What do you buy a gardener?
I'm not sure what's on your Christmas list, but I wonder if it is anything like mine. OK, so I know that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool gardener, the sort with almost permanently dirty fingernails (sorry if that offends) and an ability to strike fear into any shrub at fifty paces when armed with a pair of secateurs, but I was pondering on why my letter to Santa usually bears little resemblance to the gifts that I receive.
All the things on my list would be useful, help me to get the most from my favourite hobby and give me an enormous amount of pleasure. Don't get me wrong; I appreciate the huge generosity and thoughtful effort on the part of my family and friends in choosing a present for me, but gardening gifts rarely seem to occur to them.
Perhaps it's because they're scared of buying the wrong thing for someone who makes their living out of growing plants and writing about gardening; it might be they think that I must surely have everything I need, having been a gardener nearly all my life; or could it be that their own lack of gardening knowledge means that gift inspiration withers on the vine.
At risk of appearing cheeky, I've decided to share the things that gardeners might want for Christmas. This could not only help the non-gardener to buy a 'gift that keeps on giving' (who wouldn't want to give that as a present), but also provide inspiration for gardeners about the sort of hints to drop in the last couple of weeks.
So here are six ideas of gifts for the green-fingered. They're things that will make the festive season all the more special for a gardener and make them look forward to the growing year ahead. And remember, if none of these appeals, there's always a National Garden Gift Voucher.
1. Manure. Top of the list has to be a trailer full of good, old-fashioned, well-rotted muck. This is like giving gold to a gardener and will help them improve their soil to grow the best plants and crops. Look on-line for local suppliers, but quiz them about where it comes from and check that any straw in the manure hasn't been contaminated with weed killer.
2. Seeds. Something small and simple, but a good gardener will love to get the gift of something to sow and grow for 2017. Try to do a little homework first, by asking a few probing questions about flowers or veg that the intended recipient grows and which varieties they normally go for. Then look at the seed racks at the garden centre or go on-line to find new or lesser known varieties. Work on the principle that anyone with green-fingers likes to grow something different. And don't forget that easy-to-grow seeds are great for novice and young gardeners as well.
3. Stainless steel border fork. With a narrow head, a border fork is ideal for lightly turning the soil between plants in the border or between veg. Being smaller than a standard garden fork, it will also weigh less making it less tiring to use for long periods. And stainless steel types are less likely to get clogged with mud and are easy to clean. Look out for Burgon & Ball, Bulldog Tools and Spear & Jackson.
4. Cold frame. This is one of the most useful things to have in a garden, allowing you to protect and bring on early crops under cover, as well as to harden off seedlings in spring ready for planting out. Wood and glass models are more traditional, but coated metal versions require less maintenance and perspex glazing might be a better choice where children may be playing in the garden. Try Two Wests & Elliott, Access Garden Products and Gabriel Ash.
5. Gardening course. The great thing about gardening is that there is always something new to learn, whether you're a novice or have well-seasoned green fingers. There are seed sowing days, pruning workshops and a host of courses and garden experience day and a Google search will reveal a boggling array, so do your research carefully. Start by looking at Gardeners' World Magazine Masterclasses, Jekka's Herb Farm and Waterperry Gardens.
6. Subscription to a gardening magazine and website. This is often seen as a real treat for a gardener, and something that they may well not buy themselves. The best subscriptions also allow access to a host of other information on-line via their own websites, as well as providing masses of special subscriber-only offers. Go for the tried and trusted options, but check if the recipient already has their own subscription. RHS membership, BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, and Grow Your Own.
Meantime, have a Happy Christmas and all the best for the growing year to come.