Homegrown with Heart: Gifts from the Garden

If you are like me, I value gifts from the heart much more than random material things. I love gifts of time and experience equally well.  I bet you do, too. Here are a few ideas for crafting beautiful, heartfelt gifts this holiday season.

Gifts of food are always appreciated. Homemade treats can be enjoyed immediately, and are so much better than a knickknack that will be stuck up on a shelf somewhere, never to be heard from again. I like to bake a batch or two of special cookies as a hostess gift, incorporating fruits from my garden whenever possible. Lemons that I’ve grown for lemon bars or figs from my tree are two of my favorites.  Who needs to add another candle or bottle of wine to their collection?  (That is unless you have made the candle or wine!)

I also like to bake homemade bread and whip up savory butters with herbs from my garden.  Flavored butters are so easy to make, and the variations are endless. I make a strawberry butter that is truly divine. Just pulse the strawberries, add the butter and a bit of confectioner’s sugar to make it spreadable and voilà! It is delicious on a slice of freshly baked bread, or muffin warm from the oven, or a stack of pancakes.

Consider making herb-infused oils or vinegars for hostess gifts. I love rosemary oil drizzled on garden fresh salads. You can find so many terrific recipes on the Internet. Search for the herbs you have in mind and you will find lots of options.  Another extremely easy food item to make is herbed salt.  Just add coarse sea salt, regular sea salt and the herbs you want to use together, pulse them in a food processor, and let them air dry for a bit and there you have it!  So easy.

Another favorite gift I love to make and give for the holidays is a calendar made with photographs from my garden.  All during the gardening season I set up little vignettes around my garden, concentrating on different segments such as trees, flowers, herbs, vines, varying colors and showcase each season or month of the year. It is such a personal gift that truly exemplifies my passion for gardening.

Do you know someone who has expressed an interest in learning a new skill? Gift certificates for classes are a fun idea and offer expanded horizons and lasting memories. Cooking, gardening, or canning/preserving are lovely classes to take with a friend or relative, but anything that covers a common interest would be fabulous.  A few years ago, for Mother’s Day, my daughters signed us up for joint cooking classes with them.  We had such a fun time, shared lots of laughs, and made lots of memories.

One of the easiest gifts from the garden is fresh fruits or vegetables. I remember one time for a Junior League event, each member was asked to provide a silent auction item. I gave a box of oranges each month for six months.  I grow six different varieties of oranges that fruit from November until May, so I always have oranges from fall until summer.  If you want to embellish your fruit or vegetable gift, it is nice to include something like a small juicer or zester with oranges or possibly an old-time apple peeler with apples.  I have given a gallon of pure maple syrup from our farm in Michigan, along with a maple syrup cookbook that was a big hit.

Make sure you give some thought to the presentation because that makes all the difference.  Choose an interesting and useful basket to package everything together, tuck in a beautiful dish towel or potholders, and add a fancy bow. You will have put together something that is unique and made it look like a million dollars – a special gift from the heart.

A Midwesterner by birth, but a Floridian for the past almost 40 years, Debbi Benedict has been a longtime magazine columnist and an even longer edible landscaping enthusiast. Her definition of an edible landscape is, “Food for myself; the birds, bees, and butterflies; and most importantly, for my soul.” As a young girl, her love of the lore and accessibility of herbs started her on her gardening journey. Upon her move to Florida, her gardening world exploded as she was introduced to the magical tastes of tropical fruit trees and the value of native plants. Now her quarter acre yard, known as Benhaven Farm, flourishes with over 100 fruit trees, shrubs, and vines, and an unknown number of native flowering plants.

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