Dream on: January can be a discouraging time for gardeners

But you can cheer them up by filling their stockings with these inspirational gifts, says Emma Townshend
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The Independent Online

Yep, it's probably harder for a non-gardener to choose a gardener a good gift than it would be to fit that great big lanky Monty Don through the eye of a needle. In an ideal world, the nicest present you could ever get a green-fingered person would be a few sunny January days to get on with 2011's schedule of horticultural work. However, in the event that you are not able to afford the full panoply of weather on 2010's reduced funds, your favourite gardener will just have to stay in, dream and plan for the year ahead. A task possibly made easier by some of the following items.

The top-priority present for most gardeners this year is surely Mark Diacono's A Taste of the Unexpected (Quadrille, £20). A handbook for trying something a bit different on the veg patch, including apricots, medlars, mulberries and hawthorn leaves, it has growing tips as well as recipes, and is illustrated with beautiful photos. Really a treat.

For competitive growers, add a copy of the RHS Horticultural Show Handbook, containing all the arcane rules for showing veg, and a gift voucher from Medwyn's Seeds, specialists in show-variety seed from freakishly long leeks to bright-yellow cauliflowers. (Order before Christmas, medwynsofanglesey.co.uk, and Medwyn Williams will sign the card himself!)

If your target giftee is more of a tasteful type, there is one cut-flower vase to make them go weak at the knees: the Dalloway, a green teardrop of a thing with room for an elegant set of stems, winter twigs, or blossom to cheer up your frosty spring days (£19.50, sarahraven.com).

For those who really do prefer the comforts of a January armchair, there is plenty on offer. Helena Attlee spent months having a proper old nosy to produce Italy's Private Gardens (Frances Lincoln, £35). Spectacular views, pools, fountains and cascades, olive groves and terracotta urns, but also new commissions such as Dan Pearson's La Torrecchia. And in an unusual treat for the pathetically curious, photos of all the owners too. The perfect sofa book.

For sleek modernists, plump for Ulf Nordfjell's Fourteen Gardens, all beautifully photographed by Jerry Harpur (Frances Lincoln, £35). If you'd rather spend the summer on your own private Swedish island than compete with the tourists and the heat in Tuscany, this is your bag. And I'm still swooning over Anna Pavord's The Curious Gardener (Bloomsbury, £20), a prose poem to the delights of gardening, family and home.

Finally, if your gardener friend scares you with recitals of Latin names, order Prairie-Style Gardens by Lynn Steiner (Timber Press, £20). Prairie plants get more in fashion every year and any expert will relish this substantial and evocative plant list, including Prairie Smoke, Mountain Mint and Hoary Verbena.

More garden gifts

Wooden seed trays give new seedlings a touch of the old-fashioned feel. £5.95 each, or three for £15.85, harrodhorticultural.com

Narcissi Paperwhite 'Ziva', presented in a sweet little hessian sack, with full planting instructions, offers great blooms and the perfect new-year fragrance. 15 bulbs for £11.50, sarahraven.com

A Meripac bird feeder that sticks to our back window, and a bag of assorted seed, have been the most entertaining purchase of my year. £8.39 for the feeder, bamfordtrading.com