Gardening is the number one pastime in America, according to a recent Gallup Poll. The term "gardening" covers a lot of territory. To some it means growing food for the table, to others it means trimming the yard into precise geometric forms, while others simply putter about with this and that in the yard. Gardeners can be divided into many categories. Organic or not, formal or informal designers, Darwinistic (survival of the fittest) or fussers, and tool users or not. With Father's Day just around the corner, it is time to consider what kind of gardener your dad is. Then head to a nursery or garden center for some really personal gifts for pop. There are many imaginative, useful gifts available at these garden places, including tools, plants, seeds, containers, books, pond kits, tools, accessories, tools, gadgets and more tools.

There are a number of specialized tools and gadgets for gardening. Spiral do-hickies for turning compost, wavy edged thing-a-ma-bobs for edging, and about a bazillion kinds of shovels, rakes and implements of destruction (as Arlo Guthrie described it). Remember I said there were tool-users and non-tool-users? I used to be the former, but I recently converted. Something about Newton's Laws maybe, the ones about gravity and the effects of time.

When it comes to tools, the saying I learned is "Buy cheap, buy twice." It is worth it to purchase the more expensive, well crafted tool of any type be it shovels, loppers or rakes. Well made implements are usually of steel that has been heat treated for strength. Look for the words "heat treated," "tempered steel," "forged steel," or "drop forged." Stainless steel is also available for some tools.

The handles of good tools can be made of steel, tubular aluminum, fiberglass or wood. Fiberglass and wood handles are nice for their ability to flex. A flexible handle makes some jobs easier on flexible human tendons and ligaments than unyielding metal handles. Plus, wood has a feel in one's hands that is hard to match.

Handle length selection is governed by a handy rule of thumb. If it is a tool used standing, like a shovel, hoe or rake, the top of the handle should reach about the level of the user's arm pit. If it is a tool used when bending, like a spade, the top of the handle should reach about the level of the diaphragm. More about tools in future columns.

Gardening books are tools too, in a way. They either become dog-eared from repeated use, or stay nigh pristine. Tucson is such a unique gardening area, it is best to get locally produced books. Two that are showing distinct signs of wear in my library are Pruning, Planting and Care of Desert Plants (Eric Johnson, Ironwood Press) which gives care and pruning guidelines for the common plants of our landscapes. A Desert Gardener's Companion (Kim Nelson, Rio Nuevo) offers week by week care of the Tucson garden.

Seeds can be a welcome gift. Look for plants that thrive in heat and the coming monsoon season. Heirloom vegetables, native wildflowers, or unique new vegetables can all be found on nursery racks or at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store in town.

If dad doesn't like to garden, perhaps buy or make him something for the birds. A platform feeder with bird seed, a bird bath, or a hummingbird feeder. My father enjoys reading by the window where he has a hummingbird feeder. The zoom of incoming hummers makes him look up. His official story is that the eye-doctor told him to look up from his books more often to avoid eyestrain. Personally, I think he is simply fond of the antics of the little fluffs.

Fountains, ponds and water features can add a relaxing element to a landscape. Many people feel that the sound of falling water soothes the spirit. Your dad might like a pond kit or a submersible pump for a fountain. You can make it a project for the whole family. Cement work, although messy, is fun. Plus you can all sign your name or leave hand prints in the edges of dad's new fish pond.

If in the end you can't decide -- you can always buy a gift certificate. Or better yet, write an I.O.U. "To Dad, this card is good for four hours of working side by side together in the yard or garden." Time and thoughtfulness in selection or giving is the point behind any gift.

Jacqueline A. Soule, longtime Tucsonan, is a botanist and the director of Tierra del Sol Institute. For landscape design or consultation, call her at 292-0504.

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