Gift guide: Gardening essentials

Posted on: 05 December 2011 by Maxine Farmer

Maxine Farmer, our resident gardening expert, brings you the top ten gift idea's for green-fingered friends...

Gardening giftsI’ve had the usual seasonal deluge of junk mail – both the printed and emailed variety – aimed at people like me who write about gardening.  Disappointingly, a huge amount of these gift ideas for the green-fingered are largely  unoriginal and not even useful.  So in the spirit of helping my fellow gardeners, who might want to give the loved ones in their lives a few suggestions about what they’d like Santa to bring this year, here’s my personal top ten list of gardening gifts which are truly useful.

A willow trug 

Despite this being one of the most useful items of all, I know very few people who actually own one. It makes a great lightweight  portable aid for small gardening tasks, whether to lug a few hand tools around or to collect clippings (or in my case, usually both). My own trug is an unattractive faded old green plastic affair, but I treasure it because it was a gift from my late father-in-law. Were I not so attached to it, I would be sorely tempted by the willow trug currently on offer from (£12.99 at time of going to press).

Felco original secateurs

This brand is widely recognised by the gardening cognoscenti as the Rolls Royce of secateurs. Expect to spend in the region of £30-50, though I note that there has some good deals at the moment. Yes, they are comparatively expensive but they will last you a lifetime if looked after properly, which means NOT following my example of losing secateurs in the border, their rusty remains to be found months afterwards. Instead, always wipe them clean with a lightly oiled rag and regularly sharpen with the aid of a whetstone.

A book of plant problems

Okay, so maybe not the most glamorous of gardening books and hardly one to leave on the coffee-table, but I’ll wager it becomes one of the most used. The ability to correctly identify and then deal with bugs and diseases at an early stage can make all the difference to a plant’s chances of survival.  RHS Pests & Diseases is a widely available choice, co-written by Andrew Halstead and Pippa Greenwood of Gardener’s Question Time fame.

Classic gardening books

For some more frivolous plant reading, I thoroughly recommend buying that old garden classic, Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols. Published in the first half of the 20th century, it is still in print today and is a laugh-out-loud, can’t-put-down-volume that will entertain anyone interested in gardening. Though perhaps not ‘truly useful’, I would argue that there are some good nuggets of garden information hidden in its pages, particularly for the novice.

Portable Internet Radio 

If, like me, you like to listen to the radio while gardening but live in an area where the FM signal is dodgy? Say goodbye to hiss and crackle by investing in a portable Wifi Internet radio. Thanks to my lovely husband, who gave me this present last year, I can now listen to the Archers and Desert Island Discs when I’m in the garden, without having to waggle an aerial around to get better reception. The battery life in mine seems to last about eight hours and it has not suffered any permanent damage from being lugged around the garden in my grubby, mud-soiled gloves. This is not a small ticket gift – expect to spend £100-200 depending on the mobile.  My radio is an Evoke Flow in lovely retro styling from John Lewis.

The Big Cheese Cat Repeller

I’ve not tried this sonic cat-deterrent for myself but I’ve read some very positive reviews. Depending on the retail, the price seem to vary from just £14-30 so shop around. For anyone serious about keeping cats out of the garden, whether to protect plants or local wildlife, it has to be worth considering.

Solar powered fountain

The quality of products that harness the sun’s energy have developed in leaps and bounds in just a few years. While solar-powered fountains may find it hard to compete with their electrically-powered cousins, they are a great idea for anyone who does not want to be bothered with installing external power sources. And of course, they are a very environmentally responsible option, as well as being attractive to wildlife.

Hunter welly warmers

Specially designed fleece socks avoid feet that become frozen blocks when working in the winter garden. Unlike normal socks, they do not have an irritating habit of working their way down the leg. Indeed, some are long enough to roll over the top of the boot. Expect to spend anywhere from £5 upwards and nor do they need to be boring:  on my own wish list are a pair of Hunter Wellie Warmers in a faux leopard-skin print, no less!

Courses at Barnsdale Gardens 

However experienced we may be, every gardener still has something to learn, and where better than at the magical setting of Barnsdale Gardens, created by the late great Geoff Hamilton, who for many people I know, still remains the most inspirational garden TV presenter and writer of them all. Located in Rutland, the range stretches from a sub-£20 rose pruning tutorial to a £195 two-day course covering construction of hard-landscaping in the garden.

RHS membership

For me, the ultimate gardening present has to be RHS membership. At £49, it represents several gifts all-in-one: a monthly magazine, access to an excellent  online database of plants, the ability to book for RHS shows such as Chelsea sooner (and cheaper than non-members) and a free diagnostic plant problem service. For me, the price of membership is validated by this last benefit alone: as I know from personal experience, literally send in a plant sample and shortly, an extremely well-thought out response will be sent via post.

I hope this has given you some inspiration, whether to buy for others or to drop large hints to friends and relatives. I wish you all a Happy Christmas.

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