Here we are again! Christmas time and apparently open season for my kids to try their luck at asking for anything and everything that’s nabbed their attention for even a nano-second over the last 12 months. Gone are the days of hoping that they will like their surprise – if it’s not on an itemized highlighted list (with links provided), I’ve learned not to go there.

Tricky gifts?

My husband, when he reads this, will protest that if there is one truly tricky member of this house to buy presents for, it is me. He also has the unfortunate double whammy that my birthday falls five days later, so in the past we’ve often not gotten over the confusion of the Christmas day fiasco before doing it all over again. 

I will admit I am a notoriously hard person to buy for. I would like a surprise (no teenage list will be provided, so set powers of telepathy to high, please) but I also want to love it – and preferably instantly! Ideally, I would like something I would love but, as yet, I actually don’t know exists. My husband may have a point when he says I’m a nightmare when it comes to gift giving.

The perfect gift?

Luckily for all of us, he actually came up with the perfect gift two years ago. Even better, it’s a gift he can repeat year after year, and I will always be absolutely beyond thrilled to receive it. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that I write my posts based on exactly what is happening outside my window right now. I never post a throwback or out-of-season flowers. My account is basically an almost daily diary of my garden, flowers, and the seasons. My genius husband found a company (aptly called Photobook Genius) that will take social media posts and turn them into a book. (Oh, how this tickles every Luddite bone in my body!) In short, he gave me the book I wrote without even knowing I was writing it. As I say, genius all round.

Dropping ideas?

So, I’m now set every year for life – or as long as I’m on social media. But as my children start to clutter my inbox with their ‘updated’ lists, I’ve been pondering my otherwise dream wish list and, more to the point, what would give me real pleasure to give to someone else. (Full disclosure here, I know there is a world outside of gardening, but I don’t live in it, so if you are after something non-horticultural, this is not the article for you.) 

Aside from practical tools, (a Hori Hori knife or a pair of Willow Crossley secateurs) or, because there is no such thing as too many, a book (Jinny Blom’s new masterpiece What Makes a Garden is top of my list) or an heirloom piece of beauty (a Francis Palmer vase), the number one item I would give the garden/flower lover in my life is the gift of education. 

Learning is at the heart of gardening. It is constant by its very nature and it’s what makes gardening so addictive to those of us who love it. And oh, my word; the plethora of paths to go down – from design to horticulture, from flower arranging to botanical art. Endless opportunities to discover and learn.

Memberships are gold

Every year my brother gives me a subscription to Gardens Illustrated magazine – if the Bible came in a magazine format and was only about gardening, this would be it. Although a UK publication, despite actually being printed in the US, on a ridiculously slow delivery schedule, its scope is global and the perfect source of inspiration. It is the happiest day of the month when I find it in my mailbox.

Membership to a gardening organization is also a gift that gives that long-term slow-burn joy. Access, discounts, classes, talks, often just a really nice day out – a membership gift can be just the impetus you need to actually make use of the resources close to home. The New York Botanical Garden, Hollister House, and the Garden Conservancy would be my top three.

COVID completed the journey?

Back in the day, we really had two choices when it came to learning: do an in-person course (really for those with a gardening career in mind or a lot of spare money and time) or a reference book. The latter was usually my choice. Today, however, the ability to access the knowledge, experience and wisdom of experts has never been greater. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Google has been my university on my gardening journey. 

If the Internet began the revolution in the way we learn, then COVID completed it. Not only was there an explosion of gardeners and growers sharing their expertise on social media, but the number of online classes, courses, and platforms also exploded. The brilliance of this format, the access that it gives, and the opportunity to learn is immeasurable. Combined with gardeners’ generosity and willingness to share, this is truly the mother lode of learning. I was lucky enough to take the now world-renowned Floret flower farming online six-week course three years ago, and I would testify under oath that it was the happiest six weeks of my life! 

Class is in session

For anyone in your life who might be of the gardening mindset (in fact this really applies to anyone who is interested in just about anything), online classes provide the perfect gift material. They can vary in length and depth from a one-off hour-long class to a multi-module course covering either a broad range of all the basics or a really deep dig into a single topic. There are classes and courses out there for complete beginners to those looking for a change in career. 

For gardeners, my top three would be Masterclass (Ron Finley teaching how to grow your own food more than lives up to its moniker); the UK-based Create Academy (somehow, they have persuaded all my favorite gardening experts to spill the beans); and for those looking to really go deeper, Learning with Experts, which offers online interactive classrooms and the option of personal tuition and marked assignments with the actual experts – and I mean world-class top-of-their-game experts. (I’m holding out for the Art of Environmental Floristry class and the chance to learn first-hand from the self-same Shane Connolly who arranged the flowers for the Queen’s funeral and William and Kate’s wedding!)

Unlike some of the Christmas days of the past in this house, I can guarantee that the gardener in your life will love and long appreciate any of the above. They would truly be the gifts that keeps on giving. •

Pom Shillingford is an obsessive gardener originally from England and now based in Salisbury, CT. She offers seasonal cut flowers through English Garden Grown. Find her on Instagram @english_garden_grown.