The gift of giving

  Live plants or garden-related products are thoughtful ways to share the season

December 22, 2005


Victoria County Master Gardener


The tradition of giving gifts this time of year dates back centuries in history. Christmas gift giving is mostly associated with the Magi bringing gifts to honor the birth of the Christ child. The Jewish giving of gifts over Hanukkah observes a miraculous continuously burning small amount of lamp oil lasting eight days to celebrate the rededication of a temple after a victory over Syria. Both observances overlap one another this year.

Before the birth of Christ, in ancient Rome, gifts were exchanged during New Year's celebrations. At first, these gifts were of nature - such as a few twigs from a sacred grove - or food. Many gave gifts of vegetables in honor of the fertility goddess Strenia, with a promise for the future.

Since the Middle Ages, during the Jewish "Festival of Lights," mostly children - and now also more adults - receive gifts each of the eight nights to celebrate life and freedom. At least one source says the association of treats, sweets and gifts makes the observance more memorable for children.

The Christmas gift exchange as we know it today is mostly influenced by Victorian England. Victorians surrounded the act of gift giving with ingenuity and merriment, traditional thought and preparation for the perfect gift. Americans expanded the Christmas concept with the addition of St. Nicholas by early Dutch settlers. Santa Claus and the association of stocking stuffer gifts was a natural evolution.

So here we are today with but three days of shopping left for Christmas and the beginning of gift giving during the "Festival of Lights" which commences this year on the eve of Dec. 25.

Have you thought about gardening-related gifts?

Many times it is more the preparation for something that exists in nature and is nurtured by the caring hands of man that touches hearts and exists beyond the holidays. Such is the case with various gifts available last minute in local Victoria garden centers.

Known for stocking and selling herbs, Laurie Garretson of Earthworks reminds shoppers of cooking-theme gifts, herbal topiaries and wreaths, gardening books and garden art, potted plants that carry into the spring, and her special "potted" gift certificates.

Grace Renken of Renken's Nursery suggests a wide assortment of poinsettias, Christmas cactus and amaryllis in a beautiful crystal vase with colored rocks. A specialty item is a bulb gift basket of flowering bulbs that will bloom into the spring. A vented lantern with scented candle also has possibilities beyond the holidays.

Amidst many festive and seasonal gift items on display, one cannot overlook the signature gift baskets of plants and homemade food items from Devereux Gardens. They stand out from others with their beautiful presentation, tasty cookies and famous buttermilk brownies made in the kitchen on the Devereux campus.

Four Seasons Garden Center carries an abundance of deliverable holiday plants and baskets as well as forced bulbs in various containers. Garden gift product lines like scented candles, hand soaps, bath oils and lotions, with both sunscreen and insect repelling ingredients, and a variety of garden art, doormats, wind chimes and windsocks fill out the list of availability. Owner John Fossati also looks past the holiday season to suggest gift certificates towards more substantial landscaping services in the spring and other seasons of the year.

While a number of these products can be had at various retail establishments in the area, including the larger corporate garden centers, the Master Gardeners acknowledge the personal touch, attention and support from these local businesses given to most every gardening project we undertake. We thank them and wish them a prosperous holiday season.

Then there are the holiday catalogues (garden gift ones, too) that say if you order by a certain time tomorrow, overnight delivery is available Christmas. Or think about the simpler, but perhaps even more usable gifts of meats, a basket of seasonal fruits and cheeses, a box of candy or chocolates. Make and share a favorite food and include the recipe and possibly the ingredients. This would be especially personal if some or most of the ingredients came from your own garden. Give a piece of a special collection or a rare species of sprouting plant. Gardeners understand the personal attention to such treasures and the generosity in sharing.

For gardeners, consider a set of garden tools, special insulated gloves or creative artistic watering instruments.

Based on personal experience, there is always much more to be learned in the world of nature and gardening. I treasure my "A to Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants" volumes, enjoy reading from garden design magazine subscriptions, and buying from the gift shops at horticulture gardens throughout the United States.

Why not read up and give a gift of a planned field trip or extended vacation to notable gardens? There are even international excursions to the most historic and well-kept gardens in the world, if you want to go all out.

Through the gift-buying frenzy, let us not forget the adage of giving the gift of time. Volunteer work can be a very worthy gift and benefit your favorite cause or others in the community. And then, perhaps, we will better understand the spirit of O. Henry's classic short story, "...I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present ..."

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to one and all from the Victoria County Master Gardeners.