Published on 12/18/02

For many gardeners, it's always Christmas

By Wayne McLaurin
University of Georgia

I was the typical parent at Christmas time. I searched for just the right toys for my girls, the ones they wanted most.

(One year on the Santa list, "Baby Heart-Beat" appeared in big, bold letters. On Christmas morning, the box had more appeal than the doll!)

There were other toys over the years. (I didn't buy an Elmo, though. Elmo is my brother, and we could talk to real Elmo any time we wanted to.) But it wasn't the toys but the giving that was important.

Christmas is a time for giving. And you know, gardeners are among the most giving of people.

'I just harvested and thought of you'

Think about getting a basket of produce from someone who said, "I just harvested and thought of you." Now, you know that person had real feelings for you and wanted to share. Well, OK, maybe his spouse said, "One more squash in this house and I'll leave you." Either way, the gardener still was offering you something grown with his or her own hands.

Other gardeners share as a group. Countless Master Gardeners in Georgia have given their time in countless ways.

Master Gardeners give thousands of hours of volunteer time not only to beautification but to working with gardening, in nursing homes with the patients, in herb and butterfly gardens at schools all over the state and with projects and continuous educational activities such as plant identification and insect and disease analysis.

Helping others while gardening

All of this is done by people who are helping others while tending some of the most fantastic gardens in Georgia.

There are national charitable programs, too, such as "Plant a Row for the Hungry," in which member gardeners plant an extra row for people who need food. Over the past few years several tons of produce have been delivered to soup kitchens, shelters and other organizations that have need but little funding for fresh produce.

Sure, canned food is available. But why shouldn't people in need have fresh tomatoes, squash and potatoes. Georgia gardeners can be very proud of their contributions in this movement.

Another group of gardeners out there gives and gives again. Over the years, county agents have educated you in Extension programs and your children through 4-H.

'A million questions'

They've worked with farmers, suburbanites and city people and have spoken with individuals and groups and answered "a million questions on a million topics."

How did they do this? Yes, every one of them has at least one college degree, but many do their own research for their area. They try to grow "new" plants and and save "heritage" plants.

Then there was the agent who worked with lawns and golf courses. He even put a golf green in his back yard. Now that's real dedication to your work, tearing up the flower beds to put in "research."

Just look around your neighborhood and town -- so many beautiful gardens and parks. How important are they to your well-being? Try to visualize your neighborhood or town without them.

Take a minute

As you hurry about buying presents this Christmas season, take a minute to thank the gardeners you know for all they do.

Don't try to surprise them with a present. Most of us gardeners buy what we need and want. Nongardeners can seldom buy the right trowel or wheelbarrow with any more certainty than they could guess correctly our age, weight and mother's maiden name. Most of us have a shed full of tools.

The most important gift these Georgia gardeners want goes something like this:

"That's a beautiful garden you have!"
"Thanks for the produce you gave me last season!"
"I always look forward to your daffodils blooming each year!"

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write about gardening for you. Merry Christmas!

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.