Diarmuid Gavin: Perfect green-fingered gifts for Christmas

Just 18 more days until Christmas and, like me, you’re probably racking your brains for present ideas.

Plants are living gifts that will bring much pleasure for many months or even years to come, and there are some really festive varieties that will delight with seasonal colour and fragrance. Here’s my guide to the usual and not-so-usual plants that will make memorable presents for your friends and family this year, or wonderful displays for your house.

Moth orchids are a top seller at Christmas – they’re easy, beautiful and have long-lasting flowers. But for something a bit different, try a hanging orchid. These trail their flowers below them so would look beautiful hung in a conservatory. Cymbidium ‘Ice Cascade’ is a very free- flowering orchid that drips waterfall cascades of fragrant white flowers.

Another unusual hanging plant is Aeschynanthus, commonly known as the Lipstick Vine. This refers to the bright red flowers that emerge from tubes – a very festive-looking species. This is one for your green-fingered friends who like to lavish attention, as it will need a good deal of misting in summer to keep it happy.

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For luxurious foliage plants, look out for calatheas, which have wonderful markings on their leaves and often purple undersides. They come from the floor of the tropical rainforests so this is the type of atmosphere you are trying to recreate to keep them happy – not very bright, warm and humid, and the soil should be damp. There are also some exuberant flowering varieties at this time of year such as the Eternal Flame (Calathea crocata), which sends up a totally tropical yellow flower spike.

Pineapples were once a symbol of wealth, as only those with money could afford hot houses and gardeners to grow these exotic fruits. Today they are a common sight in groceries and there is a lovely ornamental variety that would make a quirky gift this Christmas. Ananas ‘Candido’ is a cute little bromeliad with a miniature pineapple. It likes to be in bright light away from direct sunlight and, as with other bromeliads, don’t overwater. Offshoots can be repotted and grown on. You can also try growing your own by cutting the top set of leaves off a shop-bought pineapple and potting up.

Hyacinths, be they blue, pink or white, will always delight with their fragrance. Dolly up a gift by putting them in festive bowls and remember they can be planted outdoors when they are finished flowering. Once outdoors, they will revert to normal flowering times in spring amongst your other bulbs.

Anthuriums can look slightly artificial with their bright red waxy flowers but that makes them perfect at this time of year when subtlety goes out the door! The Flamingo Flower is a tropical plant that likes bright, indirect light and the soil to be kept damp. For best results, tepid rain water is ideal, and keep the leaves misted.

My final Christmas choice is a traditional one – the azalea. Available in cheerful reds, pinks, oranges and white, it’s so lovely to enjoy this shrub that we usually admire outdoors. The secret to keeping this plant happy is to keep it cool and moist, so that’s away from hot radiators, open fires and stuffy rooms. Mist regularly and keep it in a bright position such as an unheated porch, along with your cyclamens.

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