Each year, usually some time in October, my local garden center is magically transformed into a gaudy temple to Christmas tat. As obese ceramic robins jostle for space with tinselly goblins and meerkats to a seasonal soundtrack of twee electronic chimes, numerous other forgettable products plead with me to ‘Keep Calm …’.
Not really my cup of tea. A weakness for nice food and drink aside, I’m not much of a shopper, so compiling a gardening-related Christmas list has been an amusing challenge. The result is of course completely arbitrary, dreamt up from the splendid isolation of the vegetable patch. Since gardening is more about the long game than instant gratification, the list leans heavily towards the functional and long lasting.
It’s hard to go wrong with good quality tools: secateurs, pocket knives, pruning saws, shears. I’ve recently become aware of Japanese gardening tools, some of which are truly high-end things of beauty. Have a look at www.niwaki.com. I have only one so far – a perfectly weighted hand hoe from www.niwashi.co.nz – and I fell in love with it immediately. The reason for such similar names? It turns out that the basic translation of niwashi is ‘gardener’, though I gather it’s more nuanced than that. More prosaically, I wouldn’t be without my spud fork either, which I use for general digging as well as for lifting potatoes.
The Internet is a wonderful resource but I do like a shelf full of reference books too. The RHS’s Pruning and Training and Pests and Diseases are invaluable and absolutely anything Joy Larkcom has to say about growing food is worth reading.
Then there are gifts for garden wildlife instead of people: bird feeders, nesting boxes and big sacks of seed and peanuts. Feeders need to be squirrel-proof and sited away from places cats can lurk. Bird tables are less useful, as most of the food will get hoovered up by said squirrels and by pigeons, neither of which are in short supply. There are also boxes for bats and various beneficial insects.
Fruit trees are presents that can give a lifetime of pleasure. Dwarfing cultivars are readily available for smaller gardens, as are specimens already partly trained into forms such as fans or espaliers to make good use of space. The range offered by a specialist fruit nursery such as www.keepers-nursery.co.uk is astonishing.
A heated propagator is great for getting seedlings off to a flying start (and off every windowsill in the house). Elegant reproduction Victorian glass cloches, forcing pots and garden lines look great in the right kind of garden (though plastic ones, big buckets and two sticks and a bit of twine do the job just as effectively!). Assuming the year’s growing goes well, I think old-fashioned wooden crates are an attractive and tidy way to store produce. A good jam/chutney pan and related preserving accouterments – funnels, jars, thermometers and the like – are a good investment too.
Imagine for the moment that it’s sunny and warm. Not easy in the UK, I admit, even in summer. But for every keen gardener there are probably several more people who would rather lie about drinking gin watching others work. They might appreciate a hammock (complete with a frame to hang it on if they’re treeless) or some outdoor fairy lights to make the bean wigwams or fruit trees more interesting as night draws on.
If you’re one of those people, drop a hint to the gardener in your life about what food you’d like to eat next year by buying them your choice of seed. Some places to look:
www.tamarorganics.co.uk (a wide range of purely organic seeds)
www.seedsofitaly.com (Italian stuff, unsurprisingly. It’s where I get my chicories)
www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk (superb range of chillies and heirloom tomatoes)
www.realseeds.co.uk (lots of unusual things)
www.higgledygarden.com (cut flower specialist that has just brought out a very affordable edible flower collection. Edible blooms are trending strongly at the moment)
Have a great solstice, Christmas and New Year x