Fionnuala Fallon: the best Christmas gifts for gardeners
From seeds to secateurs, some green gift ideas for the keen, and the casual, gardener
Colourful cast-concrete handmade planters designed by Dublin-based Ail+El
Gifts under €25
For gardeners who lose track of time, what about a Hexham outdoor/waterproof clock that can be popped discreetly into the border? (mrmiddleton.com €23).
Lightweight, waterproof, fleece-lined and durable, Great Dixter’s well-known head gardener Fergus Garrett describes Hoken gardening gloves as “the best for keeping your hands warm and dry in winter” (greatdixtershop.co.uk £12.99), and he should know . . .
Cork-based organic seed producer Brown Envelope Seeds’ nattily-packaged gift boxes are loved by kitchen gardeners. This year’s offerings from the small family-run firm include its Irish Heritage Seed gift box, which contains organically-grown seed of the famous Giant Gortahork cabbage, two varieties of heritage Irish oats, the delicious “Auld Sod” tomato, Irish green pea and the modestly named swede known as “Best of All” (€19.99, brownenvelopeseed.com).
Apartment dwellers will love the award-winning Born in Sweden Bird Feeder which can be fixed onto any smooth window pane, thanks to its innovative double-sided suction cup (formalityonline.com, €22).
The Swiss Felco range of garden pruners are prized by gardeners around the world for their strength, durability and ergonomic design. Buy one from Mr Middleton and they come with the promise of a free lifetime service carried out by Felco specialists with over 50 years’ experience under their belt. While prices for Felco’s traditional range of secateurs start at €34, their excellent, lightweight Felco 310 snippers is even more affordable (€19 mrmiddleton.com).
Botanical plaster casts have a magical way of capturing the intricate botanical detail of flowers, foliage and seedheads, turning them into wonderfully decorative art pieces that look great hung on a wall. Florist Sally Horn has started making a lovely selection which she sells at her stall in Killruddery’s farmers’ market every Saturday (thesallygarden.com , prices start from €20) while artist Deirdre Crofts also makes a beautiful range (dalkeygardenschool.com) .
Gifts under €50
Plant pots can be disappointingly dull in terms of their design, but that’s definitely not true of the handsome range of colourful cast-concrete handmade planters designed by Dublin-based Ail+El, each of which comes planted with its very own handsome succulent (jamartfactory.com €28).
Also hand-made in Ireland is Kerry-based designer Mary Neeson’s charming range of porcelain birdfeeders, which are a world away from the ugly, utilitarian kinds typically seen for sale. (€45, maryneesonceramics.com).
Situated in the atmosphere-rich walled gardens of Altamont in Co Carlow, Robert Miller’s plant nursery is the place where true plant-lovers to go to find the latest treasures, whether it’s some rare snowdrops for the galanthophile in their life (that’s snowdrop-lover to the uninitiated) or the choicest of shrubs. Miller’s top pick for those in search of the perfect plant to give this Christmas is Magnolia “Star Wars”. Compact, floriferous and unusually quick to produce flowers for a magnolia, this deciduous hybrid variety’s very large, perfumed pink blooms appear in late spring (altamontplants.com, €40).
Keen gardeners are always in search of the perfect pair of lightweight, waterproof boots, and you won’t go far wrong with a pair from Canadian brand Hamik (howbertandmays.ie, €45).
Well-made, long-lasting, ergonomically-designed garden tools also come top of the list as regards tried-and-trusted Christmas gifts. For example, every gardener could do with an oscillating hoe that makes short work of slicing through weeds. It’s available in a range of different widths (175mm, 125mm and 85mm); the narrowest size is slender enough to use in a flower border, and the widest is perfect for quickly clearing weedy paths (available from the organiccentre.ie, €35-€37 plus ash handle €9).
Cork-based The Tool Forge also stocks a marvellous variety of tools from a range of highly respected brands including Sneeboer and PKS (thetoolforge.ie), while Howbert & Mays stocks Niwaki’s Hori Hori knife, the latest must-have hand tool for gardeners (howbertandmays.ie, €30).
Other always-welcome gifts include annual membership of the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (from €40 rhsi.ie) or of the Irish Garden Plant Society (from €30 irishgardenplantsociety.com).
With a host of garden seminars, workshops and festivals lined up for 2018, a ticket to one (or more) of them is always going to be a winner. Suggestions include the annual Snowdrop Gala which takes place in Ballykealey House, Co Carlow on February 3rd, with guest speakers including British nurseryman Graham Gough and expert alpine gardener Jim Almond (€70 firstname.lastname@example.org); The GLDA’s seminar, “The Designed Garden: An Unfinished Canvas” which takes place in Dublin on February 17th, with guest speakers including Chelsea gold-winning designer James Basson, US landscape architect Douglas Hoerr and Swedish plantsman Peter Korn (tickets from €50-€100, glda.ie); Mr Middleton’s Annual Spring Gardening Masterclass on April 9th (Citywest Hotel) with guest speakers Helen Dillon, TJ Maher of Patthana Gardens, Mike Sokolowski of David Austin Roses and Thomas Quearney (€80, mrmiddleton.com); and the annual Chelsea Garden Festival 2018 (May 22nd-25th, tickets from £31-£87, rhschelsea.seetickets.com).
A subscription to the glossy Gardens Illustrated (buysubscriptions.com, £54.10) is another gift that almost every gardener will gladly welcome, while for a very winter-worthy plant with an Irish connection, consider Betula “Trinity College”, a fine variety of silver birch with snowy-white bark (johnstowngardencentre.ie, €59).
Gifts over €100
Does the gardener in your life have a habit of forever mislaying his/her secateurs/phone? If so, then consider giving them a custom-made leather tool belt by American craft firm Wheeler Munroe, whose belts are coveted by gardeners the world over (Gardenista fittingly describes them as “objects of desire”). Hand-made from chocolate-brown, oil-tanned leather with rust-proof brass fittings and pockets for pruners, scissors, phone and pencils, they’re designed to last a lifetime (€161.66 plus €21.30 shipping to Ireland, etsy.com/shop/WheelerMunroe).
“Another Bite of the Cherry” is Dublin-based Graphic Studio’s second exhibition of work inspired by the historic gardens of the “Bots” in Glasnevin, with contributions by over 50 artists. The result is a marvellous exhibition of garden-inspired artworks, with every piece for sale (in editions of 50) at a very democratic price of €180 unframed/€225 framed. The exhibition continues until Wednesday December 6th at the National Botanic Gardens’ Visitor Centre (graphicstudiodublin-shop.squarespace.com/bots).
Propagating plants from seed can be a tricky business, but the award-winning thermostatically controlled, height-adjustable Vitopod heated propagators, voted “best buy” by BBC Gardeners World magazine, make it feel oh-so easy (quickcrop.ie, from €148, with fitted Sunblaster horticultural lamps from an additional €99).
The best gardeners have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, something that explains the enduring popularity of professional gardener and plantaholic Jimi Blake’s Plantsperson’s Courses, where he passes on his wealth of wisdom over the course of the gardening year. The course is based at his garden Hunting Brook in Co Wicklow, but includes trips to other gardens (€888 for 12 day-long classes, huntingbrook.com).
Almost all gardeners find joy and inspiration in visiting other people’s plots, which is why a guided tour of some of the great gardens of the world is a gift that they’ll never forget. The Travel Department, has a particularly distinguished record in this regard and its 2018 line-up is a marvellous one that includes trips to the great gardens of Japan, Catalonia, Cornwall, Brittany and Lake Como as well as many much closer to home, in East Cork, Antrim and Down, Carlow and Kildare (for further details, see traveldepartment.ie).