One of the reasons many of us enjoy gardening is because it enables us to connect with the natural world.
Growing our own crops, creating beautiful borders and learning about plants can be a fulfilling and sustainable pastime, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
The use of herbicides, pesticides, peat and plastic is hugely damaging to the environment and at Christmas time the gardening catalogues, full of plastic decorations, drive me to distraction.
One question I always find myself asking at this time of year is: How can I find presents for gardening friends and family members that don’t cost the earth?
Annual flower seed
Seed gifts are a simple and sustainable choice, especially when sown in situ or using peat-free compost in biodegradable pots.
Many annuals are also fabulous sources of pollen and nectar for invertebrates, and they can cover a wide area with little work. Try to source organic seed that won’t have been treated with chemicals, for example, from Tamar Organics or the Seed Cooperative.
Top pollinator annuals include viper’s bugloss, cosmos, calendula, cornflower, nasturtium and scabiosa – all easily grown from seed.
Choosing complimentary combinations – Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ and Salvia viridis – or striking contrasts – Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’ with Eschscholzia californica ‘Orange King’ will give the recipient pleasure throughout the summer months.
As a family, we enjoy cooking up delicious fruit butter – like a smooth, spreadable jam - for family and friends using produce from the garden or a local farmers’ market.
Butters, named for their consistency and texture, are generally made up with three parts sugar to four parts fruit.
Our favourites include pear and vanilla, apple and cinnamon, and pumpkin with maple syrup. Many recipes are available online, and we use Mrs Beeton’s recipes too – although she calls them marmalades.
It’s also possible we might have some spare sloe gin to give as presents, but that relies on not drinking the supplies before mid-December!
If your friends already have more plants than their gardens can comfortably accommodate, you could gift them a membership to a plant-based charity such as PlantLife.
This British conservation charity works nationally and internationally to save wildflowers, plants and fungi – the foundations of all our garden plants.
Members get an informative magazine three times a year and help support vital campaigns such as saving nature on our road verges, protecting meadows across the UK, and keeping peat out of our gardens and in the ground.
For a friend or neighbour with minimal time on their hands or someone who struggles to get out in the garden, you could give the gift of time. Perhaps they would appreciate help with pruning or planting up a cheerful winter container?
We often have suckers growing from our dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ which I dig up and give to friends. They look stunning as the centrepiece in a winter container – surrounded by the black grass-like Ophiopogon nigrescens (which also grows rampant in our garden) and snowdrops, crocus or cyclamen.
This Christmas, my mum has asked the grandchildren not to buy her ‘stuff’ but to learn a favourite poem by heart and recite it to her on Christmas Day.
They are already sifting through their books, looking for the perfect poem. My son loves ‘Fern’ from The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris – a wonderful present for children - and my daughter finally chooses a poem she wrote last spring about Anemone blanda.
Trees for Life
This year, in place of sending dozens of cards to people whom we see frequently, we’re minimising our Christmas card list. We’ll donate the money we save on cards and stamps to fund tree regeneration and planting in the Highlands of Scotland with the rewilding charity Trees for Life.
Donate to Trees for Life to help reforest the Scottish Highlands
You can start a family grove and invite others to plant trees in it too, with dedications and family messages. And as I won’t be writing out as many cards, I’ll have time to make a wreath from ivy and old man’s beard for the door and then snuggle up to read extra Christmas stories with the kids.