Durban - What better gift for this special time of year than a real tree for Christmas? That’s the word from Durban gardening expert Eric Burgess, who is quick to point out that one doesn’t have to stick to the expected.

Local nurseries, he adds, are bursting with gift ideas right now.

“How about a bonsai for Dad or a fruit tree for Gramps,” he suggests, adding that other gift ideas could be a hanging basket for Mom; a rose bush for Gran; a cactus for a son, brother or uncle; or a flowering pot plant for a daughter, sister or aunt .

“Even a few trays of seedlings and a bag of plant food make for great and thoughtful gifts. Your local nursery will also have a range of other gift suggestions – such as bird baths, bird feeders, pots and secateurs,” says Burgess.

“Most nurseries also have gift vouchers if you are undecided.”

A real Christmas tree, he believes, is a must for the festive season.

“You can buy a growing or a ‘cut’ Christmas tree from selected nurseries and charities. These are all Cryptomeria japonica elegans trees – a holy tree from Japan – with long-lasting, lovely, soft, fluffy foliage.

“If you live in a misty area like Kloof or Hilton, it makes sense to buy a growing tree in the hope that it will survive until the following year, but as these trees do not do well in a coastal climate a ‘cut’ tree makes more sense,” says Burgess.

These “cut” trees are cheaper and easy to transport, and will last up to three weeks with ease – all they need is a bucket of clean water (no sand) to stand in, just like the foliage in a flower arrangement.

“Put a few rocks in the bucket, around the base of the tree to keep it in position, and help it stand upright. Keep the water topped up, and add a teaspoon of bleach every now and then to keep the water fresh.”

Burgess says “cut” trees will not drop needles and make a mess.

He adds that if you buy a growing tree, be careful when you take it out after Christmas as the hot January sun will be too much of a shock after spending almost a month indoors . Leave it under the shade of a tree for a few weeks, and gradually move it into the sun. Like all conifers, they need regular watering.

December is a month to enjoy the garden, says Burgess: “The holiday spirit is among us, and days are long (December 21 is the longest day).

“With the sun setting so late, we have a chance to enjoy evenings in the garden, taking in the softness of the colours in the twilight and subtle scents of summer.

“White is the last colour seen at night, so plant as many white-flowered plants as you like close to your sitting area. It is an added bonus if these plants have a perfume as well.”

Burgess suggests white agapanthus, available in tall, medium and dwarf forms, which are indigenous, waterwise, and grow and flower in sun and shade.

They are also excellent at holding up banks as they have strong roots.

Another good pick is Madagascan jessamine (Stephanotis floribunda), a scented, white-flowering climber. - Independent on Saturday