Ring the changes: Think out of the window box this Christmas
Give what you'd most like to receive: narcissi, slug rings and 2kg of brain compost
Sunday 07 December 2008
It's probably not in keeping with the spirit of the season, but I always think that the best way to choose Christmas presents is by thinking about what you'd like yourself. For me, the gold-standard gift this year has to be the reissued RHS Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations, by Tony Lord with photos by the celebrated Andrew Lawson (Mitchell Beazley, £30). Not only does it provide a satisfyingly generous two-kilo package to sit beneath the tree, it then presents hundreds of the most stylish planting companions, a neglected subject in gardening, and one that repays lots of study. Especially in bed on Christmas night with a box of chocolates.
Another cognoscenti pick this year will be Diana Ross's wonderful compilation of interviews, Gardeners: Encounters with Exceptional People (Frances Lincoln, £14.99). You won't find celebrity TV stars in her book: these are the gardeners' gardeners, people such as Roy Lancaster and Beth Chatto. Spending at least a day with each subject, she gets to the bottom of their character foibles and reveals some of her own along the way. Richard (Food for Free) Mabey takes her round his wild garden and talks about Victorian moth-hunters; Hugh Johnson of Wine Atlas fame describes the making of his arboretum and his Piscean garden foibles. No illustrations, just great portraits painted in words.
Those of a purely practical bent will appreciate a gift to protect their most precious plants: copper-coated pot feet (£14.50, from www.greengardener.co.uk). Any slugs hoping to make a meal of hostas get a repulsive electric shock as they slither upwards. You could add in a set of Monkton Farleigh slug rings (£20, from www.slugrings.co.uk) which look so good it is difficult to force yourself to put them around the base of your plants.
If your gardening friend has a charitable heart, go for the Send a Cow Christmas bag garden (from £20, www.sendacow.org.uk), which includes a hessian container, seeds and instructions for veg-growing, plus a donation to training schemes in Africa. Or buy a gift from/donate to Trees For Cities ( www.treesforcities.org), which is currently running lovely orchard- planting projects in Addis Ababa with local groups..
Finally, any gardener, however good they are at growing their own, will be glad to get a huge box from the Scillies full of scented narcissi (£18, www.scillyflowers.co.uk). Each carton contains enough blooms to fill six vases, leaving the lucky recipient's home floating with perfume. These are British flowers direct from Churchtown Farm, St Martin's. So if you have any sense you will order another box for yourself to arrive after Christmas and fill your home for the New Year with the fresh smell of spring.
Stocking thrillers: More green gift ideas
For big-leaf lovers, go for Tropicalismo! by Pam Baggett (£6.99, Timber), 100 choice cannas, colocasias and hedychiums in full colour. Combine with a gift voucher from Architectural Plants in Sussex ( www.architecturalplants.com) for the ultimate garden-makeover gift.
Capture your garden in gorgeous close-up with the help of Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers by Alan Detrick (£17.99, Timber).
Sarah Raven assesses the best-scented cutting garden varieties so we don't haveto. A great way to surprise friends is by putting packets of her Dark Colour Sweet Pea Mix (£1.95 each, www.sarahraven.com) inside Christmas cards.
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