Putting Your Garden to Work for You!
by Geri Laufer
Prolong the season and share your garden with friends and neighbors by trying some of these easy suggestions for garden gifts.
1. The easiest gift of all is giving flowers cut from your garden. Even if you don’t think you have flowers, ornamental grasses or a few branches of colorful maple leaves in fall make a lovely gift. A bouquet of hellebores in winter, daffodils in spring, flowering hydrangeas or zinnias in summer is undoubtably welcome. And from the vegetable garden, my “bouquet” of kale and chard was a big hit at a recent dinner party. Tie with raffia, or with cellophane and a matching ribbon.
2. A welcome gift for friends or neighbors is sharing growing divisions of your favorite plants. If they are thriving in your garden, chances are they will thrive in your friend’s garden too. Lift the clump, shake off excess soil and divide it in half with a serrated bread knife. Either pot it in a cute pot with potting soil and water well, or plop it into a plastic bag and place in a basket with a bow. If droopy, cut back long flower stalks or excess leaves, keep out of direct sun and deliver in the next day or two.
3. Basil pesto! If you planted basil back in April, chances are that you have plenty of fragrant leaves to make into Pesto for pasta, on burgers or steaks, or chicken roll-ups. Here’s how:
Take a packed cup of clean Basil leaves, add ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup walnuts (less costly than pine nuts), and 1 or 2 peeled garlic cloves. Process in a food processor, then pack individual servings in tiny jars and refrigerate. Pesto may be frozen for longer periods (August until Christmas, for example).
4. This time of year, lots of flowers are going to seed. Are you a seed saver? It’s a wonderful gift opportunity. Share your harvest with gardening buddies by making your own seed packets and use them in holiday cards, stocking stuffers, as gifts or as place cards. Be sure to label with the type of seeds and the year collected.
5. Your own customized Herb Seasoning Blends or BBQ Rubs are pretty easy to make and perfect as gifts. Everyone’s gotta eat, right? Even if you don’t grow all of these herbs in your garden, you can patch in some dried herbs purchased in bulk from the Farmer’s Market. Mix up a batch and share it, along with a favorite recipe or two, for example:
Italian Seasoning for pizza, spaghetti sauce or grilled tomatoes includes basil, oregano, thyme, garlic powder and bay leaf.
Chicken Seasoning for roast chicken, chicken or turkey meatloaf, or chicken soup is good with sweet marjoram, parsley, and onion powder.
BBQ Rub for Meat or Veggies has rosemary, fennel, savory, basil, oregano and bay leaves.
6. Flavored vinegars rev up salad dressings, soups, sauces and appetizers and are as easy to create as pouring hot vinegar (almost to the boiling point) over herbs. Or use chili peppers or other tasty items from your garden to season and experiment with different kinds of vinegars.
7. Just about everyone would enjoy a bottle of homemade herb-infused or flavored vodka. Rinse selected herbs and place in a clean mason jar with a tight sealing lid, then pour Vodka over them and seal tightly. Keep cool and dark, and shake each day, flavor tasting until the strength of the infusion is reached, then strain through a coffee filter. Basil/Rosemary Vodka is excellent for Bloody Mary mix. Or make a Coffee Vodka for Black Russians using fresh, finely ground beans and straining after steeping.
8. Package homemade flavored sugars with Earl Grey tea for a thoughtful gift. In the food processor, combine dried Lavender and cane sugar. Pulse until the herbs are finely ground and the mixture is well combined. Package attractively with store-bought tea.
Any of these homemade gifts will make a big impression and keep your garden fresh through all the seasons.