THE PICK of the crop of Christmas gifts for the green-fingered — plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
IF you’re fed up with buying fork and trowel sets for your gardening friends and family every Christmas, there’s a plethora of inspirational gadgets and gizmos, funky floral designs and sparkling stocking fillers to keep everyone happy this festive season.
Something for everyone
Help your loved ones stand out from the crowd by treating them to a pair of stardust boots by Briers, which sparkle in the sunlight and outshine the old green wellies any day. (RRP £19.99, available at good garden centres, garden websites and Amazon).
Wildlife enthusiasts will love one of Burgon & Ball’s stylish wildlife havens. Designed by award-winning designer Sophie Conran, the havens offer shelter and protection to our natural pest controllers and pollinators. (Prices range from £13.95-£14.95 each, available from all good garden centres, The Garden Centre Group or www.burgonandball.com)
Thoughts may be turning to the Olympics next year, but those who prefer to be in the garden can enjoy a taste of it with an eye-catching ornament of stainless steel Olympian rings with a hanging crystal in the centre of each ring, reflecting the light and colours of the flowers and plants. (£24.99, www.home2garden.co.uk, 01923 492 947)
Special edition beech handle folding pocket secateurs from Apples to Pears may be just the ticket for people who don’t like stuffing bulky tools in their gardening apron. These robust pruners have two extra tools hidden in the handle - a garden knife and saw blade - and come with a handy pouch which slides on to your belt. (£14.99, for stockists, visit www.applestopears.com)
If your loved one likes to grow rare varieties of veg, treat them to gift membership of leading charity Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, for £20 a year. With your support the charity’s increasing collection of more than 800 old, endangered and heirloom vegetables will be saved for generations of gardeners to come.
Members receive the annual Heritage Seed Library catalogue and a choice of up to six different packets of vegetable seeds as well as the members’ magazine, The Organic Way. For details, go to www.gardenorganic.org.uk or call 024 763 08210.
If food or drink is close to your heart, splash out on a red wine and vine box from The Gluttonous Gardener, a gorgeous gift of a bottle of vintage claret (Chateau Belle Garde) accompanied with a healthy red grape vine, ready to plant, with full instructions. It’s hand-packed in a large wooden crate lined with waxed paper, tied with large raffia bows and finished with a gift message of your choice. (£50, from www.glut.co.uk, 020 7627 0800)
For some sartorial elegance, buy her a pair of V&A gardening gloves in beautiful patterns, priced £18, available from the V&A Shop, www.vandashop.com or by calling 020 7942 2696.
Thinking to next summer? Create atmospheric lighting inside and out with some contemporary Gardman Hampton candle lanterns made from striking metal and glass. They can be suspended from a hook, tree or placed on a patio or decking area for night-time lighting around the barbecue. (From £29.99, stockists 01406 372 227)
Lavender is among the most popular of florals, so a gift awash with lavender from The Gluttonous Gardener will leave the recipient intoxicated by the perfume. Buy a gift set of a lavender plant in a large terracotta pot ready to be planted, a delicious jar of lavender jelly and a generous bagful of dried lavender flowers to scent the room, arriving in a decorative crate. (£42, www.glut.co.uk, 020 7627 0800)
... Colourful bottle candle lanterns can make a fabulous stocking filler, retailing for £3.99 each. (Gardman, stockists 01406 372 227)
... Personalise your gift with a pretty gardeners’ A5 diary with the recipient’s name printed on each page for the month (£12.99, www.gettingpersonal.co.uk)
... Make the most of the party season with a mojito set from Secrets du Potager, containing everything you need for a classic mojito, including two mojito tall classes, a wooden pestle to grind the ingredients together and a recipe booklet on how to prepare the perfect mojito. It also contains a packet of mint seeds so you can always have fresh mint growing in your own garden, balcony or windowsill. (£12.50, www.thepresentfinder.co.uk or 0844 557 0280)
... For novelty value, put a superhero comic book with a twist under the tree - inside the comic book jacket are two sheets of handmade recycled plantable seed paper filled with mixed herb seeds ready to sow. Just lay the paper on soil, lightly cover and water. (£8, V&A Shop, www.vandashop.com or 020 7942 2696)
... For the gardener whose hands need some TLC, look no further than this handcare kit from Apples to Pears, containing a useful pair of gloves and lightly scented hand cream in a pretty tin (£6.99, for stockists, visit www.applestopears.com)
Star Christmas buy
This may be pushing the boat out a bit but any gardener who enjoys music on the go will love this newly launched, superb quality, weather resistant PAL+ digital radio from Tivoli Audio. Weighing just 84g, its built-in rechargeable battery allows portable listening for up to 10 hours, longer than the average gardener would spend digging, weeding, planting and sowing in a day. (£249, available at distinctive retail stores or from www.tivoli-audio.co.uk)
Best of the bunch - Pyracantha
‘Tis the season of berries and few are as vivid or vibrant as those of the pyracantha, a spiny evergreen shrub which produces bright orange, yellow or red berries from autumn through to winter.
Good varieties include P. ‘Golden Charmer’, with its glossy bright green leaves and rich orange berries, P. ‘Red Column’ (red berries), P. ‘Mohave’ (orange/red berries) and P. ‘Soleil d’Or’ (bright yellow berries).
Also known as firethorn, pyracantha are useful as hedging plants, particularly if you want to keep burglars out, as their thorns are pretty vicious, or can be trained up a wall or fence.
They will grow in any fertile, well-drained soil, reaching around 10ft in height but can be pruned to your required size. Be careful not to prune out last year’s growth as these produce most of the berries.
Good enough to eat - Parsnips
They are among the most versatile of winter veg, delicious doused in maple syrup or coated in Parmesan cheese and seasoned flour and then roasted. They will also make delicious soup or add sweetness and texture to hearty casseroles.
They’re easy to grow in deep soil devoid of stones in sun or light shade and you don’t need to add compost to the soil in autumn or early winter, although you may have to add some lime and rake in a general purpose fertiliser when preparing the seed bed.
Parsnips are sown in March and April - sow three seeds in a batch, 15cm apart in drills 30cm apart, thinning seedlings to one plant per batch and then hoe regularly and avoid touching the crowns of the plant.
Crops should be ready for harvesting by autumn, although they taste much better when they’ve had a touch of frost on them. If you want to store them, pack them in boxes of sand and they should last through the winter. Good varieties include ‘Avonresister’ and ‘The Student’.
Three ways to... maximise space in a small garden
1. Incorporate storage alongside or beneath a built-in barbecue, or design overhead beams which are smothered in climbers, to frame a potting bench.
2. If you want a water feature, install a wall-mounted one which takes up much less space than a pool.
3. Think about having raised beds to maximise the planting area and create built-in seating from their retaining walls.
What to do this week
Sow onion seed in pots or trays in the greenhouse.
Raise containers onto pot feet to prevent waterlogging.
Cut back ornamental grasses and bamboos, but leave those that still look attractive as the bleached stems can add structure, movement and interest, and will be good shelter for wildlife.
Lift and store dahlias, cannas and tuberous bedding begonias that have been hit by the first frosts.
Apply a mulch to protect plants that are borderline hardy such as agapanthus, kniphofia and phygelius.
Start winter pruning of established, open-grown, apple and pear trees (not cordons, espaliers, pyramids or fans).
Take hardwood cuttings of blackcurrants, redcurrants, white currants, gooseberries and grape vines.
Trap winter moths by placing grease bands around fruit trees. Tree stakes will also need grease-banding if they provide a route up into the branches.
Lift and store root crops such as carrots, beetroot, turnips and swedes.
Prepare new asparagus beds for planting up in the spring. Plenty of organic matter and grit will help to improve drainage to the level required by asparagus.
Remove any yellowed leaves on Brussels sprouts and other brassicas to prevent the development of grey mould and brassica downy mildew.