"What every Gardener really wants for Christmas," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

You’ve seen the ads this time of year, every car dealer is running them nonstop. You can’t escape them. It’s the one where it’s Christmas morning and out in the driveway is a brand new car with a giant red bow on it. The family is ecstatic and jumping all over the place. Their wildest dreams have come true and now their life is complete. Clearly, this is not the home of a gardener.

In a gardener’s home the scene would be completely different. On Christmas morning when the gardener of the house came down the stairs, he/she would find in the driveway a giant twelve yard pile of steaming compost with its fresh scent of actinomycetes wafting over the front porch and the delicate tracery of mycelium threading itself throughout the mound of decomposing organic matter.

Next to this delectable pile would be, not a shiny new car, but rather a shiny new wheelbarrow and pitchfork, both with the obligatory red bow. That my friends, would be a “dream come true” for the gardener of the house.

There is something almost spiritual about compost. It is the personification of rebirth and resurrection, the validation that life is a continuous cycle of dying and being reborn again. There is nothing more exciting to a gardener than going out on a cold February morning, turning their compost pile, seeing the steam and feeling the heat that is emanating from the billions of microbes that are alive and well, despite the apparent slumber that the rest of the garden seems to be in.

It’s not a stretch to say that compost is the panacea for all that ails our gardens (and perhaps even the entire planet). For sandy soils it helps retain moisture and for heavy clay soils it lightens them up, allowing better air exchange. It adds life to the biology of the soil and to a lesser extent, some nutrients. It even has some antibiotic qualities which, when made into a tea and sprayed onto the foliage, help the plant resist infections. Compost is probably the single most important component to a healthy soil and therefore a healthy garden. As far as I am concerned, you can never have too much of it.

This last summer I visited Ireland and toured the Burren, a barren landscape of limestone that would make our own glacial till look like fine sandy loam. The early settlers managed to garden in this landscape by hauling up sand and seaweed from the shore and spreading it over the rocks to make “soil.” Thankfully, we don’t have to go to that extreme, but we should still be continually working on our soil since compost gets used up and needs to be replenished annually.

If you have the room and inclination, it is very rewarding to make your own compost but if not, then at least send your yard wastes off to the recycler where they can do the work for you.

Fortunately for us, nowadays, all we have to do is order our compost from one of the many purveyors in our area. Be it bagged or bulk, compost can make a much appreciated Christmas present for the gardener in your life - it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Just remember to add the big red bow and if you are feeling generous, throw in that wheelbarrow and pitchfork too.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA and can be reached at

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