Christmas presents can be an emotive subject for gardeners. There are always so many things a gardener wants to find under the tree on Christmas morning. But, please, not another fork and trowel set (with obligatory floral design). And no more gardeners’ soaps or hand creams. I have a pile of them under the kitchen sink; there’s a limit to the amount of grainy, sludge green bars I can get through in a year.
So what do we gardeners lust after? What’s going to put a smile on the faces of your green-fingered friends and relatives?
I expect top of the list has to be plants. But don’t just grab a couple of cyclamen or a poinsettia from the nearest garden centre or supermarket. Do your research. Make it personal. Admittedly it’s not easy marrying seasonal with festive and most wanted. But there are plenty of shrubs and perennials that strike out with a blast of colour (and, quite often, fragrance) around Christmas, among them hellebores, viburnums (I ADORE Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – it’s just coming into flower around now), Daphnes and trees such as the winter-flowering cherry Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’.
I love the pale pink, almost white, blossom on Prunus x subhirtella ; it opens from deep-raspberry buds, and flowers from November to March, more enthusiastically when the weather’s mild. The leaf colour is great, too – a pretty bronze-green in spring, turning to tender peachy orange in autumn. You really couldn’t ask for more. And yet… it’s an option for pretty much every garden, huge or tiny, as it will never become a beast. It grows to 8 metres tall at the most, but usually a fair bit less. Oh, and the blossom is of course the best part: soft, delicate and snowy, unlike a lot of the showier spring-flowering cherries. A good friend has a pair at the bottom of her garden, and I always get a little envious looking out from her kitchen at that pretty froth of winter magic.
One of the best Christmas presents I’ve been given is a garden bench. It was from my Mum about five years ago (thanks, Mum.) It’s a lovely sturdy wooden one, and sits where the morning sun hits the back patio (the best place for a spring breakfast). The fence behind is covered in a rampant passion flower (it seeds itself in the gaps between the patio slabs; it’s all I can do to keep it from swamping the thing), but I do love the way its glossy tendrils hang over the back of the bench. On a summer’s day heaven is sitting there quietly, the sun on your face, listening to the bees buzz from flower to flower.
But I mustn’t forget my Felco secateurs: another Christmas present, from about 10 years ago now. Without a doubt, they’re the best you can buy – and they’ll last forever if you treat them well. Mine are the ergonomic no.7 model with rotating handle – honestly, I can prune for hours with these without my wrists getting sore, and they’re fabulously sharp. The company will refurbish them, too, so they should literally last a lifetime.
So what do I want this Christmas? I mentioned that Bathsheba rose a few weeks ago, the one I was planning on planting in a pot by the back door. I admit I haven’t got round to ordering it yet, so I’ve dropped some heavy hints at home… A good gardening book is always welcome, too. I love everything Val Bourne writes, and The Living Jigsaw, which came out last year is brilliant and fascinating – the best treatise on organic gardening you’ll read. So her latest, The Ten-minute Gardener, would make me very happy. Or a pair of gauntlet gloves. I’m terrible for popping out into the garden for five minutes in slippers, jeans and t-shirt, to return 40 minutes later having pruned a rose, dug up an unhappily positioned shrub and weeded the veg bed. Next year I swear I’m going to be better equipped. Muddy slippers and forearms full of thorns and scratches are not a good look.
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Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer