A true gift guide for gardeners
Avoid gimmicky “gifts”and give gardeners some really useful or beautiful things
Lilliput fruit trees from Mr Middleton.
Beth Murphy handmade willow basket.
Painting by artist Lynn Stringer.
And so it is Christmas (or at least, nearly Christmas), that time of year where I must resist the temptation to make snarky comments about some of the more useless tat being sold as “gardener’s gifts”. Instead, here are some suggestions for lovely and/or useful presents for that special, green-fingered person in your life.
Every gardener needs a sturdy, handsome basket to carry tools as well as to hold freshly-harvested produce. But rather than buy one that’s mass-produced, why not order it from Kildare-based craftsperson Beth Murphy (from €85, willowwonder.net, order now for Christmas), who will make it by hand using willow grown on her own organically-managed smallholding. As the owner of one of her baskets , I can vouch for their sturdiness as well as their beauty.
If you’re feeling especially generous, you might even fill it with a few well-made, garden tools from the Niwaki range, a favourite amongst professional gardeners. In particular, look out for its pruning tools as well as the supremely useful Hori-Hori knife, which serves as an “all-round weeder, bulb-planter supreme and general subterranean rummager”. The knife itself is a very reasonably-priced £21 and comes with a vinyl holster, but if you want play it safe/ be extra generous, there’s the option of buying it with its own specially-designed Long Holster, made from leather (£49for both, from UK website niwaki.com).
Here in Ireland, Cork-based supplier The Tool Forge also stocks an extensive range of durable, ergonomic garden tools by Austrian, Dutch, German and Swiss-made brands such as Sneeboer, Felco and PK – from long-handled dandelion-diggers (€42.99) to the short-handled ‘Great Dixter Planting Spade’ (€59) designed especially for use in tight spaces.
Speaking of tight spaces, ugly window boxes are a pet hate of mine, which is why I’m an admirer of the range supplied by Dublin garden shop Howbert & Mays, who’ll even plant them up and deliver them to your door (from €55 planted, howbertandmays.ie). The same shop is loved amongst gardeners for its diverse range of plants and accessories, from shrimp-pink air plants (€3.95,) and the ornamental ‘String of Hearts’ indoor vine (from €7,) to handsome, teak garden benches (from €395 for a two-seater).
Mr Middleton Garden Shop (mrmiddleton.com) and Johnstown Garden Centre (johnstowngardencentre.ie) are two other favourite haunts of Irish gardeners, with excellent online offerings that include dwarf pear trees suitable for growing in neat pots (from €20), the latest English rose varieties from distinguished UK rose-breeder David Austin (from €22), sturdy, drip-proof electric heaters designed to keep glasshouses frost-free (from €60), and heated propagators (from €27). Meanwhile, for an outstanding range of indoor plants, check out Dublin’s Urban Plant Life (plantlife.ie).
Almost all gardeners love to propagate some of their own plants from seed, and some of the best seasonal offerings come from Cork-based organic seed producer Brown Envelope Seeds (brownenvelopeseeds.com). Kitchen gardeners will love its beautifully-packaged ‘Unusual Veg’ gift box (€19.99) which includes packets of seed of ‘Jelly Melon’, golden amaranth, February orchid, and tomato ‘White Wonder’ as well as several other strange but wonderful food crops.
Alternatively, the present of a collection of 10 varieties of sweet pea seed from specialist UK-based suppliers Owl’s Acre Seed (£18 plus p&p, owlsacreseeds.co.uk) is one that will give months of richly perfumed posies from the garden.
Beautiful, handmade plant pots are another Christmas gift that gardeners will welcome with open arms. Support Irish craftspeople by buying them from potteries such as Enniscorthy-based Kiltrea Pottery (kiltreapottery.com) which is known for its unglazed terracotta pots, planters (from €9.95), rhubarb-forcers (€165) and seakale pots (€145), or well known Kerry-based Louis Mulcahy Pottery (louismulcahy.com), which is known for its large, lustrous pots (pot and underplate from €32.95), or Dublin’s Arran Street East Pottery (arranstreeteast.ie) whose earthy glazes are inspired by Dublin’s nearby fruit and vegetable market (pot and underplate from €30).
Ireland’s botanical artists have really come to the fore in recent years, as proven by the success of the recent ‘Plandaí Oidhreachta’ exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, which showcased their artistic contributions to the just-published book of the same name (see below). Some of the exquisite paintings of Irish garden plants specially commissioned for this remarkable project are still available to buy, and would make a wonderful gift for that special gardener in your life (prices start from €120, see irishbotanicalartists.ie).
Annual membership of the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (from €40, see rhsi.ie), the Irish Garden Plant Society (irishgardenplantsociety.com,€30), or the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society (rhs.org.uk. £57) are all the sorts of Christmas gifts that keep on giving, as is a subscription to the Irish Garden magazine (from €46, mediateam.ie) or Gardens Illustrated (€54.10, buysubscriptions.com).
Finally, for that very special gardener in your life, there’s always the luxurious gift of a horticultural-themed holiday, visiting some of the greatest gardens of the world in the company of expert guides and professional gardeners Frances and Iain MacDonald (see the Travel Department, traveldepartment.ie) or tickets to the world-famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show (£27-£72, rhschelsea.seetickets.com)
Books for gardeners: the pick of the crop
We may live in a digital age but still there’s nothing quite like the enduring pleasures of a real gardening book. Among the best of this year’s crop is Landscape of Dreams; The Gardens of Isabel and Julian Bannerman by Isabel and Julian Bannerman (Pimpernel Press, £50), a lushly illustrated, beautifully-penned and instructive account of the work of this well-known UK garden design duo. With a client list that includes Britain’s Prince of Wales and John Paul Getty II, inevitably most of those gardens belong to the historic castles, manor houses and stately homes of English aristocrats and millionaires. Nonetheless, there’s plenty in the way of hard-earned, practical gardening advice to be gleaned from its glossy pages.
By comparison, Noel Kingsbury’s New Small Garden (Frances Lincoln, £20), couldn’t be more different in terms of its subject matter, dealing as it does with the particular challenges of designing ultra-compact outdoor spaces. For anyone starting out on the journey of creating such a garden, it’s an excellent guide (both practical and aesthetic) to making the tiniest plot feel like your own little piece of Eden.
The making of a small garden– in this case, a truly tiny, urban kitchen garden- is also the theme of the charming Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelson (£16.99, Kyle Books).
Similarly, the role that even the smallest garden can play in terms of providing naturalistic habitats for wildlife is the subject of landscape architect Ian Hodgson’s New Wild Garden (Frances Lincoln, £25), which won the Peter Seabrook Practical Book of the Year’ at this year’s prestigious GMG awards.
Irish garden designer Mary Reynold’s new book, The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land & Ourselves (Green Books, £19.99), also takes a hard look at gardeners’ sometimes troubled relationship with the world of nature. Some of her odder suggestions (for example, that gardeners should politely request slugs to leave their plants alone) will sit uneasily with the more scientifically-minded as will her somewhat evangelical tone, but putting that aside, there’s still much to like about this book, including its charming illustrations by artist Ruth Evans.
Small books – as in the kind that make for comfortable bedtime reading – will always have a place on the bedside tables of busy gardeners. One of this year’s best is You Should Have Been Here Last Week (Pimpernel Press, £16.99), a collection of previously published articles, reviews and essays by the English garden critic and writer Tim Richardson, a man known for not mincing his words. Incisive, witty, opinionated and thought-provoking, its subject matter is engagingly eclectic.
So, in its own special way, is that of Plandaí Oidhreachta: Irish Heritage Plants. This jewel of a book, which is the result of a collaboration between the Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists, tells the stories of some of Ireland’s garden plants through the written contributions of leading Irish plantspeople, accompanied by exquisite paintings commissioned from the country’s most talented botanical artists (€30, available to buy at the Visitor’s Centre of the National Botanic Gardens, or order from irishbotanicalartists.ie) .
Dates For Your Diary
Sunday, 11th December, The National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, ‘Celebrating Christmas at Glasnevin’, with a special Christmas market, music, live choir and ‘Santa’ – ticketed event with tickets available from the Visitor & Education Centre, see botanicgardens.ie:
Wednesday, 14th December (8pm, admission €5), Kill O’The Grange Parish Centre, Kill Lane, Dublin, ‘Christmas Ideas for the Home’, a Christmas demonstration by Diane Gallagher on behalf of South County Dublin Horticultural Society.