In 17th century Asia, it was the custom in Thailand and India, to worship rare, white or albino elephants. Such elephants required special food and care. Their upkeep was an expensive proposition, so the gift of a white elephant was not a cause for jubilation. Today, a "white elephant" refers figuratively to something that creates a problem and is more trouble than it is worth.
Literal White Elephants
In the 1800s, P.T. Barnum was not too thrilled when the white elephant he purchased sight unseen for "the greatest show on earth," turned out to have pink splotches. Arguably Barnum always enjoyed "the biggest backyard on earth," so space for the elephant was not a problem. Sadly though, the elephant was not circus star material, so it quickly became a liability.
Technically, gardeners are also show people, even if the average gardener's wish list is unlikely to include a real white elephant anytime soon. However, there is always the exception, or the exceptional gardener, who may well have a safari theme garden where a white elephant would feel very much at home. A gardener can always use fertilizer, so a white elephant could also prove useful in that area.
Alternatively a gardener might be happy to receive the gift of a resin display elephant, or perhaps an elephant theme garden bench.
White elephant motif decorations are many and varied, and make excellent gifts for gardeners. If you decide to buy, say an Asian elephant sculpture plant stand, be sure that the elephant's trunk is pointed upwards, because this is a sign of good luck. A carved elephant planter fashioned from stone can usually be placed indoors as well as outdoors. Since most gardeners are sure to have indoor plants as well as beautiful outdoor gardens, a plant stand is always a popular gift.
As elephants with upturned trunks represent good fortune, they also make suitable gifts in other forms, like wall plaques, shelves, sconces and candle holders, for birthdays, anniversaries and housewarmings.
Other Gift Ideas
Another interpretation of white elephant gifts is anything used or old: pots, tools, perhaps plants divided from the garden, statuary, or unwanted fixtures. Surely gardeners deserve something better.
For instance, a gardener can never have too many watering cans. A hand crafted watering can in the shape of a baby elephant would make a useful gift, and a nice, decorative ornament to enjoy when it is not in use. Or consider a planting gift of baby's breath (aka white elephant). Its delicate white flowers are wonderful for summer bouquets.