Published originally in The Weekender Herald in November 2018
I may be biased but I don’t think you can go past a gardening gift for Christmas. With the big day just under 6 weeks away, many people are already getting organized with present shopping, so over the next two weeks let’s look at some of the possibilities for gifts for or from gardeners. Homemade or home grown presents are always popular as they are made with love and there is still plenty of time to do this.
I think plants make the best gifts ………………as what else gets bigger and better? There are a number of things you can still grow over the next 6 weeks that don’t cost the earth. If you plant now, these gifts will look full and luscious by Christmas. Obviously if you have already propagated plants you could give these as gifts however if you are starting from scratch here are some suggestions.
Pots of Colour.
You can create a stunning gift simply by making a great combination of a flowering plant in an attractive pot. At this stage, planting from punnets may not give you a full enough size by Christmas, so choose the larger punnets or six packs of potted colour such as the ever popular annuals like petunias or impatiens, or choose a perennial plant such as the new ‘Big’ Series of Geranium, bred for an amazing flowering ability, long flowering period and compact habit.
Succulents are hugely popular and making gifts with them is so easy. If you already have some growing, you simply take a few cuttings or divisions and plant them into a pot or container. You can either make a mass of one variety of make a collage of different sorts, showcasing their amazing colours and diversity of form and size. Once you have planted your pot up, top it off with a fine gravel, sand or pebbles. You can also have fun by planting into a quirky container from an op shop or salvage yard, such as an old teapot, mug or vase. Succulent cuttings taken now should have developed roots and be growing well by Christmas. If you haven’t got any succulents already, many nurseries carry 6 packs of succulents which are quite reasonable or you can choose plants which can be split or are bushy and branched enough for you to take cuttings from immediately. Make sure you keep at least one division for yourself and rest assured that despite being pruned severely, a branched succulent will re-shoot so you don’t miss out. If you are really short on time and have some of the larger taller succulents growing in your garden (like Aeoniums and Cotyledons) you can even make a succulent posy, bound together with string and wrapped up in paper like a flower posy. That way the lucky recipient can plants their succulent pieces how and where they want them.
Vegie Garden Starter Pack
Seeds sown now will be ready for planting by the time Christmas gets here. You could use jiffy pots or even recycled punnets, which I am sure any gardener would gladly donate to you if you asked (I have a cupboard full of them). Choose quick germinating varieties suitable for planting in mid-summer such loose leaf lettuce (either buy a mixture like Combo or the separate varieties including Cos, mignonette and oakleaf, just to name a few); spring onions, chives, garlic chives, basil, rocket, and parsley. For something a bit more exotic make up a mixed punnet of mustards with varieties such as mizuna (Japanese mustard), ruby streaks mustard and the giant red mustard. A packet of seed will fill many punnets with plenty left for your own garden, and the only other thing you need to buy is some seed raising mix.
Herbs are a great present for those just starting a garden or for those who love cooking. You can either give them a collection of herbs in small containers or make up a themed mixed herb pot. Buy herb varieties which are available in four or six cell punnets such as chives, parsley, coriander, basil, thyme and oregano and simply transplant them into small pots. You could use terracotta or glazed pots or for something more quirky use recycled containers such as washed 400 or 800ml food cans with a few holes punched in the bottom for drainage. Choose two or three varieties which work well together in cooking styles such as such as parsley, thyme and oregano for Italian cuisine, or coriander, garlic chives and basil for Asian cuisine. These herbs may not be able to stay in these small pots for a long time but they can be re-potted as they fill the pot. If you are really running late, you could even buy 100mm herb pots for a more instant effect.
For a mixed herb pot, choose a nice glazed or terracotta pot (ideally at least 30cm across) and choose a selection of compact less vigorous herbs to plant three to five different varieties in the pot. Larger herbs such as rosemary or sage will smother other less vigorous herbs so give them a pot just for themselves.
You can also have fun with herbs in quirky containers such as an old teapot with a hole drilled in the bottom with a special herb which is suitable to make herb tea such as mint or lemon balm.
The traditional terracotta strawberry pot has holes in the side for planting as well as the opening at the top of the pot. A 30cm strawberry pot will give you space for about 10 strawberries. You can buy them in punnets of small seedlings, 100mm pots of advanced six packs. With the larger plants you might even have fruit by Christmas.
With all of these potted plants, always use premium potting mix and for the herb, strawberry or vegie pots it would be worth adding one third compost or cow manure. Feeding them every two weeks with soluble fertiliser and a seaweed tonic will also help them grow well and they will be looking lush and full by Christmas.
Homemade preserves and pickles make great Christmas gifts, however one of my favourites is elderflower cordial. If you have access to elderflowers, which are in bloom at the moment, the cordial is easy to make. For gifts, we simply poured the concentrate into recycled passata bottles and the kids made cute labels for it. This cordial is a remarkably refreshing summer treat and was a huge hit at our open garden last weekend.