It isn't easy to choose a gift for a wombat. They usually like carrots, or sweet potatoes - except when they don't. Given this season's plentiful grass and native ground covers, our wombats in residence are entirely ignoring carrots. Roots, they seem to say, are for drought years, not lush summers.
Humans can be equally difficult to find gifts for. Gift-giving festivals come from a time when people needed things: a new saucepan, a truly comfy chair, a shirt where the collar wasn't turned to hide its darns or a dress that hadn't been let down three times. Cake was a yearly luxury; kids were often toyless. Even the wealthy needed that pigeon's egg diamond to be able to demonstrate their status.
Now we mostly have too much to fit in bulging cupboards - or can't afford a house to put the cupboards in, with a dawning inkling that gift giving can easily become "overconsumption".
I tend to give plants at Christmas. There are problems giving plants: few people have time to dig a hole at Christmas; it's hot and often dry and interrupted by bushfires. Many plants, especially fruit trees, aren't available. And while I love the glory of Chinese pistachio leaves in autumn, there may be some who do not want to devote most of their backyard to massive trees that drop leaves into their gutters.
The answer: try to subtly or openly ask what plants people would like, then give a promise that the plants will arrive in the months to come. Daffodil and tulip bulbs, for example, may arrive in the post in late February or March. Fruit trees will be delivered in mid winter, or early spring for citrus and perennials like the new mini agapanthus that won't go feral and that bloom from early spring to late autumn.
There are some added good things about giving gifts this way. You don't have to wrap a collection of bulbs or a fruit tree - it will go straight from orchard or nursery to the recipient. Plus the world needs more trees. Humanity needs more locally grow fruit. Every kid deserves to be able to pick home-grown fruit in their own backyard, or along the street as well as at school, and not grow up believing that food comes from supermarkets.
The best fruit trees for small gardens are dwarf, very dwarf or semi dwarf trees. Some, like dwarf peaches, will only grow to 60cm high and wide. Others, like dwarf apples, may get to two metres, or less if you prune them. Plant a hedge of them, and you can have apples all year round, as long as some are early and some late and good keepers like Democrat or Lady Williams.
One friend has been converted to a hedge of dwarf apples as a "delayed" gift for this year's birthday and Christmas. Another confided that she has dreamt of having cherry trees out on the nature strip. Other friends will be getting plants they have admired over the past year, including a magnolia grandiflora. The first Mmagnolia grandiflora I ever met was a giant that covered about an eighth of a hectare, covered with white flowers larger than dinner plates. "Grandiflora" was an understatement. Our tree is just beginning this year's blooms. It's a truly massive tree, a quarter-century old, with giant flowers, and sometime in the next generation or so my descendants will have to prune it back to get to the chook house, or move the chooks, or possibly build a school house in the magnolia.
Thankfully there are now many varieties of magnolia grandiflora that are just as gorgeous but not nearly as dominating, like "Little gem", with creamy white scented flowers at a height you can reach, or even see without binoculars. It makes a superb hedge, is fast growing, drought hardy when established, and even though it will grow to four metres high and wide, it also responds extremely neatly to regular pruning, so you can keep it down to two metres or so. If you want a fast hedge - or blooms next year - feed and water it, though this season watering may be rarely needed.
As for the wombats, we will attempt to give them what wild wombats truly want: the absence of humans while they are focusing on munching, or dozing in the dusk. Sadly, I can't promise that Santa and his reindeer will be as discreet.
This week I am:
- Counting the zucchini and bean seedlings that have emerged, ready to do snail eradication if the numbers suddenly dwindle.
- Watching the tree fellers cut back a 30-year-old bay tree to a stump. Bay trees are stubborn, so it will rise again, but this time I will attempt to keep it pruned back so it doesn't shade the solar panels for 12 months of the year.
- Inspecting the early freckled apricots that grow near the top of our mountain. They may be ready to pick this week, or sulking at the lack of rain and not ready for another month.
- Going through the box of vegie seed packets to see what should have been planted and what hasn't been.
- Finding a spot for two more sugar maple trees. Despite their cold climate heritage, sugar maples do quite well here, surviving drought and neglect.
- Planting a male kiwi fruit, and two more females. Our last male kiwi died in the drought and fire winds - the males tend to be less vigorous and hardy than the females. (PS: Can anyone else remember when 'kiwi fruit' were still called Chinese gooseberries and sold with their fuzz still on them?)