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Gardening gifts for Christmas

Selecting a Christmas present for a gardening friend or relative can be daunting.

The simplest - if least imaginative - choice is a gift token for a garden centre or an online shop. Perhaps a more unusual and pleasant token is an IOU for a day out to a garden or one you have both been meaning to visit. The IOU could include the entrance ticket, lunch and maybe a plant from the shop.

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If you'd prefer to buy a physical gift, start by looking for one to fit the kind of gardening the recipient is keen on or wants to start doing. Are they into alpines and rock gardens, ponds, wildlife, ornamentals or shrubberies?

The most popular new venture for folk is grow your own. This ranges from the large scale - an allotment or a veg patch in a lawn specially dug up for the purpose - to the small scale, growing nibbles on a patio.

Unless your friend is a seasoned veg grower, a soil test kit should be useful. It's the simplest and most important starting point for any gardener who is keen to know what the garden's like. Only by knowing whether the soil is acidic or neutral can you know the range of plants to grow. You need neutral or alkaline ground (pH7) to have any chance with broccoli or cabbages, midway between neutral and acidic (ph5.5-6) for tatties, and acidic (pH5-5.5) for blueberries. A test kit shows whether you should add lime to increase alkalinity or sulphur chips to reduce it.

Thermometers are nearly as important - either for testing the soil or the air. You could apply the traditional "bare bum" test to see if the ground has warmed up enough for seed sowing, but a thermometer would be even more accurate and less uncomfortable if the soil hasn't yet passed the acceptability mark. Biological controls, such as Nemaslug, only work once the soil is warmer than 5C and, who knows, boasting about the heat of your compost bin might impress the neighbours.

Having a handle on air temperature, especially at night, is just as important. To succeed, some veg, such as celeriac, need moderately high overnight temperatures - no lower than 10C. Tomato pollen has low pollination rates above 25C, so you might need to change the ventilation regime.

Whatever your friend or relative's gardening interests, membership of the Royal Horticultural Society will always be a welcome gift. You'll be introducing him or her to the joys of the members' monthly magazine. Alternatively, you might want to fine-tune your gift. Every keen veg grower should also be a member of Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library (gardenorganic.org.uk). Some of the library's 800 or so varieties are available to members every year - you won't get them anywhere else.

If you are buying for a fruit grower, have a look at plantsandapples.co.uk, which also has details of courses and workshops, while herb enthusiasts should visit poyntzfieldherbs.co.uk for an unbeatable range of herbs that work well in this country.

Many of Poyntzfield's herbs can be grown in containers - a gardening style for so many folk with tiny gardens. A planter clearly takes centre stage, even if it's not the easiest gift to wrap. Folk usually appreciate larger planters and garden centres are crammed with every style under the sun, with containers made from stone, clay, wood and, of course, plastic. I was quite taken by the hand-crafted green oak planter from scotplantsdirect.co.uk. Very pricey, but at least the sender would gift wrap your pot.

Visit askorganic.co.uk. Email your gardening queries to da@askorganic.co.uk

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