Twelve Days of Festivities: Garden inspired gifts

Inspired by the old Twelve Days of Christmas song, in which a lass's true love sends her a partridge in a pear tree and lots more too, we bring you twelve fun ideas for garden inspired gifts to give this holiday season. Because plant gifts keep on giving, year after year!

1. A rose garden

Miniature rose bushes, some reaching just 30 centimetres high, bear tiny buds and an abundance of exquisite flowers in every colour of the rainbow. They adapt well to container living and a selection of a dozen or so specimens will transform a sunny balcony into a true garden of roses for an apartment dweller. It’s also a thoughtful gift for someone living in a rental property, or town house or retirement home with limited garden space.

2. A big tree

Trees are available from garden centres and specialist growers in much larger sizes – up to full-grown – than one might imagine. They can be as big and as pricey as the budget allows, especially if family members club together to treat new owners of a just-built house with no garden yet to speak of. Get some advice from an accredited garden centre about suitable species, transportation, planting, staking and general care. 

3. A small tree

At the other end of the tree spectrum there's the bonsai for that person who could use a new creative outlet or hobby. A tall-growing crassula, although not a tree but a succulent, is fast growing and easy to work with. Portulacaria would also be perfect for a novice.

Include a subscription to a nearby bonsai club for helpful newsletters, meetings and advice on care. A number of proudly African pruning styles such as the Pierneef, Baobab and Bushveld style have also been developed to make the best artistic use of our indigenous flora.

4. A barrow-load of colour

Buy a painted wheelbarrow from your nearest garden centre, fill it with potting soil and plant it up with bedding plants for an instant garden feature. Make certain the wheelbarrow has holes in the bottom to allow for good drainage. Chrysanthemums will provide a mass of bright colour, and dwarf alstroemerias will flower for many weeks in a dozen exciting colour combinations. Plant up a mixture of scabiosa, gypsophila, cuphea and blue felicia daisies to give something with a softer, more cottage-garden effect.

5. A veggie patch

One bag of compost and a half dozen or so small salad plants – lettuces, endive, rocket, basil; anything with a shallow root system – is all it takes to create an instant no-dig vegetable patch that can be placed where ever it's convenient. Cut evenly spaced holes in the bag, just big enough to plant the vegetables and water regularly. If this gift is placed up on a low wall, then tomatoes or cucumbers can trail downwards without smothering their companion plants.     

6. A medicine chest

Garden pots are available from gardening centres in all shapes and sizes. Find a nice window box or rectangular planter and stock it with an assortment of medicinal herbs for a gift of gentle home remedies. Parsley, sage, thyme, lemon grass, rosemary, mint, nasturtium and hyssop all have medicinal as well as culinary uses. Feverfew, bulbine, echinacea and yarrow have lovely flowers even if they're never needed for their healing properties. Perhaps include a book on the subject.

7. A framed view

A trellised archway is easily installed and perfect to divide or frame the view to a separate section of the main garden. Pair your gift with a climbing plant to grow up and over the arch. Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is an evergreen climber that will grow quickly and scent the summer air with its starry white flowers. It is happy in full sun or partial shade so will be perfect to cover an arched pathway leading from the patio area.

8. An oasis

Bird baths, whether on a pedestal or flat on the ground, are welcome drinking places for birds. An apartment dweller with limited balcony space may appreciate a hanging model or one that can be attached to a railing. For a really splashy gift find a bird bath with an easy to install solar-powered fountain or bubbler. Include a couple of butterfly-attracting dietes grandiflora or gaura plants for planting around the base of the bird oasis.

9. A garden stream

Well, the gift of the illusion of a stream. A curved wood or metal bridge, placed in just the right spot can evoke the impression of water flowing underneath it. Surround the sides of the bridge with grassy, reed-like plants – tall, clumping restio grass, aromatic yellow and green striped Acorus gramineus, and tall blue agapanthus mixed with dwarf white flowering varieties all help create a lush stream-side effect where there is no running water.  

10. A living painting

Densely planted small, slow-growing succulents can be used to create amazing textured 'carpets' or vertical 'paintings'. A broad flat succulent bowl or specially crafted mesh vertical planter and a selection of suitable plants are all you need for this gift.

Then it's just a matter of deciding who will get to create the masterpiece! Strangely shaped crassulas, rosette-form sempervivums in shades of red and green, echeveria in grey and pink rosettes, and the huge variety of sedums all serve as the 'oil paints' to complete this unique gift.

11. Happy faces

Get the kids involved in the spirit of making and giving lasting gardening gifts. Give them acrylic paints to draw smiley faces on bright-coloured plastic plant pots. Show them how to sow grass seed in the pots and to keep them watered until their gift has grown hair and is ready for the giving. If you're short on time, use mondo grass (Ophiopogon) species to create instant wigs of black or green and white hair for these pot-people.  

12. An invisible garden

Gardens are wonderful to look at but what about someone who has limited or no vision? Bring them the gift of a garden of fragrances. A selection of aromatic plants in a sturdy planter can include soothing lavenders and a selection of pelargoniums ranging from apple-, coconut- and lemon-scented, through nutmeg- and peppermint-scented varieties, to the all-time favourite rose-scented pelargonium.

Don’t forget that you can buy an indigenous festive tree to use this festive season. Yellow woods are classic South Africa alternatives. Once the festivities are over, you can plant it out into the garden, put the pot out on your patio or keep it in the house as an indoor plant (they can tolerate quite low light). Double your pleasure!

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