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Gifts from the Garden

Gifts from the garden are a truly heartfelt way to show a loved one just how special they are. Gifts shouldn’t always be about spending money but they should be about thought and care. We’ve tried to think outside the ‘gift box’ to put together some ideas that might just give some inspiration and perhaps solve the age old question of what to give someone that has everything?

If strawberries are in full supply in the garden, use them to make delicious strawberry jam and present it in a basket along with some fresh strawberries and perhaps even some homemade scones. Or, dip the strawberries in chocolate and nuts, place each one in a paper patty cup and line them up in a small gift box.

Oven-dried orange slices make beautiful decorations on a Christmas tree or can be slipped onto the side of a champagne or punch glass. Slice navel oranges very thinly and place them in a single layer on a rack over a tray lined with baking paper. Generously dust them with icing sugar and bake in an oven preheated to 90°C for 2 to 3 hours until the peel is dry and the centre is translucent. Tie a tower of orange slices with string and put in a box with cinnamon sticks and star anise. These would also be wonderful as an addition to a gift of dark chocolate.

The old fashioned oranges studded with cloves are a traditional Christmas gift and would be fun for kids to make for their grandparents. They can use the cloves to write messages or make festive patterns. The oranges look great as a centrepiece or can be hung in wardrobes to put a delicious citrus perfume through their clothes.

Gardeners who grow vegetables at home always take their produce for granted but for many people receiving a basket or gift box overflowing with home grown fruit and vegies is a treat indeed. Polish the shiny fruit and vegies with a soft cloth, brush the soil from the root vegetables and tie raffia around the cucumbers and celery. Add bunches of herbs to hang over the side and ensure that they last a little longer by wrap their stems in wet paper towel covered in plastic wrap. Add a ribbon to the whole thing and wait for the smiles of the lucky receiver.

If lavender is in flower, use this to decorate gifts or give it as the gift itself. If time is available, dry bunches of lavender flowers by hanging them in a dry dark place for a month then rub the flowers so that they separate. Place these into small muslin bags tied with string for use in drawers and wardrobes. Posies of fresh lavender tied with ribbon are also beautiful and small ones can be hung from door knobs or curtains around the home. Give these with some lavender soap or oil and a white face cloth for a feminine gift basket.

Herbs can be given as gifts in a number of ways. As a gift for cooks, make small bouquet garni by bundling together fresh or dried herbs with string or placing them in muslin tied into a small package. Any combination of herbs can be used but parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, French tarragon and bay are probably the most common.

Herb oils and vinegars are wonderful gifts and are easily made with sprigs of rosemary or tarragon combined with a few garlic cloves and a small piece of chilli. Make sure the bottles are sterilised and use good quality olive oil or vinegar.

Every cook would love a pestle and mortar but add to this terrific gift with bunches of dried herbs, garlic and sea salt to get them started. Or, for those with a love of herbal tea, package up a tea pot or pretty tea cup with pots of lemon balm, lemon thyme or chamomile for a gift that will have them thinking of you every morning when they take their first sip.

Blokes love to barbecue so a great gift pack could include some barbecue tools along with long stems of rosemary tied in a bundle for a basting brush, homemade tomato sauce and some fiery chillies from the garden. Add a few home grown lemons, garlic and other herbs which make delicious herb rubs for meat and seafood.

WA gardens always seem to have an abundance of lemons. Lemon butter packaged with fresh bread, scones or a sponge would be an amazing gift as would a couple of bottles of homemade lemon squash tied with ribbon. Another favourite that is quite expensive to buy but easy to make are preserved lemons and don’t forget to include a recipe and instructions on how to use them. If there’s no time for cooking, choose a beautiful glass vase, fill it full of home grown lemons and simply tie a big yellow bow around the whole thing. Stunning!

If there is an abundance of tomatoes in the garden, gift giving is simple. Tomato sauces prepared with the recipient in mind are a great idea. Add a little chilli for the hot heads and some extra basil for the pizza makers. If you can, semi dry tomatoes in a slow oven and put these in small jars with sliced garlic, thyme and a few peppercorns. Dried cherry tomatoes are fabulous; they are so sweet they can be eaten just like lollies.

If there’s no time for all of this, get a silver bucket or wicker basket and fill it full of deliciously fresh tomatoes. Add in some fresh herbs and this will be a gift that is truly prized.

Of course, we all know that a bunch of roses is delightful but they aren’t always available to everyone. Instead, bundle up some Australian natives such as eucalyptus branches with their honky nuts still attached, along with the red flowers of the bottlebrush and a few grevillea. Look for shrubs with unusual texture and you will be surprised how great they will look with earthy-toned ribbons wrapped around them.

Bunches of herbs or pretty flowers from the garden are also a great choice and if they’re not an option, how about a bunch of garlic all tied together with the purple paper flowers of statice tucked into the gaps? A bunch of citrus branches with the fruit still attached would be a real talking point as would a couple of big bunches of grapes in a decorative cardboard box.

With planning, plants can be grown from seed or cuttings ahead of time but celebrations have a habit of sneaking up. No problem though as some plants can still be given as gifts almost immediately. Succulents such as aloes or agave are the perfect example. Their little babies that grow from the sides can be cut off below the soil with a knife and then be planted into a potting mix specifically for them. Tie a ribbon around the pot and the gift is ready to give!

The same goes for plants that can be divided such as mint, thyme and lemongrass as well as many ground covers. Just make sure that the recipient doesn’t plant them into the garden for a month until their new roots have established.

Giving a branch cut from a frangipani might seem like a very odd gift but if it is from a tree that the recipient has been admiring, it could be perfect. Although winter is a better time for taking a frangipani cutting, it can be done at any time of the year by simply cutting a branch between 30 and 60cm and standing it upright against a fence to allow the base to dry out; this might take between two and five weeks. When the base is totally dry and sealed, the branch can be planted in a pot or the garden. If there’s no time to dry the branch before giving it as a gift, tie a big ribbon on it in the same colour that the flowers will be and include a tag with instructions. What a memorable gift!

To a gardener, compost is gold! Many talk with a glint in their eye about the year that they received a trailer full of compost or manure from their loved one. If you have any spare, why not give it as a gift? Or, be creative and make compost tea bags by filling small muslin bags with fresh compost. Tie them with ribbon and package them in a bucket. The recipient simply lets a tea bag sit in a bucket of water for a week before using the nutrient-rich tonic on their garden.

Pets should never miss out on receiving gifts from the garden and cat grass or pet grass is one of the best of all. Plant up two pots so that the cat or dog can nibble on one whilst the other is put aside to recover; switch the pots every few weeks so there is always a plentiful supply. Of course, catnip is lots of fun for cats and they love it whether it is fresh or dried. Put a plant in the garden or fill a soft toy with some dried catnip and watch your pet go into raptures as it rubs against it.

Encouraging the kids to get into the garden is a gift in itself! For the youngsters, secretly build a sand box in the garden and fill it with ‘play sand’. Team it up with a toy truck or loader and watch them spend hours building roads and landscaping with twigs, stones and honky nuts.

Kids that are a little older may be thrilled to get their own plot of garden that is cleared and ready to plant straight into. Paint a sign showing whose garden it is and give them the tools, plants, seeds and gloves that they need to get started. Even a bag full of old clothes will let them get started on building their own scarecrow and if it is Christmas, decorate the garden with tinsel and baubles.

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