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Christmas gifts from the garden

I am sure that by the time you read this column, you will have finished all your Christmas gift buying – I know that even I managed to do it this year. However, there may be a few of you out there wondering what to buy for the gardener in your life, or maybe some want a garden treat for themselves.

Some years ago, I had a Christmas without any book or book tokens and complained so loudly that everyone gave me book tokens for my March birthday. I thought it was a great idea, but everyone got so annoyed that they had given me the same present as everyone else, that I have never had a book token since!

If you’d rather give a book than a token, there are a few obvious choices. For the tyro gardener, someone who is just a green starter rather than green-fingered, you really cannot go past Yates Garden Guide. This valuable how-to guide has undergone many different iterations since it was first published over 125 years ago.

I have several different editions, and it is intriguing to see how well the publication has followed the changing patterns of how we garden in New Zealand. For the first-time gardener this remains a valuable way to learn the task of creating gardens.

Yates have also produced a guide to the top 50 indoor plants, and how to stop killing them – another useful book for someone who is discovering gardening by starting out with potted indoor plants. As an aside – my first tip – do not overwater!

If you are looking for a gift for someone who is a more experienced gardener, someone who enjoys learning from other horticulturists, you could scope out “Secret Gardens of Aotearoa”, by Jane Mahoney and Sarah Bannan. This has evolved from the fabulous website secregardens.co.nz, which highlights a wide range of different gardens that are seldom available for the public to visit. The book features twelve of the best, “from a hidden suburban food forest in Coromandel Town to an ever-evolving collage of botanical curiosities in Dunedin.”

Available in most good bookstores, this costs a tad under $50 and is well worth it. And if Christmas Day is wet [the forecast is not that great at this stage] you could sneak away from the family bedlam and take a peek at the various gardens on the website.

I always think that about half the time I spend gardening is devoted to trying to remember where I last put the various hand tools I use. This especially applies to secateurs, trowels and hand forks. I had even wondered whether I could use one of those electronic gadgets you can attach to items to make sure you can locate them but I thought it was probably going a little too far.

The answer is to make sure you have multiples of each of the much-used tools – always buy the best you can afford, and my tip is to avoid wooden handles. That way, when you finally find the hand trowel after it has been through the compost system, it will still be usable. And keep plenty of WD40 or similar so you can remove the rust from the secateurs that have gone through the same process.

If you are buying for a close relative or friend who is a new gardener, make sure you buy them the very best garden fork or spade you can afford. A well-made implement should last them the entirety of their gardening career. My all-metal spade is one I bought when I was in my twenties, and it is still going well.

On the other hand, my grandfather’s shovel, which I still use, has undergone the Captain Cook’s axe programme – the head has been replaced once and the handle twice!

When it comes to buying plants at Christmas, I think there are a few standbys that it is hard to beat. Christmas lilies, Lilium regale, are an obvious choice as they are very easy to grow and will almost certainly flower for Christmas Day. I am writing this a week before the big day, and our clumps [we have a few] are all in good bud so we’ll have some for the house. Just remember the bright golden pollen can stain quite badly, so pull the stamen off before bringing the flowers inside.

Hippeastrums are another popular bulb for Christmas. These brightly coloured plants are available in very Christmassy colours – red and white in various combinations – and they can be induced to flower at the correct time, so they are in great demand.

They can be grown in the garden, but they also do well in pots. Either way, make sure they are in well-drained soil that doesn’t get too wet, and ensure that the bulbs are planted with their necks just above ground level. If you are growing them in a pot, give them a break from watering over winter, then start them off again in the spring.

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