NZ Woman's Weekly
Greenies’ Christmas gift ideas

Greenies’ Christmas gift ideas

I’m hopeless at Christmas. My family doesn’t do gifts, which suits me rather well, and the only person I get a card from is the second cousin of an old friend, neither of whom I’ve seen for decades.

I hardly ever decorate anything (that’s why Christmas bubbly comes with a gold bow on it from the supermarket, surely?) and if it weren’t for The Partner, who is Christmassy in the extreme, I probably wouldn’t know it was The Big Day apart from the fact that the shops aren’t open.

Having said all that, Christmas carols (his) will be playing in our house for at least a week before Christmas, and I will prepare a small cache of pressies to be exchanged with the random people who occasionally turn up bearing unexpected gifts.

First up on my random list this year will be a voucher for a manicure – because I really need one. Even when I wear gardeners’ gloves my nails still get dirty. Dirt seeps through the rubber (yes, I know this is scientifically unlikely, but it happens, I swear) and no amount of scrubbing will get rid of it.

In case I have to give the manicure away, I’m buying serious gardeners’ soap (probably no different from any other kind but it sounds good and looks organic) and a timber-backed nail brush. I’m declaring war on cheap, ugly, plastic household items like dish brushes and brooms and searching the internet on a daily basis to find aesthetically pleasing replacements.

I am also seeking out an environmentally and skin-friendly suntan lotion. I have never been a fan of sunscreen (a sunbather from way back, me) but when I put a sleeveless top on the other day, I noticed that I have developed what I call a gardener’s tan.

My forearms, back of my neck and the strip of ankle between shoes and jeans are tanned and the rest is not – hugely disappointing to someone who once prided herself on an all-over golden tan from the end of October.

Since becoming obsessed with gardening there’s been no time for lying in the sun, and of course, you can’t garden naked, both for safety reasons and the risk of being discovered and then ridiculed. Herbs in terracotta pots, which look pretty on a windowsill, are a great gift standby.

Finally, I’m going to get a straw hat and decorate it. If I don’t have to give it away, it can sit on the garden seat and look as if someone who gardens in a floaty frock might have left it there just a minute ago.

leeks

Sneek peak at leeks
Seduced by a website that assured me leeks were easy to grow, I sowed them last year and failed sadly. Now I’m about to have another go, spurred on by two leek recipes I’ve seen on TV: Annabel Langbein’s leek and chicken with Provencal crust, and Jamie Oliver’s leek and turkey pie with roast chestnuts.

But if you’re going to indulge yourself with these on a regular basis, you’ll have to grow your own, because they’re not cheap. You can plant them now.

Grow in seed trays at a depth of about three times the diameter of the seed, and 10cm apart. Plant out in about a month into moist, clay soil. Use trenches or individual deep holes. Put your seedlings in, and just cover the roots with soil. As the plants grow, fill in the hole or trench.

Use mulch to keep the soil moist and loose, and with luck your leeks will be ready to harvest in about 110 days.

Books

THE NATURAL GARDEN (Godwit, $55)
It’s fortunate that whenever I get on a bandwagon, somebody writes a book to help me out. Xanthe White has pitched in this time with a book that addresses the task of designing a garden mainly with plants.

These “wild gardens” are still carefully planned, with good structure and hard landscaping, but the plants are what she describes as the engaging part of the landscape – “the interesting bit, the colourful bit and the textural bit”.

Luckily for me, Xanthe’s not a purist about natives, so there’s plenty in there for the eclectic gardener, and the 12 chapters feature garden styles that will cover most preferences. Best of all, she’s shared the plans and a detailed plant guide, so you have the blueprint for creating something new and fabulous.

THE TASTE OF CENTRAL OTAGO (Godwit, $70)
This is supposed to be a cookbook but it’s really a celebration of Central Otago, and anyone who’s been there will sigh when they pick it up.

The gorgeous recipes from Pete Gawron’s Arrowtown restaurant Saffron are interspersed with images of trees in blossom, summer fruit, stone cottages and mouth-watering produce, and it comes together in 75 recipes using local produce from fungi to fruit.

If you haven’t decided where to go for your summer holiday, this may help. If you can’t go anywhere, head for your kitchen and enjoy Central Otago via your tastebuds.

About Lee Ann McKenzie

Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.

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