In the Garden:
New England
November, 2004
Regional Report

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Fill a decorative pot with soaps, lotions and other items to pamper a gardener on your gift list. After all, it's a long winter.

Gifts for Gardeners

When it comes to gift-giving, I like a handmade or homegrown touch, so the garden is a perfect place to shop. From dried flowers to herbal teas to homemade pickles, the simplest items can make special gifts, especially if they are packaged attractively. Wrap your gifts in your own nature-prints wrapping paper, or give the paper itself as a gift. Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

Personalized Dried-Flower Bouquets
Add a personal touch by choosing the flowers and container to suit the recipient. For the genteel tea lover, use floral foam to arrange pastel flowers in a small, decorative teapot. For someone with flamboyant taste, create a striking arrangement of richly colored flowers, seedpods and curly willow branches in a large copper, stone or pottery vase. For the wine connoisseur, artfully arrange several twigs sporting rose hips or other berries -- I especially like eucalpytus berries for their distinctive blue-grey color -- in a pewter wine goblet. For an unusual twist, drape trailing flowers and twigs over the side of a wall-mounted vase.

Dried Herbs and Teas
If you dry herbs from your garden, consider packaging up assortments or a blends to give as gifts. Create your own "signature" herb blends for your favorite dishes, combining homegrown herbs with purchased spices. Include suggestions or recipes for using the blends.

Make your own tea bags and fill them with dried mint leaves, lemon balm (or lemon thyme or lemon verbena), rose hips, chamomile flowers or raspberry leaves. You can purchase the empty bags with one side open, fill them and then seal with an iron. To preserve their freshness, nestle the tea bags into an attractive container that keeps out light, such as a covered sugar bowl or a wide-mouthed, colored-glass jar topped with a cork.

Seed Packets
If you're a seed saver, why not package up seeds you've saved from your best bloomers. Enclose them in the empty tea bags sold for stuffing with tea leaves (which can be cut open later on) and place them in small cellophane bags. Decorate with stickers representing the flowers inside and handwritten labels noting the variety name and perhaps why you chose to save the seed, e.g., "Seeds from the biggest, brightest zinnias in my 2004 garden."

Edible Concoctions
The sky's the limit when you share the fruits of your labors. I squeeze all my extra peppers -- hot and mild -- into the freezer at harvest time, and in the fall make up jars of hot pepper jelly. Each jar I give as a gift is accompanied by a package of cream cheese and some crackers.

If you have favorite recipes for preserving foods from your garden, chances are someone else would appreciate them too. You could compile some into a booklet or onto recipe cards, and include a sample of one of the edible delights. A friend of mine is making a recipe book for her newly married son (he asked for it, I don't know about his wife!) full of his favorites. I still have recipe cards written by my grandmother, and I treasure them even though they lack some rather important details (exact quantities, oven temperature, size of pan ...)

Nature-Prints Wrapping Paper
Some newspaper offices sell their end rolls of newsprint (plain, off-white paper) for a nominal charge, and it's perfect for making into wrapping paper. (You can also find tan paper on rolls at craft stores.) Collect evergreen sprigs, seedpods, ferns or other natural materials that have a distinctive shape. You'll also need acrylic paints and an artist's paintbrush. Leftover, foam meat trays make good containers for the paints.

Pour a different paint color into each foam tray. Dip the natural object into the paint -- or use a brush to apply the paint -- then press the object onto the paper in whatever design you like. For ferns and other flimsy leaves, place a clean piece of newspaper over the object and press down to help the paint adhere to the wrapping paper.

You also can use apples or pears cut in half, which both make interesting prints, or carve simple shapes into potato halves.

Set the paper aside for a couple of hours to dry. If you want to give the paper as a gift, fold it into large squares and wrap them in colored cellophane.

Gift Baskets
Keep your eyes open for interesting ceramic or clay pots and fill them with items that pamper: jars of aromatic rubbing salts for tired feet, herbal bath beads, scented soaps and lotions, luffa sponges, and nail brushes. Or buy an apron in a botanical fabric and fill the pockets with essentials: pruners, plant labels, gloves, a trowel and a gardening journal.

Finally, provided you know your friends' reading habits, you can't go wrong with a subscription to a gardening magazine or a gardening book. Personally, I don't think it's possible to own too many gardening books!


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