If, like me, you are starting to think about Christmas through a haze of concern for our world, then it makes sense to make your own gifts or buy presents that support charities and companies that offer ethical and environmentally-sound products. If you are buying for a fellow gardener or nature-lover this year, here are some gifts which could help you create a greener Christmas for friends and family…
1. Send a British Bouquet
Visit Flowers From The Farm website (a not-for-profit network run by volunteers to support local UK flower growers) to find your nearest suppliers. I found our local flower farm – The Baldock Flower Farm – a family run business selling Hertfordshire flowers. A December bouquet with holly, mistletoe and festive flowers is sure to brighten even the dullest Christmas Day. The website also lists events and workshops around the country, such as learning how to grow your own cutting patch or create hand-tied bouquets.
2. The Gift of Inspiration
Books are fabulous gifts for all ages and can be revisited time and time again, although having spent 12 years as a English teacher I’m probably a bit biased! My top pick for family gardeners would be the RHS Plants for Pips which my kids really enjoyed (I’ve reviewed it on the blog here). For ‘Grow your Own’ enthusiasts and those interested in environmental-friendly gardening practices, what about Creating A Forest Garden by Martin Crawford? I’ve got it on loan from a friend at the moment, but it’s so good, I’ve requested my own copy for Christmas. It’s a comprehensive hardback with lots of information on how and why to set up a forest garden.
If Creating A Forest Garden is a little too detailed or pricey, I’ve also borrowed the paperbacks How To Grow Perennial Vegetables and Food From Your Forest Garden (also by Martin Crawford). Both are full of fascinating information about how to grow, harvest and use unusual plants. I particularly liked the photography in Food From Your Forest Garden and can’t wait to try some of the inspiring recipes. These, and many other environmental books, can be purchased online from Green Books – a publishing company which was launched in 1986 to help spread green ideas and practices.
3. Donate to Others
Give a charity gardening donation such as Way to Grow with Oxfam Unwrapped which gives farmers around the world the gift of seeds and helps them establish more sustainable farming methods. Or you could adopt an animal with The Wildlife Trusts and help protect species and habitats around the UK. The John Muir Trust also have a range of ‘Wild Gifts’ including planting trees and protecting peatland. We have a small family grove with Trees for Life in Scotland which you can add to over time by planting more trees as presents, knowing that your donations are helping restore the Caledonian forest.
4. Feed the Birds
Birds, like this song thrush, are among nature’s best pest controllers – eating a range of invertebrates, such as snails and caterpillars. Giving the gift of a bird feeder, bird food, a nest box or bird bath will help support the UK’s bird populations and reduce the need for chemical pest control in the garden. These days the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recommends feeding throughout the year, rather than just in the winter, so that birds have a better chance of surviving food shortages whenever they may occur. Bird food and feeders are readily available in shops and online. The RSPB’s online shop offers a good selection and supports their work protecting birds and habitats throughout the UK.
5. Grow Your Own Festive Fungi
I used to grow mushrooms from The Espresso Mushroom Company, where you could give an edible gift to be grown on the biodegradable, recycled coffee grounds of one hundred espressos. Unfortunately, they no longer seem to be trading, but Abel and Cole are selling Oyster Mushroom Kits using ‘certified organic straw and wood chip instead of conventional, peat-based mushroom substrates’. Three gifts in one: the Oyster mushrooms are fun to grow, they can be used a couple of weeks later to lift any Christmas leftovers to another level, and the process creates a high grade, mushroom-enriched soil enhancer compost.
6. Go Perennial
Give a gift of perennial seeds, plants or tubers. Choosing some perennial fruit and vegetables in place of annual crops helps to reduce the impact of growing plants anew each year, with the associated energy costs of heating, compost and pots. I’m planning a perennial bed in the allotment next year (to add to the raspberries, Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, currants, strawberries and oca we already grow.) This will hopefully include crops such as Welsh onion, perennial kale, sea beet, yacon, wasabi, hardy ginger and ulluco to broaden our perennial range. Pennard Plants, Backyard Larder, Agroforestry Research Trust (set up and run by Martin Crawford) and Incredible Vegetables all have a good range of perennial plants and informative websites.
Jerusalem artichokes and oca
7. Organise a Peat-Free Compost Delivery
We all know that using peat in compost is the antithesis to environmentally-friendly gardening, but good peat-free compost can be hard to source at times, although it is getting easier. A delivery of compost, perhaps with a peat-free seed compost (something I find impossible to get locally) would be a great gift to start a year of green gardening. Suppliers of good quality peat-free compost include Dalefoot Composts (I’ve used their wool based composts for the past couple of years and been impressed with the quality), Carbon Gold Biochar Composts and SylvaGrow Composts (you can find your nearest stockist here).
8. Book a Course at a Local Community Garden
There are hundreds of community growing spaces around the UK and many run short courses, like this one at my local community garden (the Triangle Community Garden in Hitchin) on growing fruit in the garden. Buying a course place as a gift is an ideal present as it leads to an accumulation of knowledge rather than ‘stuff’.
Courses like these are great fun – not only do they encourage people to visit and get involved in local gardening initiatives, but they also support the community work as well. If you would like to find your nearest community garden, useful websites are The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, the RHS Communities, and the BBC Community Gardening Projects.
9. Wind Up/Solar Gifts
A wind-up radio will create some Christmas cheer in the potting shed without using any extra energy. This wind-up, solar charged radio from the Natural Collection can be charged by the sun, by rechargeable batteries or with good old elbow grease.
10. Give the Gift of Time
Give time rather than money by writing an original nature poem, framing a beautiful garden photograph or making a voucher for a couple of hours helping on a friend’s allotment. Christmas should be about spending time with those we love, and a little time spent creating a bespoke gift adds personal sparkle to Christmas Day.
Most of the ideas and recommendations in this post are based on products or companies which have impressed me in the past when I’ve used them. The few which I’ve not tried myself have either been recommended by people I trust or have been internet finds where the online literature has impressed me and made me want to try their products myself.
What green Christmas presents have you enjoyed receiving? Or have you ditched the gifts in favour of an alternative approach? Do leave a comment below and share your ideas with other readers – thanks!
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