Gifts to grow: Easy projects cultivate an interest in gardening

Monday, October 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Marsha Murray Harlow / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

For procrastinators, the holidays are still comfortably in the future. Yet, for gardeners who enjoy sharing their hobby, this is prime time for assembling holiday gifts.

The truly ambitious may be eager to gather ingredients from their gardens to make potpourris, dried wreaths, flavored vinegar and oils, soothing teas, lotions and cosmetics. How-to books are readily available to offer inspiration and details.

But even if you're short on time and talent, there's still much you can offer with just a little gardening know-how.

Look at the plants in your home or yard as potential gift material. A plant grown by and given by a friend or family member takes on extra meaning as years go by.

Has someone admired one of your plants? Make a cutting now, root it, pot it and it'll be ready as a holiday gift.

Easy-to-root plants to grow from stem cuttings include kalanchoe, sage, geranium, chrysanthemum, phlox, azalea, bougainvillea, gardenia, star jasmine and ivy. Some plants such as coleus or English ivy root in water, too.

Don't overlook the opportunity to share your houseplants. Pothos ivy and spider plants are some of the easiest to cut, root and share. Chinese evergreens are another.

Plant in a beautiful container, and you can skip the holiday wrapping.

As you go about your fall gardening chores of dividing clumps of iris or day lilies, consider who may appreciate a starting of them. While these would be difficult to store until December, few would refuse an early holiday gift. If you're feeling especially generous, help plant them.

Or follow the example of Dallas landscape architect Michael Parkey, and involve your friends in the process. "One of my favorite techniques for giving away plants is to send out an announcement by e-mail, telling my plant friends that on a specific day and time, I will be dividing species 'x,' and anyone who drops by can have some. I also pot up small plants and keep them around until friends drop by," he says.

He points out an added benefit: plant insurance. "Ten years ago, I gave a cutting of an unusual African violet cultivar to a friend in Denton. It is the only African violet I grow. About three years ago, I had a savage attack of mealy bugs, and my violet died. But, by that time, it had reproduced itself like a weed for my friend, and he had plenty to give back to me."

Marian Buchanan, a Dallas County master gardener and herb enthusiast, suggests giving forced bulbs in pretty containers. "They're so much cheaper than the ones you special-order," she says.

Paperwhites are the easiest bulbs for indoor forcing because they don't require cold storage. Plant them in soil or a pot with pebbles or gravel, then place them in the kitchen or family room. Just water regularly for four to six weeks, and blooms will appear. Average growing time from dry bulb to full bloom is about five weeks. Amaryllis and grape hyacinths are also fun to grow indoors. Bulbs are available from garden centers or catalogs.

For an outdoor pot, you can create a gift full of surprises for several months. Take a pot about 8 inches deep by 12 inches in diameter and fill with an assortment of spring-blooming bulbs. Plant in layers, placing larger bulbs such as tulips and daffodils in the first layer of soil, topped by smaller bulbs such as crocus and anemone. Place bulbs close, but not touching. Cover with soil and water regularly. (Bring indoors if there's danger of frost.) With luck, the recipient will get three months of assorted blooms.

Another option is a miniature salad garden. "These can be started easily from seed, dressed up in a large basket, with perhaps some pansies or Johnny-jump-ups included as edible flowers," Mrs. Buchanan suggests. Small pots of parsley, chives or other herbs add a fresh taste in the kitchen.

For a really easy gift, buy a six-pack of cold-weather annuals such as pansies, dianthus or primrose and plant in a pretty container. This cheerful gift will brighten a room for weeks.

Marsha Murray Harlow is a San Antonio free-lance writer.