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Green Gift Guide

The best Green gifts: Low-maintenance expert picks that will thrill any plant lover

Best Green gifts: Low-maintenance choices that thrill any plant lover

Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 cone trees at Buchanan's
Buchanan's Native Plants in the Heights is a great stop for those fragrant rosemary cone trees. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 paperwhites at Thompson & Hanson
Find paperwhites in a variety of sizes in attractive containers at Thompson + Hanson. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts Cardinal flower Houston Arboretum
Cardinal flowers are a popular purchase during the Houston Arboretum's winter Texas native plant sales. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 poinettias at Buchanan's
Rows and rows of poinsettias at Buchanan's. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 Christmas cacti at Buchanan's
Christmas cacti give a Texas twist to the holidays. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 magnolia trees at Thompson & Hanson
A cool find at Thompson + Hanson: Magnolia saplings wrapped in burlap tied with big red bows, $40 each. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Joshua's Native Plants verigated poinsettia December 2014 holiday gift
Joshua's Native Plants' variagated poinsettias. Joshua's Native Plants/Facebook
Wabash Antiques & Feed wildflower seeds
Fill a ribboned basket with colorful packets of wildflower seeds from Wabash Feed or your favorite nursery. (File photo) Wabash Feed/Facebook
Harry & David amaryllis triple blooms holiday gifts
Order Harry & David's amaryllis triple blooms for a holiday gift. HarryandDavid.com
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013,  book cover
The fifth and latest edition of River Oaks Garden Club's A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast by Lynn Herbert. Photo by © Lynn Herbert/Design by Public Address Design, Houston
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 cone trees at Buchanan's
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 paperwhites at Thompson & Hanson
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts Cardinal flower Houston Arboretum
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 poinettias at Buchanan's
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 Christmas cacti at Buchanan's
Ready to Jingle plants as gifts December 2014 magnolia trees at Thompson & Hanson
Joshua's Native Plants verigated poinsettia December 2014 holiday gift
Wabash Antiques & Feed wildflower seeds
Harry & David amaryllis triple blooms holiday gifts
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013,  book cover

Plants always make lovely presents, any time of year and for all occasions, but especially during the holiday season to join the festive decor, add more wafting fragrances to those coming from the kitchen and to enjoy as gifts that keep on giving, even if the recipients don't have green thumbs.

CultureMap offers these suggestions for true green gifting in the most natural, low-maintenance way.

Traditional "sweets": Paperwhites
This all-time favorite is a holiday custom for some plant-loving givers who want to share the joy these simple beauties can bring. Paperwhites, or Narcissus papyraceus, are borne in bunches and give off the most wonderful scent. With delicate white flowers atop upright and clustered green stalks, paperwhite bulbs begin to grow as soon as they are planted, so no need for forced flowering.

 Blooms last through the season as guests come and go. 

CultureMap spotted planted paperwhites at several local nurseries, including Buchanan's Native Plants, Cornelius and Thompson + Hanson and in prices ranging from $18 to $48. Blooms last through the season as guests come and go.

Cones: Trees in small packages
Visit your favorite nursery or florist to check out their inventories of lavender or rosemary cone trees, available in all sizes, decorated and undecorated. They smell heavenly. As gifts, cones can be presented as additional holiday decorations for the host or hostest, as miniature versions of the official tree to be adorned (and unadorned) by children and even as centerpieces for the table.

We checked: Selections are plentiful everywhere, and the price tags vary from size to size. A gallon-sized cone, about two feet tall, can run for as little as $20.

Texas treats: Christmas cacti
Minimal watering is needed for Christmas cacti, or Schlumbergera, to keep these happy fellows growing and thriving. Do feel the soil occasionally, as heating (and air conditioning) dry out the indoor air. Just water a bit when the top one-inch of soil is dry. Flowers in white, pink, yellow, orange, red or purple just seem to pop in brilliance against the plants' dark green leaves.

Place a little note in a card accompanying a gift of Christmas cacti for care and additional information: You can propagate a Christmas cactus by cutting off short sections of the stem. Shallowly plant the pieces in 3-inch pots using the same soil as the parent plant. Treat the cuttings as mature plants with proper water and sunlight, and in about four to six weeks, you'll see new growth.

Buchanan's has a large assortment of Christmas cacti, from half-gallon containers for about $8 to full, draping hanging baskets for about $30.

Wrapped in green: Garland & wreaths . . . and native plants
Bundle up and head over to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center during regular hours for wreaths and garland made from fresh-cut Fraser Fir. Wreaths are available, decorated or not, in four standard sizes with prices ranging from $28 to $125. Call the center at 713-366-0372 to order garland swags or splits in standard or custom lengths. Pick a special wreath for a loved one — and take some garland home for yourself.

The wreath and garland event continues with "Festivities in the Forest" from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the center, joining the arboretum's Winter Native Plant Sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. that same day and again Sunday featuring more than 100 Houston and native species. Look for trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, groundcovers, grasses and meadow forbs and more from $3.50 to $200.

The annual sale resumes 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 13 and 14, giving you plenty of time to find the perfect plants.

Fall and winter are the best time to plant in Houston, allowing roots to become established. And with natives, they're low maintenance and create habitats for a host of wildlife. Know a butterfly lover? A hummingbird enthusiast? A songbird scout? Talk with knowlegable staff on hand to find the right plant for those people on your list.

A bonus for you and the recipient: Plants are sourced from local growers and proceeds benefit the arboretum’s conservation and education efforts. And center memberships are on sale now.

On the shelf: Gardening books (and not that elf!)
At the arboretum, and at all nurseries and book stores, are bountiful selections of reading materials, from "how-to" guides to gorgeous coffee table-worthy publications. Notables are anything written by gardening guru and "the Dirt Doctor," Howard Garrett, and, one of my favorites, River Oaks Garden Club's fifth and most recent edition since the organization starting offering volumes in 1929, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast by Lynn M. Herbert.

This latest version continues as an authoritative go-to book for Houstoninans and Texas Gulf Coast residents.

Of course!: Poinsettias
Poinsettias are in abundance everythere, which is good to know as they make great office gifts for less in smaller containers and statement-making presents for those special someones. Buchanan's is welcoming all to its poinsettia (and more) winter wonderland on 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday with its annual holiday open house Enjoy food from Anna's Gourmet Greek Food Truck, holiday music, kids activities and free mimosas. And don't forget to pick up those plant gifts.

Cornelius is packed with the beautiful plants, and Joshua's Native Plants is offering attractive and unusual variagated varities. Even your grocery store is full to the brim with traditional seasonal powerhouses. And most all are ready to go, already "wrapped" in colorful foils.

Naturally wild: Wildflower seeds
For color to come, pick up packets of Texas wildflower seeds ($2-$3 per packet), put them in a basket or decorative container, complete with bow, and voila! You have created a very personal gift.

Wabash Feed and Garden Store, self-dubbed as Houston's organic gardening headquarters, stocks only Texas-grown seeds, such as those from Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Native American Seed in Junction and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, so you know you're getting the best for the receipient's own spread of Lone Star State flowers come next spring.

A note from local professionals: Bluebonnet seeds in single packages seem to be the most requested, but, of course, that's up to you. Packets of mixes suitable for our area are available, too. And for fun, look for seed "bomb" kits with balls full of native seeds intended to be thrown into the air, allowing seeds to be "planted" across large areas.

Visit the florist: Amaryllis, Hanukkah blue & orchids
Amaryllis produce the most incredible flowers, some as wide as 10 inches, and could be considered the queen of the season. Thompson + Hanson's shipment of bulbs is in, and I saw a few already in bloom at several local nurseries.

If you need a little professional help, try your local florist for Amaryllis in bloom and planted in decorative containers. Harry & David, a popular online gourmet food gift shop, does have a few varities in stock. But act now before they're gone.

 Orchirds are also allergy-free and come in endless choices of color, shape and height. 

For Hanukkah, Dec. 16 to 24, choose flowers in shades of blue combined with white, since those are considered the colors of the Festival of Lights. Think blue roses with greenery and baby's breath or light blue hydrangea mixed with a white version of the same plant. Your florist will be able to tell you what is available this time of year to create the seasonal package. Again, call now for these special arrangements and delivery.

Why are orchids so popular as holiday gifts? Well, there are a lot of reasons, including availability, their elegant and exotic appearance, long-blooming time and low maintenance. They are also allergy-free and come in endless choices of color, shape and height.

We hope these ideas are helpful and stir your interest and imagination on plant gift-giving. By the end of the season, you — and your loved ones — should all have green thumbs!