If you’re wondering what on earth to give the gardener in your life, here is some green-fingered inspiration . . .
One of the best gardening tools I've bought this year is the multipurpose Dr Otek metal detector digger tool. Super sturdy with a double-serrated edge and an offset handle, it is the perfect hand tool for transplanting, digging and weeding €29 at amazon.co.uk).
A lightweight, ergonomically-designed oscillating hoe is another tool I couldn't do without. The Glaser model is available in three different sizes from Cork-based Fruithill Farm (from €35.50 plus ash handle from €7.50), which also stocks an exceptionally wide selection of high-quality, long-lasting garden tools by other leading brands including Sneeboer, PKS and SHW.
Keen gardeners who like to grow their own plants from seed will love the Vitopod large propagator with grow lights. It provides the heat and (crucially) the quality and intensity of light that baby seedlings need to thrive. It's also perfect for cultivating micro-greens throughout the year (€298, quickcrop.ie).
Howbert & Mays is a chain of Irish-owned garden centres with the unerring knack of stocking the sort of stuff that real gardeners love. Examples include their range of sculptural Corten steel water bowls (from €90), counter-top compost pails (from €29.95) and the durable, elegant range of Flower garden chairs and tables by Italian firm Ethimo (from €110).
Well known for her beautifully illustrated, botanical-themed calendars, the west Cork-based artist Sonia Caldwell's 2021 offering takes its inspiration from the plants that grow in Irish boglands (€15, kilcoestudios.com).
Fellow botanical artist Yanny Petters, whose work has recently been acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland, has also produced a jewel of a calendar for next year (€20, yannypetters.net). Petters's range of nature-inspired notecards would also be welcome in any Christmas stocking while her limited-edition prints and original artworks are becoming collectors' items .
The handsomely packaged gift boxes from organic seed producer Brown Envelope Seeds, also based in west Cork, make great gifts for kitchen gardeners. In particular, check out this year's tongue-in-cheek politically-themed gift box, called Leaders Lockdown Box. Did someone mention leeks? (€10, brownenvelopeseeds.com)
Few gifts provide more long-lasting pleasure or are more supportive of biodiversity than a well-chosen garden tree. Dublin-based Mount Venus Nursery stocks an excellent range and can offer expert advice in selecting the most suitable variety (mountvenusnursery.com).
Alternatively, give a Woodland Card from Grown, which will send a certificate to the recipient letting them know that a tree has been planted in their Wicklow woodlands on their behalf (from €25, grown.ie).
Bamboos are another big hit of the pandemic, whether they're used as living screens or as specimen plants to add leafy, evergreen, architectural interest. Waterford-based Stam Bamboos offers an excellent range and delivers nationwide for free. A variety of discounted (20 per cent off) gift packages including selections especially suitable for containers are available at stambamboo.com with prices starting at €124.
Altamont Plant Sales is Robert Miller’s treasure trove of a garden centre in the walled garden of Altamont near Ballon, County Carlow. It is the perfect place to find an exceptional range of choice garden plants. Specialties include an extensive choice of must-have snowdrop cultivars (from €5-€25) and gorgeous hybrid hellebores (€20-€50) sourced from UK specialist breeders Harvington’s and Ashwood Nurseries ( email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mr Middleton is another Irish-owned garden business with a long track record of excellent online offerings and top-rate customer service. This year it's stocking the award-winning, French-bred Delbard roses, which stand out for their long flowering period, vigour, strong perfume and intense scent (from €25, mrmiddleton.com).
Houseplants have played a starring role during the two lockdowns, connecting us to nature and reminding us that life endures. Most good garden centres carry a wide range along with specialist suppliers such as Dublin's Urban Plant Life (plantlife.ie) and some large stores including Ikea (ikea.ie).
Repeated lockdowns have also taught us to make use of our gardens no matter what the season, especially when it comes to entertaining outdoors. For those who love to dine al fresco, a warm hand-woven woolen throw would make a wonderful gift (from €60 atirishdesignshop.com).
So would the Japanese-made Takibi Fire Pit and Grill by Snow Peak (superfolk.com, €380), which is so lightweight and portable that it can also be used for picnics and camping.
Based in County Clare, the Burren Perfumery is known for its nature-friendly, beautifully packaged range of perfumes and certified-organic range of cosmetics. Its Gardener's hand cream is the perfect product for soothing and nourishing chapped, work-sore hands (€15), while its hand-made Lost Garden bar soap (palm oil free) is gentle on the skin (€7.50). After three years of research and development, owner Sadie Chowen has also launched a new perfume this year called Wild Rose Eau de Parfum, inspired by the Burren burnet rose, rosa spinosissima (€130, burrenperfumery.com).
The pandemic has awakened a love of gardening in many people so why not nurture those newly discovered green fingers with the gift of a year's membership at the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (from €60 at rhsi.ie), the Irish Garden Plant Society (from €30, irishgardenplantsociety.com), Irish Seed Savers (irishseedsavers.ie) or with a Grow Box subscription from GIY (giy.ie), which includes a free copy of Grow Cook Eat or GIY's Know-It-Allmanac if ordered before December 14th(€89.99).
Or how about a gardening workshop or online class? This year Wicklow gardener Jimi Blake has made his enduringly popular Plantspersons course available as an online series of season-based, modular, view-when-you-wish mini courses that include plenty of video content and detailed plant lists (huntingbrook.com).
Laois-based organic gardener Tanguy de Toulgoet's Dunmore Country School near Durrow has also lined up a host of excellent online offerings for 2021 including a four-week Start your Garden from Scratch course (€50) and a Month to Month Stroll with Tanguy (€150) at dunmorecountryschool.ie.
Garden designer Des Doyle, whose beautiful garden at Lavistown House in County Kilkenny featured in this columnearlier this year, is also planning to run his series of garden courses throughout 2021. Visit gardenfable.com to see the entire schedule or to buy a gift voucher.
TJ Maher will also be running his excellent nine-month garden course next year at Patthana, his garden in Kiltegan, County Wicklow. It will run one Wednesday morning every month from March to November (€450, call 086-1944547).
Other key gardening events scheduled to go ahead in 2021 include the Garden and Landscape Designers Association's (GLDA) seminar. Designing in Challenging Times: A Shift in Perspective will take place on February 27th as a full-day virtual event rather than in its traditional format. It will feature a range of international speakers including Carrie Preston, Aniket Bhagwat and Sarah Eberle. Prices start at €75 for GLDA members and €95 for non-members.
Also scheduled to go ahead next year is the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show 2021. There will be reduced visitor numbers over more days to keep everyone safe. The six-day event takes place from Tuesday, May 18th to Sunday, May 23rd. Ticket prices start at £66.75 (€74) for RHS members and £83.75 (€93) for non-members (rhs.org.uk).
Alternatively, for a splendid Christmas gift, Travel Department is offering a two-day guided tour or garden holiday to the show including flights, transfers, accommodation and a visit to Kew Gardens (from €669 per person at traveldepartment.com ).
A gift that keeps on giving is a year's access to one of the country's loveliest gardens open to the public. Examples include Killruddery in County Wicklow (from €60, killruddery.com) and Blarney Castle in Cork (from €90, blarneycastle.ie).
(For a guide to this year’s crop of great gardening books, see next week’s column)