Mail-order catalogues are riveting things. There are so many items in them that you cannot imagine anybody ever wanting or using. Bathroom things, especially.
I suppose it's part of the narcissism of the age, but are there really people out there panting for wall-mounted chrome soap dispensers, stainless-steel lavatory brushes, Bauhaus shower curtains and hanging shelves "to get your shower gel, shampoo and conditioner right where you want them"?
Presents for gardeners are easier to source and below, you will find suggestions for Christmas presents which are all available by mail order – which means that you can shop without ever having to leave the comfort of your own potting shed.
Thompson & Morgan
Hyacinth basket planted with five top size bulbs of the hyacinth 'Pink Pearl', guaranteed to flower 2-3 weeks after delivery, £13.99 (Ref GS86459); painted zinc pot, 17.5cm square, planted with crocus in shades of mauve and white. Supplied in bud and top dressed with moss, £15.99 (Ref GS86462); Christmas rose (Helleborus niger 'HGC Jacob') planted in a 13cm pot swathed in silk with a gold bow. Plant it outside when it has finished flowering, £19.95 (GS88873); painted zinc pot, 15cm square, planted with 11 large specially prepared "pips" of lily-of-the-valley, supplied in bud to flower 2-3 weeks after delivery, £19.95 (GS85932); handwoven basket (23cm) filled with bulbs of the superbly scented 'Erlicheer' narcissus and top dressed with moss. Should flower within six weeks of arrival, £20.45 (GS88914).
PO Box 99, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6ZZ. To order any of the presents above, phone 0844 573 2020 or visit the website at giftstm.com. Last date for orders is 18 December
Bradley's The Tannery
Handsome leather apron with big buttoned pouch pocket at waist height, and another smaller one above, £80. The Tannery also supplies heavy-duty suede gloves in brown, pink or green, £28.
01746 766 563, bradleysthetannery.co.uk
Over the Garden Wall
Old-fashioned wooden seed trays and wooden stacking trays for storing fruit and vegetables which can both be stamped with your name or house name. Seed trays, £6.50 each plus p&p (minimum order 6), storage racks, £24 each.
Sithean Mor, Achnaha, Kilchoan, Argyllshire PH38 4LW; 01653 692055, overthegardenwall.com
Cox & Cox Ltd
Candle holder made from a section of silver birch trunk (6cm x 6cm), hollowed out at the top to hold a night light, £7; pine cone firelighters, equally good both inside and out, £16 for a pack of 12; three glass hyacinth bulb vases, traditional design, 14cm high, one clear, one green, one pinkish-purple, £16 for the set; sturdy enamelled metal garden thermometer, marked in Centigrade, easy to read, 45cm tall and 8cm wide, £20; garden light by way of a Kilner jar containing a solar cell, a battery and LED lights – once charged it will glow for at least five hours, £22; good-looking planter (ideal for salad crops) made from woven willow panels with a strong black plastic liner inside, 70cm long by 40cm wide by 34cm deep, £36.
Anglo Trading Estate, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 5BY, 0844 858 0744, coxandcox.co.uk. Christmas orders must be in by 18 December
Discounted collections of seed from the Italian specialists, Franchi. The Classic Cuisine collection (Ref 51091) includes Borlotto bean di Vigevano, the basil Bolloso Napoletano, the parsley Gigante di Napoli, the tomato San Marzano and the courgette Genovese – five packets for £3.99; the Classic Salad collection (Ref 51090) includes mixed salad Misticanza, mixed Radicchio and Chicories, Radish Candelo di Fuoco, red onion of Florence and basil Foglia di Lattuga – five packets for £3.99; fibre grow pellet greenhouse starter kit (Ref 51220) contains 20 coir pellets for seed sowing, with a tray (24cm x 20cm) which acts as a mini propagating unit, £7.92; 20 wooden plant labels, 15cm long (Ref 51179), 99p; Haw's 5-litre watering can (Ref 51104) in British racing green with a brass rose, £34.91.
Alexandra Buildings, Windermere, Cumbria LA23 1BQ, 0153 948 8100, lakeland.co.uk/garden
Mr Fothergills Direct
Self-watering windowsill plant tray (Ref 99011), 76cm long by 17cm wide, with capillary matting supported on a board. The edges of the mat dangle in the water of the tray and keep plant pots on the mat well watered, £10.95; nicely designed German propane gas greenhouse heater (Ref 99025), for greenhouses not connected to the mains. Cleaner than paraffin and said to be more economical – it uses 0.027kg of gas an hour, £59; solid wooden pot brush (Ref 99162) with proper bristles, an excellent and quick way to clean pots before re-using them, £12.95.
Kentford, Suffolk CB8 7QB, 0845 371 0518, mr-fothergills.co.uk
Baobab Trading Co
Garden sculptures from reclaimed metal, priced from £10-£350. A cormorant, hanging its wings out to dry, costs £160, a heron, poised to pounce, £180.
01728 861889, baobabtrading.co.uk
A woven willow gift basket (31cm x 21cm) with a pair of cotton gardening gloves, a large ball of jute twine, a wooden dibber, a hank of raffia and a pair of flower scissors, all for £19.99.
Dorchester, Dorset DT2 7YG, 01305 848725, selections.com
A year's subscription (12 issues for £34.65 in the UK, 12 issues for £49.97 in the rest of Europe) of the best gardening magazine on offer. Christmas gift subscriptions (which must be ordered by 15 December) include a free pair of Felco 160S secateurs, worth £27.99, or a copy of my book
Bulb, worth £30.
Subscriptions from 'Gardens Illustrated', Freepost SEA5894, Sittingbourne, Kent ME9 8DF, 0844 844 0253, subscribeonline.co.uk/gardensillustrated