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Gift Ideas

It's that time of the year - and there I was - in the middle of the dreaded holiday press, making lists, thinking of where to go for this or that, when I had a thought about what I want.

What would I like most for a present - of course it would be a horticulture-related item, or items. Being a nerdy academic, you can guess that I'd go for books, first of all.

So here's a few books that I haven't read, but that I think are going to be really interesting when I get around to them.

Three that I'm looking forward to were published by Timber Press this year. The first is Ecology for Gardeners. It discusses the ecosystems that we create within our own little spaces. Sometimes we do forget about the "worlds within worlds" that exist in the soil, and even around the plants that we put there.

Or Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls. It's a 'how-to' for putting plants in somewhat unlikely places, changing the outside environment to make the inside environments more comfortable and sustainable. .

And there's another book on those plants we grow for healing. It's called, not too excitingly, Medicinal Plants of the World. I've been fascinated by plants that we use as medicines ever since I cured a case of indigestion with a cup of peppermint tea.

I got a sale catalog from The Oxford Press that was pretty tempting as well - a bargain price on one of the keystone essays of the environmental movement, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. What a classic!

I'm not sure whether these are my wish list or are going to be my shopping list. Probably the latter.

Of course, there are thousands of gardening and horticulture books out there for people who want to give beauty and information; so I won't even try listing them.

Much as I love books, I am always looking for the perfect plant, too. I was thinking what my "perfect house plant" gift would be. Either for myself or even more important, as a hostess gift. Not everyone appreciates a bottle of wine.

Even though I often give cut flowers, if I could come up with an alternative, I would, and a plant seems a likely choice. But then again, if you're going to give somebody a live plant, you'd like to make sure that it has a good chance of survival. But it has to be a little different - things like pothos or philodendron, even ficus seem to say corporate office to me.

I guess that my ideal plant, whether I wanted to give it or keep it, would be at least unusual, but very easy to grow, using only a little water and would do well indoors most of the year on my desk or in the living room.

Fortunately there are lots of them. In fact, not too long ago, I discovered something that absolutely floored me. There are some orchids that are so easy to take care of you would think everyone in the world would have one.

They have such a mystique, that when you have one in bloom in your living room, people think you're a magician! Nope. Just - don't let these plants sit in water, do spray them occasionally, give them lots of well-filtered light, and voila, orchids! But let me repeat, some, not all, orchids. A colleague just told me that growing anthurium is similarly easy - and such interesting flowers!

So surprise the host at the next party you go to this holiday season. Give something completely unexpected, and something that will unexpectedly survive!

This reminds me - even though we're completely accustomed to living in the Mojave Desert, with a humidity of 10% or less, it's winter, and the air in our houses can get even drier when we put the heat on. So if you're using the heat, fireplace or furnace, remember to increase the humidity around your plants. Use a mister, or a spray bottle or a humidifier, just give the plants a break.

But speaking of things that will not survive, let's talk Christmas trees. I mentioned before that we're going to be doing Christmas tree recycling again this year. There are drop-off locations all over town, from the far northwest at Floyd Lamb state park all the way down to the Desert Research Institute in Boulder City.

The trees that are turned in will be ground up, and used as a mulch in county parks and school gardens!

Does everybody know that here in Southern Nevada we have one of the lowest recycling rates in America? You'll be doing great work with what would otherwise be garbage! Less landfill usage and helping to beautify public spaces.

For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have a happy holiday.