The best gifts for garden-lovers
I’ve just been given one of the best presents I’ve ever received, a lemonade tree. Admittedly, I already have three lemon trees, seven Tahitian limes and a small forest of finger limes. But this lemonade tree was chosen by a small boy who loves making lemonade with grandma, squeezed from the baskets of fruit we have just picked in the orchard. It has also been planted for me just outside the kitchen door. It is a gift with deep meaning and much love.
Gifts of plants or flowers are perfect “any time” gifts. You can give them to say “Thank you for inviting me for coffee” or “Sorry about your sprained ankle” or simply “I’m happy to see you,” which was why I saved up to buy my grandmother a bunch of flowers every time I saw her.
As an adult, I thought to ask her what flowers she loves: daphne, daphne and more daphne. I still have two bushes growing just for her.
Florist shops are full of blooms in 1000 designs. But a special gift should be … special. The perfect plant or garden gift is easier to find if you are a plant fanatic like me.
Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, red-fleshed grapefruit and Tahitian limes all come in dwarfed varieties; neat-growing, productive and perfect for pots for anyone with a balcony or even a spot by the door. You might even give a lemonade tree, which only grows to only two metres high and wide, but can be pruned to stay far smaller.
Any orchid is a way to give an extravagant “Thank you” or expression of love. I’m not going to suggest what kind of orchid — that will depend on what is available locally and in bloom — but any orchid will look stunning, and if looked after will bloom year after year.
A Lipstick, Roccoto or Bishop’s Crown chilli
These are perennial and look stunning with either long fire-engine red chillies or small green bonnets that turn yellow, then orange then blazing red. They are small enough to grow happily in a pot and hardy enough to survive with very little care in the garden. While they are an excellent gift for any avid cook or chilli lover, I grow ours for their beauty, and to give away to visitors.
Roses are an excellent option if you suddenly need a gift, not just a bunch of them, but a bush. Roses have been so enthusiastically bred that there are varieties dedicated to just about every woman’s name and worthwhile cause. A Peace Rose works for just about every occasion, either in its parchment yellow tinged with pink form, or the more recent Pink Peace. The Children’s Rose works beautifully for teachers and is beautiful, hardy and floriferous as well. Just make sure you look at the label, not simply the name. Some roses can ramble over half a hectare, while others, like Patio roses, will grow in semi-shade in a pot or hanging basket, and miniatures will be happy on a sunny window sill.
As a dedicated browser of plant catalogues, I love giving the less grown plants, like mini-bananas that survive cool climates, or caper bushes for a hanging basket in a glasshouse; and cinnamon trees make an excellent indoor pot plant.
Mystery bulbs are also fun: boring blobs that turn into stunning daffodils or hyacinths to decorate the kitchen table. There are very few gardens, no matter how well planted, that can’t be improved with a basketful of bulbs.
There are also gifts that will be appreciated by everyone who has recently set up their household: a good, capacious wheelbarrow with a plump front wheel and study handles, or a well-designed bird feeder. If you feel extravagant, consider a giant “water garden” pot that can grow Japanese iris, papyrus, waterlilies or even water chestnuts or sagittaria.
It is hard to go wrong with a dwarf mulberry, especially for kids who will pick the berries for hours with blue mouths and fingers. You might want to add a silkworm kit if you’re giving a family with kids a mulberry. One fruit that is impossible to buy in a supermarket is a truly ripe, juicy apricot, the most delicious fruit picked fresh and one of the most tasteless if cold-stored. If your friend/lover/mentor/offspring et al have room for an apricot tree — even espaliered against a wall — try to convince them the twiggy offering you have just presented will become their garden darling once it produces fruit.
Beware of bonsai. They are gorgeous, but tend to die unless you cosset them with diligence and knowledge. Also be cautious of strongly scented flowers in case someone is allergic to the perfume, and anything that grows over two metres, unless there is room for it to expand. And those vast delicate ferns, which look so glorious in the shop, but will die if not watered regularly. You don’t want to promote “gift guilt” — the feeling of dismay when you have let a beloved gift decease.
The gift of a plant is never just to one person. It’s a gift to the earth, and to the future, a gift that, quite literally, will grow.