Holiday Gifts From Your Garden
Personal, handmade gifts are always the best, and as gardeners, we have many options to choose from. Of course, the more you plan ahead, the more materials you’ll have to work with. Here is a selection of garden gift ideas sure to please everyone on your list.
Use Your Herbs. Dry them, infuse them, or use them as flavorings for vinegars or drinks.
Dried Herbs packed in pretty glass jars are a welcome gift for the foodies on your list. Easy-to-dry favorites include bay leaves, tarragon, sage, and thyme. Stored in a cool, dry location, these herbs will hold their flavors for a year or two.
Teas can be made using herbs harvested from your garden. Dry the leaves by bundling and hanging them, or spreading them out on a piece of cheesecloth or an old window screen. Popular tea plants include holy basil, also known as tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), mint of any kind (Mentha spp.), and anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). Package a couple of bags of dried tea leaves with a tea strainer and voilà! – a perfect gift for a tea lover.
Herbal Vinegars are versatile and easy to make. Start by packing a glass jar with fresh herbs, stems and all. Basils, rosemary, tarragon, lemon thyme, or garlic chives all make flavorful vinegars. Heat a mild type of vinegar, such as rice vinegar, almost to a boil and pour it over the herbs. Cover and store your infusions in a cool dark place for 2 to 4 weeks, then strain and pour the flavored vinegars into decorative bottles.
Flavored Shrubs, mixtures of fruit, sugar, and vinegar, were common in colonial America. They’re back on the scene, especially as a cocktail ingredient, or combined refreshingly with sparkling water. The cold process of making shrubs is very simple: mush fruit and sugar and let the mixture sit in the refrigerator until you get a syrup. Strain, pressing the fruit to extract the solids and whisk the fruit syrup with vinegar. A good starting ratio is 1 pound of fruit to 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of vinegar, but this can depend on the fruit, and your personal preference.
You can make shrub with rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, or any fruit. For a more complex taste, add herbs or spices, such as basil, ginger, rosemary, lavender, or mint.
Be Inspired by Your Garden! It is a wealth of raw materials for decorating.
A Holiday Wreath, made using natural materials can last for weeks if hung on an outside door. You can start with a basic purchased wreath and augment with a variety of greens—arborvitae, boxwood, magnolia, and juniper, for example—using a hot glue gun. From there, the list of possible adornments is endless. Cones, cayenne peppers, thai peppers, okra pods, broom corn, dry wheat or rye stalks, coneflower seed heads, acorns, and gourds are popular embellishments from the garden, and a little sparkle never hurts.
Strings of Dried Cayenne Peppers are beautiful and useful, especially for chili lovers. Take a needle and thread, knot it at the end, and thread it through the top of the first pepper. Continue threading each pepper onto the string until it is the desired length. Pepper strings, known also as ristras, should be hung in a place that has good air circulation. They will retain their color for months.
Grow Gourds. Not only are they beautiful and interesting as is, they can be dried and decorated for use as holiday ornaments. Cut gourds from the vine when they are mature, leaving an inch or two of stem, and wash and rinse them. Place them where they will get good air circulation and turn them every week or two. Or, hang them from a fence or from tree branches. For birdhouses, grow birdhouse gourds.
Share Your Plants.
Succulents are easy to propagate. Simply take a cutting and poke it into moist soil, keeping it moist until the cutting develops roots. With many succulents, this happens within three to four weeks. Transplant your cuttings into small clay pots for attractive, easy-care gift plants.
Seeds from your garden, placed in envelopes decorated with a photo of the plant, are great gifts for gardener friends. Let a few of your plants go to seed for this purpose. Easy to collect seeds include herbs such as dill (pictured above right), borage, and cilantro; vegetables including lettuce, arugula, and beans; and flowers of all kinds, especially marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, larkspur, nicotiana, and calendula. Keep in mind that the seeds of flowering plants that are insect-pollinated may produce flowers or fruits that differ from those on the parent plant.