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Gardening with Gael - Try plants as presents



snapdragonDan the Butcher from our wonderful shop in the local village has a sign on his counter counting down the weeks until Christmas, and last night I was reminded that there are barely four weeks, three by the time this is distributed.

This gives everyone time to put together lovely gifts using potted colour. One of my whanau can’t eat chocolate and doesn’t drink wine and it has made me very aware of the predominance of using these as gifts. Small pots of flowers are appreciated by almost everyone.

All the local nurseries, the market and larger nurseries have masses to choose from. Children also appreciate plants, but it doesn’t have to be flowers. Beans make a great present because they grow so fast. Swan plants are always popular as well.

My first recommendation is for antirrhinums or commonly known as snapdragons. All varieties are easy to grow. Potting mix is ideal for them because they like a free draining soil with good drainage. Choose the variety most suited for the pot size. There are taller growing varieties and more dwarf ones available.

A friend of mine has just planted her pots with a selection of double flowered plants. Small children love them. The flowers can be picked and if the base of the flower is gently squeezed the flower opens and shuts like a mouth. My great niece Lucy is highly entertained by them. Two flowers can have a lengthy conversation. When Christmas has passed the flowers can be planted in the garden. If antirrhinums are cut right back they will continue to flower all summer and again the next year.

Petunias also make a good show especially when interplanted with lobelias, which will trail down the sides of the pot. Petunias are particularly hardy and quick growing and come in a great range of colours including the colour we associate with Christmas, red.

Another red plant available at present is salvia red dwarf. Smaller than the taller salvias, salvia red dwarf features plumes of bright red flowers. There were dozens in Mitre 10 yesterday and I thought what a perfect present they would be.

A very overlooked plant is the bedding begonia. Its glamorous cousin, the tuberous begonia, is so stunningly beautiful that it always tempts me. I have no luck with keeping them going although with the right treatment they will hang from a basket looking luscious for years. Naturally winter dormant, bringing them back is the bit I fail with. As a present they are fabulous.

Common bedding begonias, however, are incredibly forgiving and once they are ready to be planted out they flourish with little care and attention. There is a spot in my garden at the Block where the infill soil is poor, dries out, and the rain is reluctant to penetrate – everything I have planted struggles. Not these hardy little begonias. I planted a row of red ones with lovely bronze leaves. They have done so well I have added another row of red with green leaves (very festive) and some pink and white.

Plants as presents do look lovely in small terracotta pots. If you have, as I do, a pile of plastic pots waiting to be refilled, reuse them and wrap them in Christmas paper.

Potted plants, like this snapdragon, make great gifts for indoors or out.

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