Natural selections at garden shops make great gifts
Photo by Ralph Stewart
A drive around the Island in December can be a serene moment in the busy holiday season. Fill your to-go mug with hot coffee or cocoa, pack in the kids or the dog, tune in some carols on the radio and you are good to go. The key: take your time, enjoy the sights of Christmas trees and decorations, and seek out the bountiful nature-themed gifts for the green thumbs on your gift list.
Head up-Island to West Tisbury where the staff at Middletown Nursery is tidying up the grounds in preparation for a long winter's nap. But don't be deceived! The shop still has some terrific gifts for nature lovers.
Bird houses from New York State are handmade using recycled barn wood and look like miniature cabins and barns. There are nicely boxed garden sets complete with every necessary hand tool; one even has a compact AM/FM radio to tote around the garden. The Kitchen Herb Garden includes a chopper and board for when the seeds grow. The Garden Game is a sweetly illustrated and educational board game packed with info on plants and gardens which all ages can enjoy.
Out back find some fun garden statuary pieces including a serene Buddha, St. Francis, an exotic dragon, pig with piglets, a happy frog.
Further along State Road at Vineyard Gardens, the tiny shop is hung outside with wreaths and swags. Inside are bins and bins of bulbs just waiting to be planted while the unusually warm weather holds.
To decorate a garden, deck, or even a bookshelf there are super-whimsical abstract yet realistic stone owls, mushrooms, and ducks. Hanging bottles in pretty colors will trap unwanted wasps when the weather warms and provide a bright accent in trees or gardens as well. An array of practical and attractive hats with wide brims are ready to protect the gardeners on your gift list from the bright summer sun which will be back before we know it.
Back down-Island in Vineyard Haven, SBS is a mecca for gardeners, nature lovers, and animal owners all year-round. There is plenty here for holiday gifting.
Bird feeders of every style and size are displayed, from small window feeders to a mega thistle seed feeder, and seed tubes with removable bottoms for cleaning. A motorized squirrel-proof feeder will spin invaders onto the ground; there are suet feeders, flavored suet cakes, and a big variety of bird seed. For the utmost luxury, give a bird-lover (catless only!) the Four-Season Heated Bird Bath.
There are super-sturdy deerskin and goatskin work gloves for winter work and durable garden gloves in fashion colors. A Heated Germination Station for starting seeds will bring hope for the future to a gardening friend or relative as will brightly painted Dramm garden sprinklers.
SBS offers a carefully selected library of books to inspire and inform, many on a "living local" theme — organic gardening, composting, sustainable farming, raising poultry and livestock, and landscaping.
It's never too early to share the joys of gardening with youngsters. Pint-sized rakes, hoes, spades, and other garden tools painted bright red, blue, and yellow will start them off on the right foot. There's a miniature snow shovel too.
Island Alpaca Company
As you travel the Vineyard Haven/Edgartown Road stop by Island Alpaca Company and surprise a gardener on your list with a bag of priceless Alpaca Gold. The friendly alpacas here produce the compact pellets good for both flower and vegetable gardens. Unlike many manures, the pellets don't have to be aged and won't burn plants. The "gold" is packed in cute two- and 15- pound burlap bags.
Step through the forest of Christmas trees outside Jardin Mahoney into the spacious greenhouse to find a fine selection of houseplants large and small. Along with traditional poinsettias, owner Paul Mahoney says orchids are appreciated gifts that are beautiful and relatively easy to care for. There are many palms and other tropical plants here too that need only low light to be healthy.
Mahoney's offers plenty of spring flowering bulbs and several variety of amaryllis bulbs, some packaged for holiday giving. The shop also offers books on plants and gardening and garden tools.
"Some nice pruners and a pair of gloves to go with them," is a welcome gift, Mr. Mahoney said. "And if all else fails, choose a gift certificate."
The nursery plans a Holiday Fest December 10 with wreath making and centerpiece demonstrations and more, festive treats, and the Art Cliff truck with hearty food.
Most every Island store puts on some merry sparkle for the Christmas season. But we can always count on Donaroma's to create a magical winter wonderland. Even the Scroogiest Islander can't resist the festive decor where towering trees are adorned with colorful, elegant, and whimsical themes.
Browse among unusual houseplants, decorated table-top trees, and poinsettias — even some purple ones! There is also a selection of clear, hand-blown glass vases in shapes for creative flower arranging.
Donaroma's has a marvelous selection of ornaments both elegant and light-hearted. Especially unique are the wildlife, fishing, and nautical ornaments, a perfect gift for the nature-lover, sailor, or fisherman. There are dogs, horses, kittens, fish and shellfish, miniature boats, bright cardinals, bluebirds, owls and woodpeckers, and many more, most crafted from natural materials. For those who prefer traditional brilliance, there are breathtaking glass tree trimmers of every shape and color.
"We have branches, bells, berries, bows, and boughs," said staffer Sue Weyl with a merry laugh. Donaroma's hosts a holiday open house Friday, Dec. 9, 2 to 7 pm, with creative home decorating demonstrations and refreshments.
Felix Neck Gift Shop
The Felix Neck Gift Shop offers a double boon to customers. Along with browsing among an appealing selection of nature-oriented gifts, driving in the dirt road to the Edgartown wildlife sanctuary and strolling to the barn is a peaceful antidote to Christmas shopping stress.
"Things have to in some way relate to the mission of Felix Neck," said Cathy Minkiewicz, Visitor Services Assistant, who oversees the shop.
Children's gifts are sure to spark youthful curiosity about wildlife and the wonders of nature. Many of them coordinate with Felix Neck programs and attractions. For example, various sizes of stuffed owls and books about the life of owls are perfect complements to the fascinating Owl Cam which shows images of a hidden attic nest. The book "Crab Moon" explores the mysteries of horseshoe crabs, the focus of several activities here, and there are stuffed horseshoe crabs too.
Not your average teddy bears, the collection of stuffed creatures and hand-puppets include the less frequently cuddled like scallops, whales, raccoons, lobsters, and skunks.
An array of bright, plush birds, fill the air with authentic bird calls when pushed in just the right place. There are also finger puppets, puzzles, and other fun science toys.
For the adult nature lover, there is an extensive collection of specialized books and field guides from the usual to the unexpected and offbeat. There are books on how to identify not only birds and fish but bats, sharks, dragonflies and damselflies, weeds, and much more.
"Naturally Curious," a month-by-month almanac, is a gift for the whole family, explaining what is going on in the world of nature as seasons change. The compact 2012 Vineyard Nature Calendar features photos of birds and wildlife around the Island, with sales benefitting Felix Neck.
Choose a pair of sturdy cotton socks with a deer, cardinal, or pine forest motif for the gals on your list, or a white mug whose frog, bird, or butterfly illustration bursts into living color when a hot beverage is poured.
Clever French-made silicone kitchenware by Charles Vacin includes Lily Pad bowl covers, a bouquet of spatulas, and leaf-shaped pot holders, all in a leafy green color. An ingenious squirrel-discouraging bird feeder from Canada is a welcome deterrent for bird lovers.
There are plenty of puzzles to give as a peaceful family alternative to TV for those long winter evenings. Educational as well as challenging, they feature New England's birds, butterflies, fish, and Massachusetts lighthouses.