Wondering what Christmas present to get for the gardener in your life?
From organic seeds, handy tools and beautiful Irish-grown plants to great gardening workshops and exquisite botanical art, see below for some green-fingered inspiration.
Hands and feet
Work-worn hands are part and parcel of being a keen gardener so a natural pumice stone from Seven Wood (€10, sevenwood.ie) and some nourishing skin cream specially formulated for dry, rough skin from Clare-based Burren Perfumery (Soothing Cream, €25) will go down a treat. So would a pair of warm, waterproof winter gardening gloves from Cork-based Fruithill Farm (Canada Gloves, €8, fruithillfarm.com). Muddy boots (and mucky footprints) are also part and parcel of being a gardener so take away the hassle and mess of taking them off with a very knacky wooden boot-jack from Dublin-based The Blue Door (€29, thebluedoordirect.com), which also stocks a range of lovely bird feeders, plant stands and garden furniture. Speaking of gardening boots, the best are light, warm and waterproof such as Rouchette's neoprene ankle boots (€38.80, whitesagri.ie).
Houseplants and gift boxes
What gardener doesn't love houseplants? A great selection is available from the new Wicklow-based online plant store Epoch Green (epochgreen.ie). It also stocks a fantastic selection of beautifully packaged, botanically-themed vintage jigsaws by Cavallini & Co, a fun way for the green-fingered person in your life to while away these cold, dark winter evenings before another new growing season kicks in (€27). Brown Envelope Seeds's nattily-packaged, Christmas gift boxes are always a treat to savour: prices start from €9 for the small gift boxes but if you really want to go for broke, then treat that special kitchen gardener in your life to its Grow Your Own Christmas Dinner gift box (€50), which contains 17 packets of organically-produced vegetable seeds harvested on owner Madeleine McKeever's west Cork farm.
Small is definitely beautiful when it comes to Dublin-based Nufield's sprouting kits, which make a perfect Christmas gift for the space-challenged urban farmer. Check out its Good Gut Sprout Kit (certified organic), designed in collaboration with Dr Anthony Rafferty @thegoodgutdoc(€29.99, nufields.com) which contains seed of 10 different plant species including fenungreek, kale, and Chinese cabbage, that are "naturally rich in nutritious fibre to feed your trusty gut bugs, and other beneficial nutrients to promote good health".
A good, weatherproof notebook is another gardening mainstay, but few are as lovely as Cork-based Barbara Hubert's hand bound leather-wrap journals (from €20, hubertbookbinding.com). Or how about the gift of a tree? Trees on the Land is a not-for-profit, cross-border initiative working to leave a living legacy of native Irish tree cover and woodland for future generations, which relies on donations from the public, sponsorship and contributions from landowners to buy and distribute trees across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. A donation of just €2 covers the cost of planting at least one tree (treesontheland.com).
Sadly, not all garden tools are made to last, which makes those that do stand out for their quality, durability and ergonomic design. Reliable brands include Dutch-made DeWit (I love their ash-wood dibber with its solid brass tip, €24, howbertandmays.ie); Japanese-made Niwaki, whose range of shears, loppers, snippers and secateurs are famous for their razor-blade sharpness (howbertandmays.ie); Dutch-made Sneeboer (you've got to love a hand weeding tool called the Wrotter, fruithillfarm.com) and SHW, the German range of forged hand-tools (fruithillfarm.com).
A good-quality electric propagator is another piece of gardening equipment guaranteed to give years of enjoyment. Sligo-based Quickcrop carry the award-winning Vitopod range (from €189, quickcrop.ie) which can be accessorised with a grow-light for brilliant results throughout the year.
David Austin rose bushes have been very difficult to source post-Brexit but Dublin-based Mr Middleton offers a reliably great selection for remarkably good value (five plants for just €60, discounted down from €100) as well as varieties from the famous French rose breeder Delbard (from €20, mrmiddleton.com ).
Robert Miller's Altamont Plant Sales, a treasure-trove of a garden centre located in Altamont's historic walled garden near Ballon, Co Carlow, is also known in gardening circles for its excellent selection of rose plants (altamontplants.com) as well as its exceptional range of Irish-grown trees, shrubs and perennials.
Plant lovers will also relish a voucher from the brilliant Dublin-based specialist nursery Mount Venus (mountvenus.com) or indeed from any of the small specialist nurseries that are members of the Irish Specialist Nurseries Association (irishspecialistnurseriesassociation.com )
Snowdrops and calendars
Wondering what to give the galanthophile in your life? Snowdrop aficionados will be delighted by a ticket to the Snowdrop Gala 2022 on February 5th at Ballykealey House, Co Carlow, where guest speakers will include Tom Coward, head gardener of Gravetye Manor in the UK and Anne Repnow, the German-based author of Some Snowdrops.
Tickets cost €90 and include lunch, morning refreshments and afternoon tea, plus a tour of Altamont Gardens' snowdrop collection. Access to the select group of specialist plant nurseries which will have spring bulbs, snowdrops, hellebores and other seasonal treasures for sale on the day is included (pre-booking essential, contact Hester Forde, at email@example.com or Robert Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org).
To keep track of all of next year's important gardening dates, give the gift of a calendar beautifully illustrated by the west Cork-based artist Sonia Caldwell, whose 2022 offering featuring her watercolour paintings of plants and trees from Irish woodlands, is a cracker (€15, kilcoestudios.com).
Garden courses are another reliably welcome Christmas gift. Garden designer Des Doyle of Lavistown House, Co Kilkenny, runs a great selection including his enduringly popular monthly garden workshops (10am-1pm, one Saturday of each month, lunch included). This gives participants a very practical, seasonal grounding in the nuts and bolts of gardening plus plenty of useful design tips (gardenfable.com).
Well-known gardener and author Jimi Blake of Hunting Brook Gardens near Blessington, Co Wicklow also offers a fantastic selection of both online and on-site courses, workshops and illustrated talks on everything from plant propagation (€130) to his long-established plantspersons' courses which take place over a gardening year (€900, see Jimi's new website huntingbrookgardens.com for details).
Meanwhile, for gardeners who love to grow some of their own food, the well-known Sligo-based organic gardener and author Klaus Laitenberger is also running a series of excellent online courses on kitchen gardening (ten online classes plus Q&A sessions for €70, greenvegetableseeds.com). Laois-based organic gardener Tanguy de Toulgoet also runs a series of highly-regarded courses on organic gardening and beekeeping at his home at Dunmore Country School near Durrow, Co Laois (from €50, dunmorecountryschool.ie).
A year's subscription to the recently relaunched and revamped Irish Garden magazine, which features contributions by 30 of the country's most knowledgeable gardeners plus oodles of hands-on practical tips and advice is another gift that keeps on giving (€40 for seven issues, see garden.ie or email Kim at email@example.com); so is annual membership of garden-based organisations such as the Irish Garden Plant Society (from €30, irishgardenplantsociety.com), Irish Seed Savers (standard membership from €60, irishseedsavers.ie) or the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (RHSI) which has played a digital stormer throughout the pandemic with its excellent series of online talks and lectures.
Annual membership of the latter starts at €60 and includes many benefits from priority access to the society's events, workshops, lectures, flower shows and library and discounted entry fees to the society's partner gardens around the country, to a copy of the RHSI journal (rhsi.ie): kitchen gardeners will also love the GIY (giy.ie) GROWBox seasonal subscription, which includes a series of four boxes delivered from early spring to autumn and which are packed full of seeds, pots, labels and compost discs plus a handy growing guide (€89.99, giy.ie).
Last but not least, artist Yanny Petters' recent show, Field of Vision at Dublin's Olivier Cornet Gallery, has confirmed her status as one of the country's most gifted botanically-inspired artists with her work now included in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland. Using a technique known as verre eglomisé which involves acid etching, drawing, painting and gilding onto glass, the exhibition was inspired by the native plants growing in Petter's country garden in Wicklow such as bluebell, foxglove, primrose, cowslips and forget-me-nots. Definitely a Christmas gift to treasure (from €1,100 at oliviercornetgallery.com).
(For a guide to this year's crop of gardening books, see my column on December 11th)