With only a week to go until Christmas, garden centres may be the perfect solution for some relaxed last-minute shopping. Gardeners tend to be practical people who love to receive new tools and gadgets for their hobby.
Bookshops are also full of gardening information guides, or why not create a festive voucher promising the bearer a couple of hours' gardening, or simply mowing the lawn? Or you can make a floral arrangement combining seasonal plants such as cyclamen and hyacinths. If you're not sure how to do it then follow my guide (right) to making a hyacinth and poinsettia arrangement.
A few years ago I visited sun-parched Kenya with Christian Aid and saw how their work helped local gardeners grow fruit and veg. Maybe sending gifts to others who have it more difficult than us might spread the true message of goodwill. You can help by purchasing gifts at present-aid.org. Trocaire run a similar scheme called Trocaire Gift.
One of the loveliest Christmas presents must be an armful of vibrant colour in the form of flowering indoor plants. I popped up to see what varieties Santa recommended at my local garden centre in the magnificent Powerscourt gardens in County Wicklow. Last year National Geographic magazine proclaimed them the third best gardens in the world.
The poinsettia (pictured) is one of the most Christmassy plants, to my mind - scarlet red bracts the colour of Santa's breeches atop velvety green leaves. It doesn't like cold winds so keep away from draughty hallways or windows, but don't overheat it either. Water periodically, letting the soil dry out completely between waterings.
You can't go wrong giving an orchid as a present. The most common variety found in the supermarkets is the Phalaenopsis. I've found that they do best in my house on a north-facing window in the kitchen - no direct sunlight. Water once a week so it doesn't dry out but don't be tempted to sit it in a saucer of water as the roots may get soggy and rot. When the flowers have finished, cut the stem back to just above a node and in time you will get more flowers.
Solanum, the winter cherry, is a member of the nightshade family with poisonous fruit so keep out of reach of children and pets. It likes somewhere bright and sunny but not too hot. Aechmaea Primera, the Silver Vase Plant, is a bromeliad from the Brazilian rainforest with a flamboyant pink flower emerging from the centre. This can make the plant a bit top heavy so if it's in a plastic pot, I would pop the pot and plant into a ceramic or terracotta pot to anchor it. In the right conditions - bright and sunny -the bloom can last many months.
Hyacinth & poinsettia arrangements
Add compost to a planter or large bowl. If it doesn't have drainage holes, add some pieces of charcoal which will absorb gases. Buy hyacinths have been forced and will be flowering on Christmas Day. Plant these and then some baby poinsettias for some instant colour. Place candles in the centre of the arrangement. You can use spruce cuttings to cover any compost that is still showing. Water sparingly, just enough to keep the compost moist.
● If you’ve had ice or snow, you’re probably best indoors as pathways are slippery and lawns shouldn’t be walked on when they are frosty.
● However, if you’re itching for gardening work, then it’s time for apple and pear pruning. Cherries and plums shouldn’t be touched during winter as this will leave them vulnerable to silver leaf fungus. Apply grease bands to the trunks to stop overwintering moths climbing up and laying their eggs.
● Continue to rake fallen leaves off the lawn and out of the pond and onto the compost heap.
● Harvest leeks, parsnips, winter cabbages and sprouts. and enjoy home grown produce on Christmas Day.
● Go foraging in your garden for attractive greenery and berries , branches that can be kept fresh in a bucket of water or that can be sprayed silver , gold or white for Christmas for decorations.