I often wonder whether gardeners are seen as a soft touch when it comes to buying them gifts at Christmas. "Give them a trowel or a packet of bulbs and they'll be happy" is the general assumption. It's true, one can never have enough trowels to hand but Uri Geller trowels (you know the ones that bend and go all floppy at the mere sight of clay soil and would be in Christmas crackers if they would only fit) are about as welcome as honey fungus.
Bulbs, while magical in many ways, are quite personal to a gardener as they are like jewellery and need careful placing without upsetting the carefully co-ordinated associations that have taken years to fine-tune. Such gifts at Christmas are generally scorned by the seasoned gardener, so the "Thank you, you shouldn't have" might mean just that. If the person you are buying for is new to horticulture, then a gardening book may well be suitable, but don't go buying books for established gardeners without doing a little detective work to find out what they haven't got on their sagging shelves (Anna's piece on the previous page should give you some good ideas). Even if they haven't got the particular book you want to buy them, the chances are that they have chosen to avoid it for a reason.
There are exceptions and if you know the gardener well then there is less chance that your gift will end up in the local charity shop. Pat, my first ever client and now close friend, has a knack for buying perfect gardening gifts. I'm fairly confident that I have matched her thoughtfulness over the past 20 years or so and we proved it last year by buying each other the same present, Roger Deakin's Wildwood – A Journey Through Trees (Hamish Hamilton, £20). When I do risk a gardening gift then I usually buy something I have either used myself or know by reputation.
For pruning equipment, Niwaki (niwaki.com) has a seductive range of Japanese secateurs, folding saws and shears to keep any gardener content. The ARS Choki (£19) is an amazing pair of small scissors strong enough to tackle anything from cuttings to light pruning while the Hori Hori digging knife (£15) that thinks it's a trowel is a novel stocking filler. They also sell the not-so-Japanese Swiss Istor Professional Sharpener (£23.50). I bought one as a present for a friend but couldn't part with it and have revitalised a motley collection of secateurs that has built up over the years. Burgon and Ball's (burgonandball.com) stainless trowels and forks (£8.95) won't let you down and a Circlehoe will take your weeding to a new level. Designed so that the sharp circular blade can be drawn back away from plants it reduces damage caused to their shallow roots. The mini (£10.95) and the hand (£16.95) Circlehoe should fit a stocking but the full-sized standard model (£29.95) can be used without having to get down on your knees. It also makes for a pleasant surprise as, wrapped up, it does look like you've been bought nothing more than a broomstick or a very long packet of spaghetti.
A lunar calendar (£9.95 from lunarorganics.com) is a useful thing whether or not you believe that the gravitational effects of the moon can influence how vegetables grow. By dealing with just one type of vegetable (be it root, leaf or fruit) at any given time it helps to focus activities in the garden so the whole business of sowing, transplanting, pruning and picking becomes less onerous especially during the hectic months of spring and early summer. Charles Dowding (charlesdowding.co.uk), one of our leading vegetable growers and exponents of lunar planting, also prefers the no-dig method of gardening. His books, Organic Gardening and Salad Leaves for All Seasons are inspirational.
Finally, if you are dithering, like I have done for years, over the environmental implications of buying a real Christmas tree, consider investing in art. I've just bought a beautiful tree made from reclaimed elm by the sculptor Johnny Woodford (zimmerstewart.co.uk). Starting from around £200 (made in a range of sizes), they are not the cheapest trees, but seeing as they will last for ever, appreciate in value and have minimal impact on the environment, I guarantee you won't be able to look at your festive investment without pouring yourself a tipple, nestling back in the armchair and coming over all cosy and smug.