Theme Gardens – Planning a Harvest of Gifts

Does the thought of planning a garden seem a bit overwhelming? Would you like to start small but aren’t sure just what you should grow? Or maybe you have been growing the same tried-and-true veggies every year and are getting a little bored? If so, then this may be the year for a theme garden!

Theme gardens are planned around one central idea. That idea maybe broad (a flower garden) or narrow (a peony garden). It might be conducted on a grand scale (growing acres of heirloom wheat) or your windowsill (a basil plant). It might involve hours of concentrated work (hand fertilizing tropical fruits in a greenhouse) or almost no time at all (scattering wildflower seed in an empty field). One of my favorite themes is today’s topic, a garden that can be turned into gifts.

I love to give homemade gifts, especially at Christmas time. To me, there’s nothing that says love more than a gift that has been handmade by the giver. But December is a busy month, and I sometimes bite off more than I can chew! Has this ever happened to you or am I the only one running around like a chicken with its head cut off during the month of December? This year, my garden is going to help make my life a little easier over the holidays, by providing those gifts early. Some planting and gift ideas include:

Kitchen Herb Mixes:  Plant one or two basil, rosemary, marjoram, chives and Italian parsley plants. All are easy to grow, very prolific, and can be found in almost any garden center in the spring. Harvest the leaves as they mature, lay out on paper towels and let dry (this step takes from a few hours to a few days). Crumble the dried leaves and combine to make your own Italian seasoning mix. Keep the mix in small decorative jars or tiny zip-top bags for gifts. Don’t forget to include a tag listing the ingredients. Tuck in one of your favorite recipes too for a well received gift.

Dried Tomatoes: Don’t you just love sun-dried tomatoes? Their intense flavor is the perfect addition to sauces, dressings, casseroles, salads….well ok, sometimes I get carried away with them. But your gift recipients will love home grown and home dried tomatoes because they taste much better than the commercially prepared kind. Plus, they don’t have sulfites and other preservatives added. Make your dried tomato mix extra special with cherry tomatoes. I love to grow red, yellow, and chocolate cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, and dry them using a food dehydrator. Package the resulting bright color combination in  4 ounce canning jars for a unique gift that can’t be purchased anywhere! A great place to get colored cherry tomato seed is Totally Tomatoes. You may also be able to buy cherry tomato plants at your local Farmer’s Market.

Dilly Beans: Green beans are easy to grow, you get a lot of beans in just a little space, and they can quickly be turned into dilly beans! Everybody loves homemade pickles and dilly beans are some of the easiest pickles to make. Follow these directions for perfect dilly beans every time.

Plantable Papers: Here’s a great way to get the kids involved. Plant some leaf lettuce and let it go to seed (over grown until it produces it’s own seed). Carefully collect the seeds and embed them in your own plantable paper. (Follow the directions found here.) You can also use flower seed, carrot seed, herb seed or any other tiny seed. Once the seed is embedded, the paper itself can be planted for a new crop. A great gift for budding gardeners.

Bath Bombs: Grow a few botanicals to include in your own homemade bath bombs. Nice additions are dried lavender buds, dried rose petals, dried rosemary or lemon verbena leaves, or dried mint. Bath bombs are fun to make for the whole family, and even more fun to use. (Follow the directions found here.)

By growing just a few, easy-to-care for plants like cherry tomatoes, herbs, and green beans, you will get a jump start on your holiday gifts – and a more relaxing holiday season. Do you have a favorite plant for your gift garden?


by Renee Pottle

Renee Pottle, a freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

February 4, 2013

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