Grabouw.23.10.12. Lavender in full bloom at Wanda Molteno's garden which is the oldest garden in Grabouw. Picture Ian Landsberg. Reporter Jeannie Viall.

Inspired by the old Twelve Days of Christmas song, in which a lass’s true love sends her a partridge in a pear tree, Life is a Garden, the marketing arm of the SA Nursery Association, has come up with ideas for garden-inspired gifts this holiday season.

1. A rose garden

Miniature rose bushes, some reaching just 30cm high, bear tiny buds and an abundance of exquisite flowers in every colour of the rainbow. They adapt well to container life and a dozen or so specimens will transform a sunny balcony into a true garden of roses for an apartment dweller. It’s also a thoughtful gift for someone living in a rental property, town house or retirement home.

2. A big tree

Trees are available from garden centres in much larger sizes – up to full-grown – than one might imagine. They can be as big and as pricey as the budget allows, especially if family members club together to treat owners of a newly-built house with no garden yet to speak of. Get advice from an accredited garden centre about species, transportation, planting, staking and general care.

3. A small tree

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the bonsai for someone who needs a new creative outlet or hobby. A tall-growing crassula, although not a tree but a succulent, is fast growing and easy to work with. Portulacaria would also be perfect for a novice.

Include a subscription to a nearby bonsai club for helpful newsletters, meetings and advice on care. A number of proudly African pruning styles such as the Pierneef, baobab and bushveld style have also been developed to make the best artistic use of our indigenous flora.

4. A barrow-load of colour

Buy a painted wheelbarrow, fill it with potting soil and plant it with bedding plants for an instant garden feature. Ensure the wheelbarrow has holes to allow for good drainage. Chrysanthemums will provide a mass of bright colour, and dwarf alstroemerias will flower for many weeks in a dozen exciting colour combinations. Plant a mixture of scabiosa, gypsophila, cuphea and blue felicia daisies to give something with a softer, more cottage-garden effect.

5. A veggie patch

One bag of compost and a half-dozen or so small salad plants – lettuces, endive, rocket, basil; anything with a shallow root system – is all it takes to create an instant no-dig vegetable patch. Cut evenly spaced holes in the bag, just big enough to plant the vegetables and water regularly. If this gift is placed on a low wall, then tomatoes or cucumbers can trail downwards without smothering their companion plants.

6. A medicine chest

Find a nice window box or rectangular planter and stock it with medicinal herbs for a gift of gentle home remedies. Parsley, sage, thyme, lemon grass, rosemary, mint, nasturtium and hyssop all have medicinal and culinary uses. Feverfew, bulbine, echinacea and yarrow have lovely flowers, even if they’re never needed for their healing properties. Perhaps include a book on the subject.

7. A framed view

A trellised archway is easily installed and perfect to divide or frame the view to a separate section of the main garden. Pair your gift with a climbing plant to grow up and over the arch. Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is an evergreen climber that will grow quickly and scent the summer air with its starry white flowers. It is happy in full sun or partial shade so will be perfect to cover an arched pathway leading from the patio area.

8. An oasis

Bird baths, whether on a pedestal or flat on the ground, are welcome drinking places for birds. An apartment dweller with limited balcony space may appreciate a hanging model or one that can be attached to a railing. For a really splashy gift, find a bird bath with an easy-to-install solar-powered fountain or bubbler. Include a couple of butterfly-attracting Dietes grandiflora or gaura plants for planting around the base.

9. A garden stream…

…well, the illusion of a stream. A curved wood or metal bridge in just the right spot can evoke the impression of water flowing underneath it. Surround the sides of the bridge with grassy, reed-like plants – tall, clumping restios, aromatic yellow- and green-striped Acorus gramineus, and tall blue agapanthus mixed with dwarf white-flowering varieties help create a lush stream-side effect where there is no running water.

10. A living painting

Densely planted small, slow-growing succulents can be used to create textured “carpets” or vertical “paintings”. A broad, flat succulent bowl or mesh vertical planter and some suitable plants are all you need for this gift. Strangely shaped crassulas, rosette-form sempervivums in shades of red and green, echeveria in grey and pink rosettes, and sedums all serve as the “oil paints” to complete this unique gift.

11. Happy faces

Give the kids acrylic paints to draw smiley faces on bright-coloured plastic plant pots. Show them how to sow grass seed in the pots and to keep them watered until their gift has grown hair and is ready for the giving. If you’re short on time, use mondo grass (Ophiopogon) species to create instant wigs of black or green and white hair for these pot people.

12. An invisible garden

Gardens are wonderful to look at, but what about someone who has limited or no vision? Bring them the gift of a garden of fragrances. A selection of aromatic plants in a sturdy planter can include soothing lavenders and a selection of pelargoniums ranging from apple-, coconut- and lemon-scented, through nutmeg- and peppermint-scented varieties, to the rose-scented pelargonium.

Don’t forget that you can buy an indigenous Christmas tree. Yellowwoods are classic South Africa alternatives. Once the festivities are over, you can plant it in the garden, put the pot out on your patio or keep it in the house as an indoor plant. - Weekend Argus

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