Down-to-earth gifts

WELL, we’re in the official run into Christmas now, with tomorrow, Dec 8, the day for Christmas shopping to begin in earnest.

And so, too, the perennial search for a gift for the gardener in your life — even if it happens to be you.

If you’re buying for a plant anorak, like myself, and are wracking your brains, trying to think of a plant that they may not have, then let me suggest Mahonia ‘soft caress’. Now, don’t think big, tall, bushy, thorny Mahonia. No, ‘soft caress’ is thornless and low-growing, reaching a height and spread of 40cm x 40cm. Beautiful, soft foliage creates a nearly tropical effect. It is a must-have evergreen shrub for any self-respecting plants-person, flowering earlier than other Mahonias and producing racemes of yellow blooms, as early as August and finishing during November.

Daphne is another shrub that’s difficult to source, but a welcome gift to a gardener, as it produces beautiful, white/pink flowers, depending on the variety, and does its thing during the winter. And what a thing it does — producing a scent that is so beautiful and fresh — strong, yes, but without being overpowering, heady without being sickly sweet.

Another beautifully scented plant, during winter, is Sarcoccoca, or Christmas box, to give it its common name, a title that is slightly misleading, as I have never had it in flower during Christmas, but it does give fantastic value from January through to late March. Look in your local garden centre for these and if you see a Daphne available, don’t be concerned about the species just get one if you can. However, with the Mahonia hold out for ‘soft caress’ and there are several varieties of Sarcoccoca available, all strongly scented.

Other gifts that will be welcomed include gardening books, tools and seeds, and anything they may be slow to buy for themselves, including, perhaps, a heated seed-propagator.

I love gardening and good art but while I may be a good gardener, I am not much of an artist, which is possibly why I enjoy botanical art so much. There are so many good artists in that oeuvre, but I have been a fan of Belinda Northcote for several years, ever since I first saw her work in West Cork. I now have several of her paintings hanging on my wall.

I have also discovered the work of a local artist this year and have come to love Cork woman Gemma Best’s paintings of flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for both of these artists and I am sure they, and many more, will be exhibiting at one or more of the many Christmas fairs and markets that are happening all over the country this month.

If you want to find something that bit different, then try the Cutting Globe, thecuttingglobe.com. This is a unique, Irish-designed, innovative product that facilitates a process called aerial-layering. I have tried aerial-layering. It is a slow, specialist means of propagation that I have found to be awkward and messy. However, with this new clip-on globe, the process has been made so simple that someone who has no experience will be able to propagate plants easily.

Garden and plant centres will be only too happy to advise on gift ideas, plants or otherwise. December is a good month to consider giving the gift of gardening to a beginner. There are many gardening courses to choose from, and a quick check online will bring up several classes, in a variety of locations, to suit all levels. Also, perhaps, a consultation with a garden designer may be a welcome gift to someone who is wondering where to start in the garden.

Send that someone special on a gardening holiday. Travelfox.ie are offering tours to Keukenhof and Gardens of Holland, in April, 2014, to see the fantastic bulb displays, private gardens, flower markets and a canal trip in Amsterdam.

They also have a trip to the Chelsea Flower Show, in May, 2014, and a two-night stay in London, complete with all transfers and show tickets. All tours are escorted by myself. (travelfox.ie for more details).

To round-off the gardening season and the end of the year, why not treat the gardener in your life to a case of his or her drink of choice.

May I suggest the gardener’s tipple, a lovely drink that I discovered in a Cork off-licence, last year. Brewed in the Hog’s Back Brewery, in Surrey, it is, as the label says, ‘a refreshing, fruity beer with a hoppy aftertaste, amber in colour.’

It is brewed from malted barley and hops. Go on, treat yourself. Or, if you prefer to keep it local this season, then may I recommend Longueville House cider. Enjoy the aroma and taste of cider as it should be.

Close your eyes and you will be effortlessly transported straight to the orchard, among the apple trees.

Happy gift-hunting.


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