In ‘Ho ho sow’, Jane Scorer shares some great ideas for Christmas gifts.
Are you in the midst of your Christmas shopping? If you are, then I bet you can feel an oppressive weight on your shoulders, that burden of what to buy for people this year. What do you buy for the ones who have everything they need? You’ve done pants and novelty socks to death, you’ve racked your brains for inspiration and you still haven’t got a clue.
Take my advice… buy them all seeds!
Wisdom has it that you should choose presents which you, yourself would enjoy. Well, I can’t think of anything I would rather have than seeds – they are pure hope in a packet. The promise of colour, scent and… the return of the sun. All that optimism in a tiny, wrinkled seed!
Many of us have children to buy for, and even if they only have a tiny growing space, like a windowsill, it’s still worth choosing seeds as part of their gift. They won’t want to wait for months to see a result, and you hope to get them hooked on growing, so choose something with a quick return. You might just give them a gift which will last a lifetime – a passion for gardening and growing things. The obvious choices are mustard and cress as the results can be eaten very quickly, and they will grow happily in a tiny space. If they enjoy trying new vegetable tastes and textures, you could buy them alfalfa or mung beans so that they can be eating the germinating sprouts in days.
If the children you buy for have access to a patch of garden, then there are so many more seed options to explore. Sunflowers are an obvious choice, and there are lovely varieties to try like Thompson & Morgan’s dark reds, ‘Claret F1 Hybrid’ and ‘Velvet Queen’. The seeds themselves are very tactile, and large enough for small fingers to plant easily. Although there will inevitably be a wait for germination, that will be richly repaid after the seedling appears, as growth will be rapid – and measurable!
Children also enjoy novelty, so it might be worth trying Thompson & Morgan’s ‘Snake Gourds’, which produce snake like fruits that can be painted when dried. There is also an easy-to-grow ornamental cucumber, ‘Hedgehog’, which produces a fascinating variety of striped and prickly fruits.
Any seeds chosen for children to grow should germinate easily and reasonably quickly, so that success is only a seed tray away. A negative experience is hardly going to encourage a small, potential gardener. The plants themselves should be tough, vigorous and hard to kill off!
Adolescents are notoriously difficult to buy for, and unless a present hits the spot precisely, it will remain untouched and unused. Seeds are only a couple of pounds a packet though, so if your teenager’s imagination does not ignite, then you haven’t broken the bank. What might appeal? Maybe something exotic, dark and unusual, like sweet pepper ‘Black Knight’ or tomato ‘Black cherry’. Teenagers usually love to eat! Unless your teenager is an experienced gardener, then any seeds chosen would have to be easy to germinate and grow.
For adults, it is more about matching the seeds to an individual’s interests and character. A traditional vegetable grower, who sticks religiously to the same varieties every year, might relish the challenge of unusual varieties like dwarf bean ‘Purple Teepee‘, zingy ‘Rainbow Beet’ or courgette ‘Zephyr’, (which is yellow with a green tip). The same is true of the traditional annual grower, who may, without question, grow the same lobelia and marigolds every year. Encourage them to widen their horizons with new annuals such as yellow and white nemesia cheiranthus ‘Shooting Stars’, whose name describes it perfectly… and it smells of coconut!
Passionate gardeners love to try new things and to grow plants they have never grown before. Even someone with a tiny garden could find room for an unusual annual climber, and a good one to try is cobea scandens, with large purple or white flowers. It germinates very easily and grows on well, flowering from late summer onwards. The ‘cup and saucer’ blooms are truly spectacular. Another unusual annual climber is mina lobata or ‘Spanish Flag’, so named because it displays all the colours of the Spanish flag. It is quite vigorous and will ramble over walls and fences.
Ageing or less mobile gardeners can be a problem to buy for, but seeds solve the present predicament yet again! For example, cacti seeds are easy to grow and a mixed packet is full of surprises. It is fascinating to watch the young plants develop and grow into different shapes and sizes. They germinate more easily and quickly than you might think and within a couple of years, they will be reasonably substantial plants, requiring minimum care. Succulents and ‘living pebble’ plants (lithops) are also interesting options.
There are some seeds which you should never buy for a gardener, and I speak from personal experience here! Never buy seeds which will turn an interest into an obsession. That means no auriculas, dahlias, giant veg seeds or alpines. Buying any of those could mean that you see very little of the person you bought them for, as they will be in the greenhouse constantly, or whizzing round the country to show and exhibitions.
So, what would I like Santa to bring me, in his sack? Now, I grew ‘Bishop’s Children’ this year and was amazed by how large and floriferous the plants were in the first season. I vowed I would grow dahlias from seed every year from now on. So, I would be delighted to find dahlia variabilis ‘Redskin’ in my stocking on Christmas morning. It is a mix of dark foliaged dahlias with flowers of varying colours, all compact and free flowering.
Last summer, I visited Sissinghurst garden and fell in love with ‘love in a mist’, such a traditional annual, which is often overlooked. In my own garden I have grown an unnamed variety, saving the seed every year, and scattering it the following spring. The blue of the flowers has become more and more washed out over the years. Sissinghurst grows the most spectacular sapphire blue with a darker blue eye, and the nearest match I can find to it is nigella damascena ‘Oxford Blue’. Go on Santa, get me some!
So, there you are, all your Christmas presents sorted now, and you get a good excuse to spend hours trawling through the seed catalogues too.
You can read more of Jane’s blog posts at Hoe hoe grow
I am the willing servant of my garden and also admit to a severe plant addiction. I love them all, but especially sub tropicals, roses, salvias, dahlias and auriculas. I enjoy propagation (because it makes even more plants!) and I hate weeding. My garden was a field when we first met, all those years ago, and its development has been a long, slow, labour of love. It is still evolving and changing all the time. I have opened for the NGS in the recent past, and I have an RHS Qualification, but, the experience I value has mainly been gained with my hands deep in the soil.