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A gift for gardening

30 November 2012


THE other day, I received two unexpected, though perhaps tongue-in-cheek, compliments on my footwear. I had left the back door en route to the compost heap when I heard it snap shut. There was nothing for it but to walk the mile or so down the road to my friend and spare key-holder.

I was wearing my Shedshoes, a kind of plastic clog, based on those worn by hospital workers, but covered in a photographic image of grass, such that my feet would have disappeared against a summer lawn.

Against a muddy tarmac in November, the lurid green shone out and attracted attention, which I tried to deflect with a rather embarrassed "They're very comfy." I remain loyal to my trusty lightweight, grippy slip-ons that have served me well on so many back-garden errands. I can report that they are supremely comfortable - even after two miles - and might make a fun Christmas present for the gardener in your family. There is quite a range of designs: tulip, tomato, rose, chilli, sunflower, and bluebell, among others.

Transferring attention from feet to hands, wearing gloves can make gardening more enjoyable, and a little safer. In the past, I tended to be in the "I need to feel what I'm doing" camp, but have been converted by a pair of "Joe's" gloves. Joe sells four types, including "The Dexterous One" for weeding and delicate jobs, and my current favourite, "The All Seasons One", which is cosy and yet tough.

When choosing a gift for a gardener, it is tempting to go for a plant. You may even find one with a particularly fitting cultivar name. Use the Royal Horticultural Society online Plant Finder. Entering "Diane" could lead you to the winter-flowering witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia "Diane"; "Dawn" to a hybrid Viburnum with fantastic winter scen; and "David" to a very fine Rhododendron, for example.

Most plants would not fare well wrapped and under the Christmas tree for long. A National Garden gift voucher is one solution, and is available from, and exchangeable at, many garden centres. Another, with perhaps less keenly felt delayed gratification for the recipient, is to give packets of seeds. I would go for easy perennials that, sown early, will flower in their first year, and then with minimal care will bulk up over the years.

The family-run Chiltern Seeds has provided me with many of the stalwarts of my garden. Achillea millefolium "Summer Pastels Mixed" gave me a huge colour-range that I have gradually whittled down to my favourite ochre and lemon tones over the years. Geum "Lady Stratheden" and "Mrs J. Bradshaw" are both RHS Award of Garden Merit winners, and easy from seed. Polemonium caeruleum "Blue Pearl" has flourished from an early spring sowing, three years ago; its sprays of azure-blue flowers are now a key component of my Marian border each summer.

A packet of seeds may seem a small offering at the time, but my Persian silk tree, Albizia julibrissin, grown from just such a gift ten years ago, is now a beautiful and dramatic presence in my garden.



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