Great gift ideas for Midwest nature lovers

Great gift ideas for Midwest nature lovers

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

It's list-making season and we're checking them twice — deciding who's been naughty or nice. For the well-behaved nature lovers on the list, holiday gifts are even more meaningful when they're made locally and perfectly match the intended's philosophy of sustainability. Here's a sampler:


Even the best gardeners get an occasional weed and many times need more than just a hand to pull it. CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator ( has a tempered steel blade, sometimes referred to as a "steel fingernail," that makes fast work of weeds by digging them or slicing them off at the soil line.

Inspired by an old-time, multi-tined cultivating tool, CobraHead also can be used to loosen the soil around plants, called cultivation, or to draw a line in the soil when sowing seeds. The handle is made of 100 percent post-industrial recycled polypropylene with strengthening fibers of 100 percent post-consumer recycled wood or flax fiber. The short-handled tool retails for $25, the long-handled version is $60.

The family-owned business is headquartered in Cambridge, Wis. "I've always been an organic gardener and committed to the sustainable approach to life, so I made it (our) mission to have the tool made locally, instead of overseas," says Noel Valdes, whose family owns and operates the company.

Bird lovers

In Milford, Ill., Fran Heffelfinger runs, a website featuring locally made bird feeders and other accessories. The manufacturer also is based in Milford, which is about 100 miles south of Chicago.

Among Heffelfinger's favorite feeders are ones that attach to the glass or frames of windows, which bring the winged beauties up close and personal.

"They come right up to the window and you can observe their behavior," she says. These handmade feeders are perfect for the windows in children's rooms, classrooms, kitchens and offices.

Heffelfinger suggests a project for families or schools would be to track which birds come to the feeder depending on which seed is in the tray. For instance, niger seed attracts finches and small sparrows while black-oil sunflower seed draws in chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches. The window feeders retail for $9 to $35.

Tree huggers

One way to keep the birds coming is to plant a tree. To help with the selection, read "Desirable Trees for the Midwest: 50 for the Home Landscape and Larger Properties" ( by Scott A. Zanon of Upper Arlington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.

Part of the reason he wrote the book is to provide alternatives to ash trees. That's because all species of this tree are being felled by the millions in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and other Midwestern states by the emerald ash borer.

Zanon, who has degrees in landscape horticulture and turfgrass science from Ohio State University, started researching recommendations and found that there was no regional guide with photos to show the mature size of the tree along with its attributes, such as spring blooms or beautiful bark.

The self-published book offers advice on tree planting and care. It also provides growth charts to make sure homeowners, grounds superintendents, master gardeners and landscapers select the right tree for the right place.

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis, where she manages perennials and woody plants for a large, independent garden center. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications, including The American Gardener and Garden Gate. Sharp also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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