Garden Gift Ideas

How do Boozy Bulbs, Culinary Bouquets, and Clog Containers sound? Confusing? Not if you’re Mrs. P, The Big Guy’s helper, and Queen of Garden Gift ideas.

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Don’t you feel it? That slight chill in the air. Pumpkins, gourds, and dried stalks of Indian corn are popping up everywhere. You’re hauling out recipes for turkey gravy and green bean casserole; summer’s gone and fall has arrived. And while all of this autumnal stuff is nice, Mrs. P wants to remind you it’s not too early to plan for Christmas. Now, don’t go wailing, “It’s too early, it’s too early,” on me. When one has both a sister and a daughter named Holly, postponing holiday projects until December is not an option. It’s pretty much Kris Kringle time year ‘round. Actually, preparing for gift giving now will not only give you time to really enjoy the holidays, it will force you to stick to a budget and not go berserk the third week of December.

Here are some holly jolly ideas for Bakersfield gardeners, all tried and true.

How do Boozy Bulbs, Culinary Bouquets, and Clog Containers sound? Confusing? Not if you’re Mrs. P, The Big Guy’s helper, and Queen of Garden Gift ideas.

Our first gift idea is caveman easy. You basically have two choices with Boozy Bulbs. Buy pre-packaged Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs and include my special growing instructions or plant the bulbs yourself into individual containers with a bit of potting soil and crushed rock, also including the above mentioned instructions; either way will force the bulbs to bloom inside. It will be a lot of fun and an easy way to bring the scent of spring inside in the middle of winter. However, let’s face it, most people throw up their hands and give up trying to force Paperwhites, because of the “flop over” issue. They grow too tall and tumble down. Here is The Big Trick to prevent that from happening and what you will enclose with your bulb gift: GIVE THOSE BULBS A MARTINI! This is no voodoo science, but was developed by researchers at Cornell University.

Instructions:

Plant your Paperwhite bulbs according to package directions. Once you have at least two inches of green shoots showing, start watering with the following boozy solution: one jigger of gin, vodka, or whiskey mixed with seven jiggers of water.

It’s convenient to keep this solution in a lidded mason jar and use a turkey bulb baster to water your bulbs. As in many cases with alcohol, more is not better. Stick to the one part to seven parts ratio. This makes a five percent solution. Yes, rubbing alcohol is a perfectly acceptable replacement, but not as much fun. Keep in mind that YOU are the Designated Driver. Do not over water; your bulbs must drink responsibly. Cheers!

Bouquets Garni
Bouquets Garni

The second garden gift idea is making Bouquets Garni, or culinary bouquets, which are little savory herbal posies tied together. Dropped into casseroles, soups, stews, and sauces, they add an aromatic mixture of flavors to these dishes. Used for hundreds of years in French cuisine, the bouquets are always removed before serving, in case you were curious. The proportion of the herbs isn’t especially important, as long as you include parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. All sorts of other herbs can be included. Look around your garden, see what’s growing. Basil, celery leaves, tarragon, rosemary, chives, chervil, sorrel, purslane, marjoram, sage, dill, coriander, caraway, watercress, borage, oregano, and oh, you get the idea. I’ve even used lemongrass, orange peels, and mint. Use your imagination and prepare for raves.

There are two methods of making Bouquets Garni. The first, in my opinion, is the best and made up of fresh ingredients. Bunch together any combination of herbs, including stems, and wrap together with overlapping bay leaves. Bind together tightly with white cotton string. The second Bouquets Garni method is if you cannot get fresh materials. Cut cheesecloth into 8-inch squares and lay out flat on wax paper. Allow 5 tablespoons each of any mixture of dried herbs and a couple of dried bay leaves mixed together, coarsely crumbled, not powered, for 12 bags. Draw up the 4 corners and tie snugly with white cotton twine.

Carbonnade Flamande
Carbonnade Flamande

Both types of Garni, packaged in little Chinese food containers, will thrill any cook at Christmas. Attach a recipe or two and voilà, an inexpensive but original gift. Before I forget, there’s a notion floating around that all herbs are drought tolerant. As if that would ever happen. No plant, including herbs, are drought tolerant when first planted. Don’t assume herbs won’t need to be watered. Drought tolerance isn’t achieved until a healthy root system is established. This can take at least a full growing season. Most herbs, but not all, will need only occasional irrigation once established. Exceptions are basil, chives, mint, and parsley, which prefer evenly moist soil. I call these herbs the El Niño Quartet.

A simple recipe to include with your Bouquets Garni might be one of my favorites: Belgian Beef Stew or Carbonnade Flamande. It was given to Mrs. P by a jolly little professor at the Sorbonne when sharing a compartment on the boat train from Paris to London across the Channel.

Carbonnade Flamande

  • 2 lbs. stew beef
  • cubed in bite size pieces
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 large onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 c. beer
  • Bouquet Garni

Start with four slices slightly stale French bread spread on both sides with 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard. (The professor’s little cooking trick; the bread dissolves in the cooking but adds a little heft and flavor.) Heat 2 tbsp. oil in sturdy soup pot. Brown meat on all sides, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then remove the meat and set aside. Heat remaining oil and add onions. Saute for 15 minutes on low heat, stirring frequently, and browning the onions slightly. Stir in the garlic, sugar, and vinegar and cook for two more minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and stir to coat. Return the meat to the pot, then pour on the beer and add the Bouquet Garni. Place the pieces of mustard covered bread on top of the stew. Cover and let simmer on very low boil for two hours. Season with salt and pepper and remove the Bouquet Garni before serving.

Dutchclogs_by berkh

Mrs. P’s third gift idea is Clog Containers. You can make simply adorable plant containers out of Dutch wooden shoes! Don’t laugh, it’s not as cheesy as it sounds. What you’ll do first is find old decorative painted wood shoes in assorted sizes. They’re always available for pennies on the dollar at thrift stores, yard sales, eBay, and Alibaba. You might even have some hanging around your own garage. They don’t need to be in matching pairs, any old single clog will do, left or right. The decoration doesn’t need to be perfect.

You might even find unpainted Klompen (Dutch for wood shoes) and decorate yourself with paint or decals. What we’re going for is a Vintage look. Drill three holes under the toe for drainage and one larger hole in the heel to hang on a nail or hook on an outside wall or fence. Paint the inside with Thompson’s water sealer and let dry. Scoop a little lightweight potting soil into the toe and let fly with your botanical planting imagination. Fill the shoes with herbs, winter annuals, or perennials. Plant little crocus bulbs for an early winter bloom. In other words, have fun with this project.

For a family of four with two children, you might gift them with two large clogs and two small ones, representing the family. You could mount a grouping of clogs on a wood board if you’re even a little bit handy. With a cordless drill, remember, you can do almost anything! I’ve enjoyed planting little red pepper plants in wooden shoes and adding a big raffia bow for a neat homemade garden gift that shows humor and imagination. Once you start looking around for Klompen you’ll be hooked on all their inexpensive Dutch Treat possibilities. Who else would tell you these things?

Do you know why Santa has three gardens? He likes to Ho-Ho-Ho!

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