Diarmuid Gavin: Gifts for gardeners
From plants to tools, trees to wood chimes, we've got Christmas covered for your green-fingered loved ones
Garden centres and garden shops are superb places to visit in December to scour for that thoughtful Christmas present for the keen gardeners in your life. I've asked a number of the country's favourite garden retailers to recommend some gift ideas.
Jim Clarke of Johnstown Garden Centre, Naas, has a wonderful suggestion for those contemporary gardeners who love to grow their own fruit but whose small terrace or rooftop gardens don't allow much digging space. They stock a collection of five-variety fruit trees, ideal for small spaces. Selling at €45 each these fruit trees will produce five varieties of the same fruit grafted onto the one tree. You can choose between apple, plum, cherry and pear trees.
Details: johnstowngardencentre.ie; (045) 879138
Howbert and Mays garden centre is situated in Monkstown, Co Dublin, just 15 minutes from the city centre. Renowned for their choice selection of wonderful plants, they also offer garden tools, indoor plants, pots and containers. In fact, all the discerning gardener requires.
This Christmas they tell me that gardeners only need a few key tools: gloves, trowel, spade, secateurs and knee pads. If you do a lot of planting, you should work on your knees where you get to see the roots, feel the soil, and check that all is in order as you settle a plant into its new home. So, try the 'Jolly Kneeler' (above) €22.95, made by Birkenstock of Germany. It's made from a hunk of soft but firm rubber, contoured to fit your knees and keeps them warm, dry and untroubled as you plant. I'll be giving Santa a big hint in its direction.
A planting trowel made by the de Wit family in Holland, €15.25, would also make a great gift. Its design makes it easy to plant with, simply using a stabbing motion to dig the hole and pull the soil towards you. More effective than using it as a mini-shovel, its operation is made easier by the sharpened tip and side.
Details: howbertandmays.ie; (01) 202-0027
Future Forests are based in West Cork and have been shipping plants all over Ireland and the UK for 30 years. The plants they offer range from native to exotic - expect mixed native hedging, traditional Irish apple trees, old fashioned roses and much more.
At this time of the year their customers buy and gift bare root plants. If you'd like to allow someone to pick a growing gift, Cork Vouchers can be purchased anytime on The Local Gift Card website (givealocalgiftcard.ie/future-forests-bantry) where you can request a voucher sent by email or by post.
Details: futureforests.ie; (027) 66-176
Ardcarne Garden Centre - Ardcarne, Boyle, Co Roscommon - recommends the Woodstock Wind Chime (below), from €70, to add a jingle to a loved one's stocking this Christmas. It's designed by Garry Kvistad who founded Woodstock Percussion with a single great idea - to make the world's best sounding wind chime. And since 1979, that's what he's been doing.
Another of Ardcarne's recommendations is the famed Felco Secateurs, from €50-€100. Regarded by most professional horticulturists as the best pruners available, Swiss-made Felco tools combine the utmost quality and precision with comfort and efficiency. A pair of secateurs should last a lifetime and are a joy to use.
A final suggestion from Boyle is the Tom Chambers Bird Feeding Station (above), from €145. These come in kit form (in an easy-to-wrap box), are simple to put together and just push into the ground. Hang on a couple of feeders of peanuts or bird seed and wait for the fun to begin.
Details: Ardcarne Garden Centre; tel: (071) 966-7091; ardcarne.ie
* Avoca Garden Outlets tell me that their two bestsellers in their Kilmacanogue Garden Centre are Rhododendron Christmas Cheer at €24.95 and Skimmia Pabella at €29.95 (see below). They also have a fantastic range of unusual magnolias, some are suitable for smaller gardens too, such as Magnolia Satisfaction at €55 or Fairy Magnolia Cream, €36.95 (evergreen, gorgeously scented Fairy Blush magnolia from New Zealand). In the greenhouse, they stock citrus trees such as the Palestinian lime at €59.95, sweet orange, €54.95, and kumquat, €21.50. Orchids start from €17.95, coming for Christmas week, include vandas, cymbidiums, and many phalenopsis and dendrobiums.
All of these would make wonderful presents and at Avoca they have mastered the art of gift-wrapping plants.
Details: (01) 274-6939; avoca.com
Rhododendron Christmas Cheer
This is a great plant if you love rhododendrons, because they often start to bloom in late winter and are at their best in early spring - a good few weeks before most of their counterparts. Pretty trusses of pink buds open to blush-coloured flowers that fade to creamy white as they age. A must for the woodland garden, it will also take a good few years to reach its maximum height, so is also good for pots.
Rich, dark green foliage covered in generous clusters of dark intense red berries, which last well into spring, with fragrant white flowers in April and May. Grows to about 1m or 3ft in height and is very tolerant of shade. Great low-maintenance plant for pots.
* Brian Wood at Murphy and Wood - The Hill Centre, Johnstown Rd, Glenageary, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin - tells me they have a magnificent selection of Christmas gifting plants fresh and in full flower, including extra large Hippeastrum and a wide range of unusual orchids. One lovely plant which is a must for conservatory owners is the Meyer Lemon Tree, which is seedless and has the thinnest skin of all the lemons.
Details: (01) 285-4855; murphyandwoodgardencentre.com
* As an alternative gift idea, why not consider gifting a season ticket to one of our best gardens - Mount Usher, in Ashford, Wicklow. This is the gift that keeps on giving. Prices are: adult, €37.50; senior, €32.50; family (two adults and two children), €85.
These gift vouchers are sold predominantly at Mount Usher but can be sent for collection in other garden centres if requested.
Details: (404) 40205; mountushergardens.ie