Best Gifts of 2014 for Nature Lovers

Does your blood run in shades of green—teal to viridian? With the holidays at our throats again, it’s time to put the friend in Earth-friendly and give the gifts that keep songbirds singing, garden bees pollinating and other wildlife thriving. Here are a few suggestions for every nature lover and eco-maniac on your list, and even a few for those who could use a lesson in environmental stewardship

“I love the pointed trowel,” says Smithsonian gardener Cindy Brown. “The point allows for precision when you’re digging in and around shallow rooted plants like sedums and sempervivums. It’s great for stabbing the soil and dropping in bulbs. And the red handle makes it easy to find in the compost pile.” Says gardener Shelley Gaskins: "My favorite gift is a Hori Hori knife, or Japanese gardening knife, for weeding as well as planting, and it comes in handy for opening up heavy-duty plastic bags of soil and mulch." Other Smithsonian gardeners swear by their Felco pruners and suggest lightweight plastic tubtrugs for cleanup; telescoping pruners for lightweight, long-reach lopping of trees and shrubs; and knee pads. But the king of all garden gifts this year, says the staff, is the rain barrel with a diverter system for collecting runoff water from roofs and gutters. For the armchair gardener, the whole Hort Team is pleased with its new book the Smithsonian Encyclopedia of Garden Plants For Every Location from DK Publishing.

Mason Bee House

With honey bees threatened due to colony collapse disorder and pesticide exposure, encourage your friends to turn their apartment balconies and backyards into safe havens for native pollinators. The non-aggressive garden lovers rarely sting and are hugely helpful pollinators. In early spring, mason bees will quickly take up residence in these compact, high-rise tunnel homes. Find a south-facing wall and mount the nest about 7 feet high and within about 300 feet of their favorite spring-blossoming foods—azaleas, dandelions and coneflowers. Leave some moist mud handy so that the female can manufacture the nesting plugs that give the creature its name. The bees will return the favor, helping to pollinate all your wildflowers, vegetables and especially fruit trees.

Bird-Friendly Coffee

In 1996, biologists and the coffee industry came together to discuss how the decline of a traditional method for growing coffee in Latin American forests was proving detrimental to migratory birds that wintered in the tree canopy. The trend toward sun plantations for growing coffee was rapidly taking hold, and forests were being removed. In Colombia alone some 68 percent of the coffee farms had abandoned the shade tradition. The Smithsonian’s Russ Greenberg recognized that a ready market of 61 million bird watchers in the United States would also likely be coffee drinkers. In 1997, the first Smithsonian bird-friendly coffee became available. Today Smithsonian researchers are helping coffee growers to sustainably manage their farms—including the types and height of native trees, proper pruning and composting. Bird friendly coffee supports some 1,200 farmers, who supply 7.7 million pounds of coffee annually to 35 worldwide coffee roasters. More than 14,800 acres of habitat is currently protected. 

Grass Leaf Design Ballpoint Pen

America’s poet laureate, Walt Whitman worked for the Man. He was by turns a lowly government clerk, a typesetter and a newspaperman. If he were alive today, you could just imagine him in the next cubicle over surfing the web and pronouncing himself “one of the roughs. . . disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them.” Whitman, says Smithsonian historian David C. Ward, “took poetry out of the drawing room and put it in the streets.” You might want to complement this gift with a copy of Whitman’s 1855 masterpiece Leaves of Grass.

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