sweetpeasEach year, toward the end of October, I find myself sighing as signs of Christmas begin appearing so early in the shop windows. This year, however, in an endeavour to give commercialism the heave-ho, I'm beating everyone to the startling of the festive season – and I'm doing it with living garden gift-boxes.

My inspiration for these personalised Christmas gifts began this week when, on a rare trip to the supermarket, I discovered some big deep polystyrene fish boxes being biffed out with the cardboard cartons. I took them home, melted some holes into their bases with a hot poker, and then slapped a coat of green acrylic paint over their sides. I lined each box with a few centimetres of gravel, then filled them to the brim with a mix of home-made compost, purchased potting mix, and rotted animal manure (I'd rather have done without the commercial potting mix but regular compost is often a little heavy for planter-boxes). I watered everything well, and while the fill settled for a few days, got down to the fun of designing what would go in each box.

My neighbour, Lorna, who is 97 this month, is a lover of sweet peas. She enjoys the perfume, and they remind her of her childhood. I'll sow a row of peas along the longest side of the box intended for her, and pop a little climbing frame at the back for them to trail over. Lorna also enjoys an egg sandwich so I'm planting chervil (which goes so well with egg) in front of the sweet peas, and a plant or two of parsley for garnish. Because Lorna's memory isn't what it used to be, I'm also incorporating into the soil a scattering of water-retaining crystals so that if she does forget to water the box from time to time, she won't lose the plants.

My mother is a vegetable-person so she's having a broad bean backdrop in her gift box, a mid-section planting of baby carrots, and frontage of parsley and marigolds (the neon orange and yellow against the green is always an eye-catcher).

My god-daughter (aged 6) whose favourite colour is orange, is having orange-bronze dwarf sunflowers in her gift box, teamed with orange marigolds, and baby orange carrots. I'm also including a garden gift voucher so that when the flowers have died back, she can purchase some spring bulbs to plant into their place.

I don't have to think twice about what's to go in my brother-law's garden gift box. He's barbeque fanatic – and a gourmet one, to boot. He's having garlic (thickly planted because I expect he'll use the green tops rather than the bulbs) basil, rocket, and marjoram. Yum! The flavours those herbs will impart when thrown onto the hot plate set my mouth watering.

By starting my garden gift-boxes now, they should be at their best by Christmas. If the weather between now and then is cooler than usual, I can always hurry things along by shifting the boxes into the glasshouse for a week or so. If temperatures are unseasonably warm, I'll sit them in the shade so slow down the growth.

As someone who really looks forward to Christmas but dreads the ghastly materialism that so often goes with it, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself over this latest gift-giving idea. In fact, I can't wait to give what I've grown!

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