November 26, 2017 – The Good, The Bad and The Wha? of Holiday Gifts

They’re baaaaaack!

I’m talking about the list of holiday gifts that make people go “ooh!” or simply make them cringe. I’ve been doing this semi-regular bit for at least a dozen years on four different radio stations, but always with my buddy Michelle Byrne Walsh, who is editor at State-by-State Gardening, Inc. for four magazines (Indiana Gardening, Missouri Gardener, Ohio Gardener, Pennsylvania Gardener), and is also a freelance garden writer and contributing writer at Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, which you might have heard about once or twice on this show.

We tend to focus on the gardening and environmental realms, because if we went too far astray, we’d be talking about stupid holiday gift-giving for the rest of our natural lives.

But before I post our list, here are a couple of things you really do need to know:

  • People give too much junk because they buy too much junk because there is too much manufactured junk. Consider this:
    During the holiday season, Americans produce 25% more household waste, or about 1 million extra tons, according to the EPA. This includes not only unwanted gifts, but also packaging materials like bubble wrap and wrapping paper, much of which can’t be recycled.
  • You think you’re doing less damage to the planet because you order online and don’t drive out to the brick and mortar store? Guess again. Climate Lab: A Vox Video Series featuring Dr. M. Sanjayan is produced by the University of California in partnership with Vox. The series explores the surprising elements of our lives that contribute to climate change and the groundbreaking work being done to fight back.?? They note in this video that if you click on the “rush” or “2-day shipping” options, you’re likely to be putting more half-empty trucks on the road, which means more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  • Hand in hand with the idea of “the perfect gift” is the idea that economies can infinitely expand on a finite planet.

A global growth rate of 3% means that the size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.

That prelude means that even when we put an item on the “good” list, we hope you will think twice and maybe three or four times about buying anything for anybody at any price…a sentiment that doesn’t make advertisers particular happy, but there you go. And here we go. Specific recommendations are from Michelle Byrne Walsh (MBW), Peggy Malecki (PM) and Mike Nowak (MN).

The Good

The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly by Kylee Baumle,
Landscaping with Trees in the Midwest by Scott A. Zanon,
Attack of the Killer Asparagus by Mike Nowak (Michelle’s idea, not mine)
The Peregrine Returns: The Art and Architecture of an Urban Raptor Recovery by Mary Hennen, illustrated by Peggy Macnamara
Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees, by Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz
Bees, An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide by Heather Holm
Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

  • MBW:  Shop local! Visit your local garden centers for the always appreciated gloves, hats, birdhouses, tools (including my personal favorite soil knives also called hori-hori knives), or gift certificates. When you shop local the sales taxes stay in your community, and you support your “neighbor.” You can even shop locally online: visit the Chicago Botanic Garden’s online store (love the Vintage tote bag for $49.99 or the Vintage travel mug for $19.99) or the Morton Arboretum’s online store.
  • PM, MN:  We’re prejudiced because they have advertised on this show, but we love the Happy Leaf LED grow lights. Mike and Peggy have both tried them and think they’re terrific. We’re talking to co-owners Polly McGann and Victor Zaderej in the second hour of today’s show and we’re giving away three Anywhere Anytime Garden in a Box kits that retail for $65–all you add are four 1-quart, wide-mouth mason jars and you’re in business.
  • MBW:  The new Cobrahead Mini Weeder, $21.95 – a smaller version of the original Cobrahead weeder. It is a weeding tool that is like a large fingernail; it would work well in containers and smaller spaces. It’s a tiny handheld hoe hoe hoe. The original Cobrahead is great, too.
  • MN:  Products from the University of Minnesota that benefit the Monarch Joint Venture programs and monarch conservation programs. I do have an issue with the graphic that appears to be a disintegrating monarch butterfly, but upon closer inspection, I think it’s disintegrating into smaller monarch butterflies. That’s okay…I guess…
  • PM:  If you want to raise monarch butterflies yourself, Monarch Butterfly features all kinds of kits and accessories that will help. As for ordering monarch eggs and caterpillars, we’re not as fond of that as gathering them yourself from milkweed plants.
  • PM, MN:  Native plant gift certificates from Natural Communities Native Plants. In fact, thanks to owner Nick Fuller‘s generosity, we’re giving away four $40 gift cards starting today and for the next few weeks!


The Bad

  • MBW:  This is one “bad dude” of a garden cart: Gorilla Carts. One model of Gorilla Cart is called the garden cart, and it is a dump cart that features pneumatic tires, a steel frame, and a poly tub with a release lever to dump its contents. It has a 600 lb. load capacity. Costs about $70. There is also a 1,200 lb. capacity version for about $130. Great for bad dude moms!
  • PM:  Kale in a Bag Grow Kit. One of those “easy gardening kits” that helps you get seeds started. As Peggy says, “Or just give them a flower pot with some good soil and a packet of organic seeds!
  • MN:  Anything with the word “Chia” in front of it. Trust me.
  • MBW:  Garden Journals – Of any sort. I understand some people like to journal and keep records of their gardens – they track the varieties, the problems, the successes, the feelings. But you have to really know that your recipient would love this detail-oriented task. Otherwise it’s like giving homework for Christmas. If you must buy a garden journal, a few were available at
  • MBW:  Fire pots – these are ceramic decorative pots with steel fuel cups that you filled with alcohol gel. In 2011, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in cooperation with nine manufacturers and distributors, announced a voluntary recall of all pourable gel fuel. These fire pots are still sold today, but often with solid fuel gel, which is supposed to be safer. These fire pots tend to be “tippy” on patio tables, and they burn quickly. I believe the solid fuel gel still can sputter, and the large open flame is more dangerous than a candle. I think it is a very bad gift.
  • PM, MN:  Gnomes. Any kinds of gnomes. Here’s a list that Peggy dug up: – Design Toscano offers 96 different gnomes on their website, including Gottfried, the Gigantic Garden Gnome Statue, standing at 4 feet tall for only $275…and…Gottfried’s Bigger Brother, towering over your garden at a full 8-1/2 feet tall at only $1,999. Yeesh.

– Or maybe you must absolutely have an all-metal gnome family going camping for a mere $59.95

– Here’s a gardening gnome with a solar powered hat – a bargain at $13.99

– Then there are zombie gnomes, a joke gone awry with Game of Gnomes (on a lot of sites) and Gnomezilla, which makes Mike happy because it tramples and eats gnomes.


The Wha?

  • MBW:  You’ll have to ask Michelle about this but she claims that Air plants (Tillandsia spp.) are everywhere! They are kind of cute in a creepy way. For some reason we trap them in clear glass spheres and hang them from string or put them on our desks. Sometimes we just hang them from fishing line, or we put them in little terrariums or statuettes. They need no soil to grow – only spritzes of water and the occasional fertilizer. Sounds like an alien species – and they look like they are made of plastic.
  • PM:  “Grow organic, gourmet mushrooms right out of the box in just 10 days with the award-winning Back to the Roots Mushroom Farm” says the website. Maybe it’s just the photo that is a little weird. Hard to tell.
  • MBW:  Bird houses that look cute, but aren’t functional. It’s an ugly ordeal for birds. Often bird houses don’t have the correctly sized entrance holes to meet the needs of any species besides English house sparrows. Native birds like house wrens need nesting boxes made for their specifications. Take the time to Google “bird house specifications” to know which houses will work; or visit Wild Birds Unlimited stores or online at Duncraft. Crafty people could also find plans to build a functional wooden bird house.
  • MN: The Evergreen Elf monitors water levels in Christmas tree stands and gives an audio and visual alert when water is too low.  “Never Stick Your Hand in Dirty Christmas Tree Water Again!” proclaims the subject line. The ad mentions “the hassle” of checking the water level in your tree stand. You know what’s a real hassle? Deleting the Evergreen Elf email.
  • MBW:  Garden flags. Those colorful banners hanging from a stake in the lawn that proclaim “Welcome to my garden” or “Think spring” or “Beware of cat.” There are garden flags for every season, every reason, every whatever. We have been looking at these things for decades. Enough. No mas.
  • PM:  We’ve saved the weirdest for last. Have you ever wanted a copy of a famous oil painting that features you and your beloved pet? Neither have we. Nonetheless, “Nobilified helps cut down the process of commissioning a portrait from days down to minutes. The process is simple: select the painting or image of your choice, upload a clear selfie, and let us know whether you would prefer Louis XIV’s sweet wig, or whether you would rather Jim keep his own haircut. Check out using our secure system, and wait patiently while our classically trained artist turns your idea—brushstroke by brushstroke—into a masterpiece.” And, yes, you can even have a painting that features you AND your pet–whether it’s a Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller or Konstantin Mokovsky. We’re not kidding.