10 Ethical Gardening Gifts For A Green Christmas

If, like me, you are starting to think about Christmas through a haze of concern for our world, then it makes sense to buy gifts which 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 presents which could help you create a greener Christmas for friends and family…

1. Send a British Bouquet

Visit the Flowers From The Farm website (a not-for-profit network run by volunteers to support local UK flower growers) to find your local suppliers. I found our local flower farm on the website – The Baldock Flower Farm – a family run business selling local Hertfordshire flowers. A December bouquet with holly, mistletoe, festive flowers and foliage is sure to brighten even the dullest Christmas Day.

The website also has a area which lists flower events and workshops around the country.  What better present for a flower-lover than the opportunity to learn more about growing their own cutting patch or creating a hand-tied bouquet?

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 this year 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, I’d suggest Creating A Forest Garden by Martin CrawfordI’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 I can’t wait to try some of the inspiring recipes like ‘Iceplant with Peanuts and Coconut’. 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.

I’ve been indulging in a bit of botanical hygge with these inspiring books…

3. Donate to Others

Give a charity gardening donation such as planting an allotment with Oxfam to help others through gardening. Another gift which supports poor communities is Present Aid’s (Christian Aid’s charity gift shop) Floating Garden which provides seeds and training to families in Bangladesh to help them create floating gardens which can withstand the regular flooding which affects the country. This gift also makes a contribution to Christian Aid’s Climate Change Fund.

4. Feed the Birds

Birds are one of nature’s pest control mechanisms – eating snails, caterpillars and cabbage white butterflies. Giving the gift of a bird feeder, bird food, a nest box or a 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 birds 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, but the RSPB’s online shop offers a good selection and supports their work protecting birds and habitats throughout the UK.

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This Song Thrush is one of nature’s own pest controllers

5. Grow Your Own Festive Fungi

With the Espresso Mushroom Kitchen Garden from The Espresso Mushroom Company, you can give an edible gift to be grown on the biodegradable, recycled coffee grounds of one hundred espressos. This small Brighton based company aims to change people’s perception of ‘waste’ and demonstrate how it can be a useful resource. 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, Oca and Sea kale

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. 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 or order online from garden stores such as Vale Gardens).

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, the BBC Community Gardening Projects and Garden Organic’s Local Groups and Gardens.

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One of our popular ‘Grow Your Own’ workshops

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. Or brighten up the winter garden with solar lighting from Lights4Fun (a family run business based in Harrogate whose good quality solar lights all have removable and replaceable batteries so a battery failing doesn’t necessitate throwing away the whole unit). I can’t resist a few fairy lights in the garden and find there is enough sun, even in winter, to power lights for some of the evening and create a sparkly Christmas atmosphere.

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 a personal sparkle to Christmas Day.

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Daddy’s Christmas poem written by my 7 year old with pictures coloured by my 4 year old

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 whom I trust or have been internet finds (the only ones in this latter category are Green Books, Espresso Mushroom Company and Incredible Vegetables) where the online literature has impressed me and made me want to try their products myself. I hope you’ve found the ideas helpful  – now I’m off to buy a few for my gardening friends this Christmas.

What green Christmas presents have you enjoyed receiving? What gardening books would you recommend for others this Christmas? Do leave a comment below and share your ideas with other readers – thanks  🙂

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Book Review: RHS Plants From Pips and The Little Book of Hygge

A cosy window seat has to be the best place to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book. As a child, I preferred to read near the top of our tall Scots Pine, with a Famous Five and an apple from the garden. Now I favour the cushion strewn window seat in the lounge  which overlooks the front garden. When we redecorated, I wanted to recreate the feeling I had as a child reading endless stories on a little sheepskin covered window seat overlooking the fields and woods in a Scottish holiday cottage. I’ve recently discovered there’s a word to describe that feeling – ‘hygge’ – a Danish word roughly translated as an atmosphere of warmth, relaxation, security and love or even ‘cosiness of the soul’¹. Snuggled in the corner of my window seat, I am connected to the outside world but protected from cold winds and rain (increasingly important with winter looming), there’s room for a selection of books and magazines, and a cup of tea and piece of cake on the window ledge. I have my own secluded nook, a hyggekrog: a place to relax and find inspiration, before re-entering the frenetic, demanding, yet delightful world which revolves around my two young children and my work.

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My hyggekrog

Bookish Hygge

Looking along the window ledge, my book selection currently includes H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, The Well-Tempered Gardener by Christopher Lloyd, The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, The Twins at St Claire’s by Enid Blyton (I’ve been raiding the children’s shelves again), A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, The Ash Tree by Oliver Rackham and RHS Plants From Pips by Holly Farrell. The last title was a happy chance find in the library with the kids last week, lost for a while between Harry and the Robots and Emily Prickleback’s Clever Idea and finally resurfacing a few days ago. Its subtitle is ‘Pots of Plants for the Whole Family to Enjoy’ and I like the rustic style of the images, the range of ‘pips’ which can be nurtured into interesting house plants (from avocados to dragon fruit and pomegranates) and the clear instructions, equally suitable for the beginner or the more experienced grower.

Childhood Hygge

My children (4 and 7) enjoyed looking at the pictures in RHS Plants From Pips showing how seeds grow and how they are dispersed. We chatted about which fruits they were familiar with and which new ones we might try (since then they’ve tasted their first pomegranate and both enjoyed it very much.) Several of the pips appealed to them – avocados, olives and lemons, but we decided to start with a peanut in a clear container so we can watch the new peanuts develop beneath the surface. Farrell rates each pip for ‘easiness’ (of growing) and the ‘patience’ required. The peanut scores 1 for each, which is good because the kids are neither patient nor particularly adept at growing plants yet. The method is relatively simple – soak the peanuts in water for 12 hours, sow in pots in pre-watered compost and place in a warm, sunny spot. Germination takes 2-3 weeks. As the kids watch the plants developing, they should be able to see the leaves folding up at night and the flowers growing downwards into the compost where they will produce new peanuts. They will be nurturing a new life and learning about the ingenuity of the plant kingdom.

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Shelling and soaking the peanuts

Botanical Hygge

As well as the chapter on ‘How Plants Grow’, RHS Plants From Pips also has sections on how to grow your pips successfully, how to repot, plant out and what pests, diseases and other problems you might encounter. There is also useful advice on how to restrict growth – particularly relevant as some of the plants would grow to a considerable size in natural conditions. A plant like the papaya (Carica papaya) is suggested as suitable as a ‘novelty plant for a single season’² due to its fast growth habit and full height of 3.5m, whereas mango (Mangifera indica) can be restricted by removing the top bud/leaves and tips of stems to keep it well below its natural height of 2m. By differentiating in this way, it is easy to choose a plant which will suit the position and space available. Most of the plants from pips are unlikely to fruit because their natural habitats differ greatly from household conditions, but they can make unusual houseplants which will give pleasure for many years and the act of experimentation is a valuable and interesting one, especially for children.

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The peanut in its homemade transparent plant pot

Community Hygge

In The Little Book of Hygge, Wiking describes five ways to achieve summer hygge, number three being ‘Join or Build a Community Garden’. This acknowledges the hyggelig (hygge-inducing) aspect of taking the time to tend crops, get together as a neighbourhood and develop a sense of community spirit. Hygge is about relaxing with friends and loved ones after a day’s hard work outside, eating hearty food and having a drink together. These are all things I value about gardening, whether in the community garden or with my own family in the garden or allotment.

Family Hygge

Not everyone has access to a garden, allotment or community growing space, but anyone can have a go at growing a plant from a pip – a free resource which would otherwise be thrown away. Everyone can experience the excitement of seeing an embryonic shoot emerge and the seed leaves unfurl. Watching such miraculous beginnings can spark a lifelong passion for plants and establish the foundation for plant hygge in adulthood. When my children experience the natural world as adults, I hope they will have just such a store of memories to draw upon. The call of a buzzard, eating raspberries with red fingers, the smell of apples stewing and the first spring bulbs emerging have all created moments of hygge in my life. In the same way that I get the kids involved in cooking with crops from the garden and allotment so they can share the satisfaction of producing a tasty meal for the family, so I want them to share the pleasure that I get from watching plants grow. Plants From Pips is a great, accessible way to share this experience and create warm family memories for the future.

1. The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking, page 6

2. RHS Plants From Pips, Holly Farrell, page 68

 

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