7 Green Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Is Christmas a time for delight or dread? A combination of both if you’re anything like me. There will be more opportunities to talk, go for walks, play games and share meals than at any other time, but the endless stuff, the commercialism and the waste accepted by society makes me uncomfortable at Christmas.

David Attenborough’s words at the UN Climate Change Summit play on my mind as I write my Christmas lists, test my daughter on the words for her Christmas show and put up the decorations. The immense challenges facing us concerning the climate, plastics, pollinators and many other issues arising from our past and current treatment of the natural world can’t be solved by small changes at Christmas, but I believe it is part of a changing mindset and complements more direct activities such as writing to MPs and supporting environmental charities and campaign groups. If you are buying gifts for Christmas, here are a few sustainable options for the gardeners in your life…

1. Grow Your Own

Plug plants are ideal for busy gardeners who like to grow their own or those who would like to begin. They normally come in plastic modules that can’t be recycled, but this selection from Pippa Greenwood arrive wrapped in paper and are grown in Lincolnshire. 

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Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood (Image credit: Pippa Greenwood)

The selection includes your choice of 15 different vegetables and the recipient gets a weekly email from Pippa tailored specially to the plants in the pack with advice right through from soil preparation to feeding, watering, staking/supporting, pinching out, and pests and disease.

Top Tip – Avoid wrapping paper at Christmas and for birthdays, as it is usually only suitable for landfill. It often contains plastic, glitter, dyes and is covered in sticky tape. DEFRA estimates in the UK we buy enough of this single-use material each year to gift wrap the whole of Guernsey!

2. The Gift of Time

Time is a valuable gift – far more than money or stuff in so many ways. Give a friend or family member a voucher for help with the allotment in the New Year or help create a new growing space for children. Meals for the freezer made with ingredients from the garden are also a way to pass on a little love without costing the earth.

Gifts involving experiences are a favourite in our house. For a keen gardener there are fabulous courses like those at the Cambridge Botanic Garden (I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘Rewild Your Garden’ this year) and for new gardeners there are often short courses and sessions at local community gardens. As a new mum, I joined a course on fruit pruning at my local community garden many years ago and it gave me the confidence to start formal horticultural qualifications.

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Tending the apple cordons at my local community garden where I learnt to prune in my first horticultural session

Top Tip – Instead of wrapping paper use fabric bags or scrap material and ribbons which can be used for many years. The Japanese art of furoshiki is centuries old and is enjoying a resurgence in Japan now that the issues with plastic bags and wrapping are becoming clear.

3. Festive Fungi

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The oyster mushrooms we grew a couple of years ago

The Espresso Mushroom Kitchen Garden from The Espresso Mushroom Company is an edible gift grown on the biodegradable, recycled coffee grounds of one hundred espressos. Made by a family firm in Brighton, these sustainable oyster mushrooms are a fun way to get growing in the New Year. 

4. Share Seeds

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Yin Yang beans are objects of beauty

Reusing materials is the most sustainable way to create a gift and seeds are so easy to share. Choose favourite seeds – this year, for me, it would be the French Dwarf bean seeds ‘Yin Yang’. I’m passing some onto friends to grow next year and even a handful for a fellow gardener who makes beautiful jewellery so that she can create a necklace.

Top Tip – Ditch the sellotape and buy 100% recycled paper tape with a natural latex adhesive backing. 

5. Donate

Charity gifts allow someone less fortunate to benefit at Christmas. I like the gifts from Send A Cow where you can donate to a Mandala Garden, a Keyhole Garden or even an Allotment in a rural African community. I saw a keyhole garden at Gardeners’ World LIVE a few years ago and was impressed by the design which allows a family to grow enough food for three meals a day – even in the face of an extreme climate and poor soil.

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Little Havens Hospice garden (Credit: Greenfingers)

 Alternatively you could gift a donation to gardening charities like Greenfingers or the Gardening for Disabled Trust. Greenfingers creates beautiful gardens in children’s hospices across the UK. This is the interactive garden at Little Havens Hospice in Essex, designed by Matthew Eden and completed in 2014.

 

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Gardening for Disabled Trust Logo

The Gardening for Disabled Trust provides small grants for people with all kinds of chronic disabilities – mental and physical – to help get them gardening again, from money for a ramp so that a gardener with MS can access her garden again, to grants to set up gardening clubs in care homes. This work is vital to enable all members of society to benefit from the therapeutic effects of gardening and interacting with the natural world.

6. Plastic-Free Pots

The majority of the 500 million pots we buy in the UK each year are incinerated or sent to landfill. Part of the solution to this astounding amount of plastic needs to be to reduce the amount of plants we produce and buy, alongside using more sustainable containers. Garden Ninja presents an interesting discussion of the issues with and alternatives to plastic containers on his blog this week. 

In addition to Garden Ninja’s recommendations, these attractive biodegradable containers available from Pippa Greenwood are made from sustainable bamboo and rice. They are sturdy enough to last several years and when they finally need to be replaced, they can be added to the compost heap where they will biodegrade in 6-12 months. They are available in 5in and 6in, and come in packs of 5.

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No plastic here (Credit: Pippa Greenwood)

Top Tip – Use newspaper to wrap presents – iron it first to set the ink, or buy a roll of recyclable brown paper and jazz up with stencilled designs or ribbons. Include a note explaining that the wrap is recyclable.

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My daughter has used brown paper with stencilled snowmen (biscuit cutters for stencils), a recycled tag from last year’s cards and reusable ribbon on this present for her brother.

7. Perennial Power

Perennials are a gift that by their very nature just keep on giving. I love growing perennial vegetables like rhubarb, sorrel, Daubenton’s kale, perennial onions, garlic chives and Jerusalem artichokes. My first port of call when I’m after a new perennial for the garden is Alison Tindale at The Backyard Larder. She grows an interesting range of perennial vegetables in peat-free compost from seeds and cuttings. The plants arrive in recycled shoe boxes using as near to 100% recycled or fully biodegradable materials as possible and she is always on hand to give advice.

 

Marsh mallow and red-veined sorrel – some of the perennial vegetables I’ve grown in the garden and allotment over the years

Please do pass on your top tips for wrapping and presents in the comments below – there’s still time to make changes before Christmas and I’m keen to learn as much as possible about how to make this festive season the most sustainable yet. 

This is not a sponsored post – all the products are ones I have either bought myself and been impressed with or have come recommended. The only product I’ve tried but didn’t initially buy myself are the oyster mushrooms which I was sent to trial a couple of years ago. They were such fun to grow and so delicious to eat that I’d definitely grow them again and have bought them for others since.

(Featured image credit: Pippa Greenwood)

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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