recognized authority on cultivated trees and shrubs and doesn

t shrink from telling you what plants are winners and what ones should never be planted. His “Dirr

s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia” does have beautiful photos but doesn

t include as much detail about the plants. For flower gardeners, Dr. Allan M. Armitage recently published “Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture and Garden Attributes.” I haven

t yet acquired this tome, but I

m told it reflects both Armitage

s wit and vast knowledge of flowering perennials, including information on propagation and culture. If your gardener is more interested in native plant gardening, you might want to look for “Armitage

s Native Plants for North American Gardens”. Finally, a gift certificate to a gardener

s favorite seed company or nursery is always welcome. They can use it to splurge on plants, seeds, or other garden gadgets without feeling guilty. Tuck the certificate into their stocking along with the company

s most recent catalog or a picture of that special plant for which they

ve been yearning.

Published: 12/6/2008 1:29 PM



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