The seeds of love: How to plant with panache

Look beyond the latest gardening bestseller for a green Christmas gift...You could give someone the idea to plant with panache, says Emma Townshend
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The Independent Online

The truly conventional gardener is probably going to want just one present this Christmas: The Ivington Diaries by Monty Don (£25, Bloomsbury). This gorgeous tome possesses the same good looks as Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries, and relates Monty's efforts to create his own garden at home in Ivington, including many personal photos.

But what if you're buying for an awkward customer who can't be trusted not to have treated themselves to Monty already? Or who claims that Monty makes them feel nauseous? Don't panic, there are plenty of other good-looking gifts to choose from.

For the armchair horticulturalist who is a fan of design, consider Tim Richardson's deluxe Great Gardens of America (£40, Frances Lincoln), illustrated by Andrea Jones' sumptuous photos. It includes classic US treats such as Dumbarton Oaks, plus more recent designs by new luminaries such as Piet Oudolf, Dan Hinkley and Martha Schwartz. By the time you reach the last page, you'll feel as if you've been on holiday.

The more practical gardener is often a tricky buy, creating worries that they'll have whatever you've bought. You could try Johnsons' Eastern Europe tomato range, new for 2010; Eastern bloc vegetable breeders worked hard during the Cold War years, producing some great varieties only now coming to Britain. They have a 1970s Berlin glamour, which is more than you can say for most tomatoes. To displace the capitalist favourite Moneymaker from your grandad's greenhouse, try Malinowy Henryka F1, £2.35 for 35 seeds, or cherry tomato "Maskotka", 25 seeds for £1.75 (www.johnsons-seeds. com).

Jekka McVicar, herb supremo, is also doing lovely sets of seeds, each designed to target a particular interest. To make your own red-leaf salad, or the perfect herbal tea, check out her seed collections, which come in a smart presentation box (£8.50, www.jekkasherbfarm.com).

For the girlier gardener, you can't go wrong with a set of three hyacinth vases. These little decorated glasses can be used as flower vases, to force hyacinths, or would simply look pretty on your kitchen shelves. A set of three mini bulb forcer vases, in pink, blue and green, is £11.50 from www.sarahraven.com. And for the macho garden cook in your life, The Complete Chilli Pepper Book by Dave DeWitt and Paul Bosland (£25, Timber Press) is an encyclopedia of these wonderful plants.

What about the absolute beginner? For balcony veg growers, Haxnicks' patio tomato planters could go down a treat. These tough red containers are lightweight, but allow the root depth needed by bush and climbing tomatoes. (Three planters, £14.99, www.haxnicks.co.uk.) n

Child's play: For the kids' stockings

Broad beans aren't most kids' favourite vegetable, but they are the most fantastic plant to grow. With huge seeds straight out of Jack and the Beanstalk, the plants romp away much faster than other veg, much to children's delight. Try Aquadulce Claudia. £2.45, www.suttons.co.uk

For wildlife fans, I love Thompson & Morgan's Apple Feeder, a pretty wooden device that will supply birds with fresh food at a time of year when it's very scarce. £6.99, www.thompson-morgan.com

For pet lovers, Suttons has a great seed collection idea, letting kids grow food for their rabbit or guinea pig. The Fun to Grow Collection: My Pet's Food contains seed for broccoli, dandelions and carrots. £3.25, www.suttons.co.uk

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