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Christmas Gifts


15 Gift Ideas for Getting Back to Basics

December 13, 2015

Back to Basics Workshop Ideas

Over the last week or so my family have asked what I’d like for Christmas and I don’t know about you, but I’m really stuck. Bar a new pair of cozy pyjamas or a delicious smelling soap, I can’t think of anything. As our children grow into their teenage years and along with them all the fears that challenge us, the health and happiness of everyone close really is uppermost. 

Our timelines and news sources are full of tales of uncertainty so rather than material goods, perhaps offering a gift of a skill is the way to go. Getting back to basics was one of the reasons I began tutoring vegetable growing. If all of a sudden the shops ran out of food, or perhaps more likely, we run out of money, how would we eat? A bit dramatic I know, but I’m not comfortable leaving my entire food supply to others, are you? 

Workshops in Ireland

There have been a few workshop ideas floating around that have caught my attention; they eventually prompted me to come up with some of my own workshops here at Greenside Up (see number 15); but I was particularly drawn to Riot Rye’s natural bread making course that I spotted after my recent soda bread efforts (number 5), and I can personally vouch for the South Kildare Beekeepers workshops (number 1).

If you’re looking for a meaningful gift for a friend, loved one or even yourself, perhaps some of the following might appeal. Not only is learning a new skill a present that will keep on giving, you might even make it extra special by combining it with a weekend away in one of Ireland’s beautiful counties

1. Beekeeping

Back to Basics Workshops in IrelandI’m beginning with a Beekeeping course as it’s one that I took in the Spring of 2015 and set me on the path of our beekeeping and honey making. It also provided us with contacts full of experience and advice as well as insurance for our honey bees.

South Kildare beekeepers in Athy have a series of six classes starting in February 2016, cost €50.00 (see here for details) but if you look on the Federation of Irish Beekeepers website, you might find other courses close to you. Definitely the place to start if you’re thinking of keeping bees.

2. Felting

Back to Basics Workshop IdeasFelt making is one of those crafts that I’ve been wanting to learn for years but have never managed. I was sad to have missed a couple of sessions provided by Roisin Markham of Creative Dynamics a few weeks ago in Wexford but will be keeping my eyes peeled if she runs more in 2016.

There are several felt making workshops mentioned online; this one from Cork Textiles caught my eye as learners are taught to make clothing. I was given a huge bag of black Zwartbles wool by Suzanna Crampton last year in the hope it would solve our slug problem. It didn’t but maybe I’ll find a use for it after all one of these days!

3. Dressmaking

Talking of making clothes, this is another skill I’m now very rusty with. Miriam Lloyd of Sewing Concepts runs beginners dressmaking classes from her studios in Ballon, County Carlow. I was tempted to ask for a sewing machine for Christmas as mine hasn’t worked for years and Miriam came up with a great recommendation; could 2016 be the year to brush up on those long forgotten skills?

Want to learn how to sew? Need a sewing machine? I am asked regularly what do I recommend. The Janome 2060 is perfect…

Posted by Sewing Concepts on Sunday, 19 October 2014

4. Cookery

Back to Basics Workshops in IrelandThe School of Food in Kilkenny opened its doors in 2015 and they offer a multitude of cookery classes, from the basic skills right through to chef training.

We’re also blessed to have Anne Neary’s Ryeland House cookery school nearby. There are cookery schools dotted all around Ireland that offer classes on everything from jam making and vegetarian dinners to preserving and butchery, though I’d suggest you’re careful about how you present this voucher if you don’t wish to offend your friend or partner!

5. Bread making

It was Joe Fitzmaurice’s tweet about his sourdough bread making classes that prompted this blog post. We’ve been trying to cut processed foods right out of our diets here in Greenside Up but fail when it comes to bread. However, this recommended bread making course from Joe might just swing it.

If you buy a voucher before Christmas for one of the Riot Rye courses in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, before Christmas, you’ll get 10% off. 

6. Cheesemaking

Knockdrinna Cheese are based in the tiny village of Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny and are makers of a range of goats, sheep and cows cheep. They have won over 40 International and Irish awards, including a Gold award for their semi-hard goats cheese at the 2013 British Cheese Awards where it was named ‘Best Modern British’. They now offer cheesemaking courses so if cheesemaking is on your ‘to do’ list, you’ll find no better teacher than Helen Finnegan.

7. Pig rearing

Back to Basics Workshops in IrelandWe swore after we began keeping hens that we’d never have another animal here unless we learnt about it first so we booked ourselves on an Old farm Pig Rearing course and subsequently reared our own for the following three years.

Alfie and Margaret’s courses sell out fast so if you’re considering taking the more humane option for meat eating and getting a pig or two, I can personally recommend this course.

8. Soap making workshops

Have you ever wanted to learn the art of soap making? Tanya from Lovely Greens in the Isle of Man has enticed me with her beautiful blog post tutorials, and as a result, I’d now like to try something more hands on.

Luckily the Organic Centre in Leitrim will be running a cold presses soap making course in April with Vanessa Finlow which sounds perfect

9. River Cottage Comes to Ireland

Well not exactly but Steven Lamb and Gill Meller, two members of the River Cottage team will be sharing their skills at Croan Cottages at Dunnamaggin in Co Kilkenny. During the three day residential workshops, they’ll be teaching participants all manner of cooking techniques from fish to pizzas, breadmaking and curing, making for a very special culinary experience.

10. Basket weaving 

Back to Basics WorkshopsHeike Kahle Hartmann is a gifted basket weaver living a couple of miles from us in County Kilkenny and if you’d like to buy a finished product, her workshops are often open where you can pick up a gift for a friend or relative.

Heike also offers basket weaving classes and after a quick Google, I came across this one in Tinahealy in County Wicklow taking place in February.

For more information or enquiries about Heike’s work or classes, you can view her details here.

11. Sustainable energy

As COP21 closes I’d love to be able to share news of LOTS of courses or workshops about creating energy more sustainably but I’m sad to say I couldn’t find any.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland offer lots of links on sustainable energy and advice for primary schools, but try as I might I couldn’t find any workshops for adults – there’s a gap in the market if ever one sprang out.

In the end I contacted Davie Philip of Cultivate who told me they are making plans for energy courses at Cloughjordan Eco Village, so although not in time for Christmas, if this is an area you’re interested in, be sure to sign up for Cultivate’s newsletter and stay informed. In the meantime many groups have come together and signed a community energy proclamation which you can view here.

Back to Basic Workshop Ideas 12. Beer Making

If you’re serious about beer making, Beer Ireland are offering a Diploma in Beer Making during 2016, which may also be free to job seekers.

For the hobby brewer there are several workshops throughout the country but this one day workshop from Irish SeedSavers in County Clare caught my eye – Beer making made easy taking place in May for €70.00. With an increase in the price of alcohol due to take place in 2016, this could be a great investment.

13. Sustainable Living Weekend

CELT are a registered charity that offer sustainable living workshops and in 2016 they have another two-day traditional skills workshops planned, where you can learn to make your own jewelery, furniture, cloth, knives, leather, or even build your own home. For more information on this real back to basics weekend, take a look here

14. Foraging Workshops

Mary White of Blackstairs Ecotrails has an amazing knowledge of all things wild and wonderful growing in the Carlow hedgerows. Another course I’ve been meaning to take for several years now, this would make a lovely gift for anyone who has an interest in learning more about hedgerow plants.

Back to Basic Workshop Ideas

15. Grow Your Own Vegetables

Finally, last but certainly not least, how about learning more about growing your own fruit and vegetables. It’s good to see workshops being advertised all over the country but if you fancy a trip to the Carlow /Kilkenny border, for the first time since I began Greenside Up 6 years ago, I’ll be hosting a series of gardening workshops aimed at beginners.

The workshops will be restricted to just eight people, offering a much more personal learning experience with a light lunch and refreshments provided.

We’ll be starting on Sunday, 13th March with seed sowing and propagating, followed by an introduction to organic gardening on 10th April, growing your own herbs on 22nd May and finally tackling pests, diseases and weeds without chemicals. If popular, I’ll be adding more workshops to the list. For more information, prices and booking details, take a look here.

More Gift Ideas

If you’re looking for more gift ideas for friends or loved ones, Vibrant Ireland has suggestions for online shopping in Ireland and you can find a Greenside Up archive post here for gardening Christmas gifts – what gardeners really want.

But back to basics and things that matter, many of the animal charities are looking for sponsorship such as Animal Magic Wildlife Rescue, a gift that animal lovers might appreciate. You can contact Animal Magic here.

If you have any more ideas for back-to-basic workshops, please leave them in the comments, we’d love to hear them.


Gardening Gifts: What We Really Want

December 11, 2014

Gardeners Gifts What We Really WantHave you finished your Christmas shopping yet or do you leave it to the last-minute? This year I’m feeling more organised than ever but am still completely stuck on what to buy Mr. G.

To help me in my bid to come up with at least one surprise, I’ve been scouring the internet for some ideas and while this excellent article from Bumbles of Rice “What (These) Women Really Want” is aimed more towards us women, Sinead’s post inspired me to ask a few gardeners for their tips and suggestions. I’m still none the wiser about what I’ll be buying Mr G, but hopefully it might give you a few gift ideas for gardening friends or relations. So in no particular order, here’s a few thoughts from some blogging and non blogging gardeners:

Gardening Gifts: What We Really Want

What Gardeners (Really) Want for ChristmasKitty Scully is Head Food Grower at Airfield, a 38 acre working farm in Dundrum, Dublin that’s open to the public. From tools to clothing to vouchers, here’s Kitty’s wish list:

A pair of Okatsune Secateurs. I love my Felcos but I’ve heard great things about these Japanese snips from my professional gardening friends and now really want a pair.

Muck BootsHard wearing, warm, practical yet still look good, what’s not to like. My present pair owe me nothing so it’s time for an upgrade.

Gift Voucher for Irish Seed Savers AssociationAny gift that will increase my heritage apple collection and also help support an organisation that works so hard to on serve Ireland’s fruit, vegetables, grains and potato’s in a real and practical way is on my wish list.

I was going to add a gift voucher for a personal masseuse as well but that could be taking things too far 😉

What Gardeners (Really) Want for ChristmasJoanne Butler from OURganic Gardens has spread the community gardening word up in Donegal and as a result has recently won both the Judges and Peoples Choice titles at the Save Our Planet Awards.

The first item on my Christmas wish list would have to be a nice, small, compact, petrol hedge trimmer – I’m not even sure one exists but in my mind it has to be small. I’m so tempted to buy the battery type ones but so many people have told me they’re just not worth it as they don’t hold the power for very long. As my garden is going to eventually have quite a lot of hedging (too much to hand prune!) then I may need to take their advice – the nearest find I have seen so far is the Ryobi quick fire hedge trimmer. Don’t ask me any of the technical power details as that is the point I usually glaze over but this seems a nice size to me and looks good !! (And yes I’m exactly the same when looking to buy a car!)

Next up on the list would have to be tickets for Chelsea Flower Show. I really enjoyed watching it on TV last year so I’m hinting away at home at the moment, but its a biggie timewise, as that’s the time of year when I’ll be up to my eyes in the community gardens but I have told my husband I can always take a little time out for ‘field study’ …. Of course 😉

Last on my list would be all my seeds for next years community gardens – I bought great seed last year from Tamar Organics, Seedaholic and Green Vegetable Seeds. The quality was excellent and as I buy quite big orders my viability rate this year was well above 90% which is great value for money . At this time of year I get so excited about ordering seeds, but I have a few more weeks of finishing the garden plans off and then I can get stuck in – present or no present 🙂 this is a job that has to be done.

So that would be my lot – and if I could quickly sneak in some snow then I’d have the best Christmas ever. Last year we had a really big problem here with leather jackets and slugs, so if we don’t see some freezing temperatures soon, then next year will be just as bad if not worse!!

What Gardeners Really Want for ChristmasTanguy de Toulgoet of Dunmore Country School in County Laois has created a very charming French potager garden that I took some community gardeners to visit a while ago and wrote about here if you’d like to see some images. Here’s Tanguy’s suggestions:

I will give the first present for our mother nature as always and I will plant a lovely small tree in the garden – an Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Ballerina’. It is very useful for the birds (I have it planted already).

Then I would read again one of my favourite bee-keeping books and it is a free pdf which is good for the pocket.

The last gift would be a nice shovel from Fruit Hill Farm – one of my best tools. I must say I sell a very good tool as well “the oscillating hoe” It is €37 for the 125mm+handle+courier included or €30 collected in Durrow. We also sell gardening vouchers – see the website for more information.

Gardening Gifts: What Gardeners Really WantHans Wieland has been waving the organic flag for many years from The Organic Centre in Leitrim and with seeds, tools, plants and seeds at his fingertips, I can imagine it must be difficult to come up with three gardening gifts that Hans doesn’t already have. Having visited the Centre with some of the Community Garden Network group last year, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that he’s looking for unusual plants in his wish list. Here’s why:

First of all a Nagami Kumquat bush to be grown in the conservatory, because my son’s girlfriend Florence convinced me.

Secondly a Quince tree, Serbian Gold from Otter Farm, because I have great childhood memories of harvesting wild quince with my late father and I love Mark Diacomo’s style of growing unusual fruits.

Lastly, another packet of “Blight resistant heirloom tomatoes” from German collector Gerhard Bohl, including “Cerise gelb”, “Golden Currant”,” Tarasenko “ and “Bianca Cherry”. They’re only available by post to G. Bohl – S. Kunstmann, Waldstr. 40, D-90596 Schwanstetten, Germany.

Ciaran Burke of The Garden School and The Earth Touch Project recently visited Callan community garden and photographed both my and a couple of community gardeners hands, as part of the Hands That Change This Earth photographic project that he’s been working on. With that in mind it came as no surprise to read the first item on Ciaran’s first Christmas list (and thanks for the tip off Ciaran as didn’t know they existed!)What Gardeners Really Want for Christmas

Mmm… a Sony QX1 lens camera for smart phone. Dead handy for photos on the go when visiting gardens and easy to pack.

A pallet of organic peat free compost for my New Growth Project courses in Marlay – needs no explanation!

Lastly, a nice selection of hardy shrub and tree seeds from around the globe, to try new species in an Irish climate!

What Gardeners Really Want for Christmas

Lily de Sylva of Smallholding Ireland shares her three garden related desires which I’m pleased to see include a bit of well-earned relaxation in amongst all the hard work! Lily runs a variety of self-sufficiency course’s based in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary..

First up, a Griofan rootaxe. I already have one of these that I’ve been using for 10 years and it’s paid for itself a hundred times over. There’s nothing like it for digging trenches, clearing rooty areas, skinning the turf off new plots etc. The broad-blade one is the best, I think. sadly, this year, the handle broke on mine, Of course, I could just get a new handle, but if I had a second Griofan then the HelpXers could use it too. 

Next on the list is Arramara seaweed. Not the seaweed dust, this is a granulated product and serves for a multitude of purposes, especially as a slow-release fertiliser and an additive to animal feed. Buying it from garden centres one bag at a time was kinda stupid, but it proved to be almost impossible to get Arramara Teo to sell it to you in bulk… communications always tailed off. Now the company has been sold, will we be able to get it at all?

Lastly some Kneippus Bath Products. I’m not really into girly stuff and beauty products, but this stuff is the bomb. I only have hot water for baths in the winter, when the range is going, which is handy because that’s usually when I’m doing heavy preparation work outside and often getting soaked in the process. A really hot bath soaking in this eases all tensions and aches and makes for a blissful nights sleep, ready for a new day’s digging tomorrow.

Gareth Austin Gardening Gift ListGareth Austin is a lecturer and BBC broadcaster in Horticulture based in Donegal. Gareth is a big friend of community gardening, having helped to host a Community Garden Network meeting in Derry a couple of years ago, showing a group of us many of the horticulture projects that have taken place there over recent years. Here’s Gareth’s thoughts on gifts that gardeners might like to receive:

If I was buying a gardener a present for Christmas firstly I would avoid anything with ‘Gardeners Gift Set’ on it….a pair of gloves, some expensive string and a bit of nonsense copper labels or something…no thank you. I’d be thinking something practical.

Now, depending on the budget, this will of course have a big sway in your thoughts. But any gardener would be delighted with a Vitapod Heated propagator, a serious bit of kit, I’ve had one for 4 years and its a wonderful piece of equipment to have in your polytunnel or greenhouse.

Next I’d be thinking about membership to your nearest castle gardens or parkland – a year-long pass to somewhere inspiring and fantastic whether it be Belvedere House, Wells House, National trust etc.

Lastly I’d be thinking about a great spade..not a normal run-of-the-mill spade but a fantastic stainless steel, with teak handle or the likes.

Gardening Gifts: What We Really WantDavid Corscadden is a Kildare base horticultural journalist and blogger. David has a weekly gardening column in the Kildare Post and his blog won Best Great Outdoors 2014 at the Blog Awards Ireland.

A garden lantern. This is at the more expensive end of a present list, and of course you can find lanterns for slightly cheaper, but I think this lantern from Marks and Spencer would be great on any patio. I like its modern feel and candle light is a great thing to add atmosphere to a garden.

A good quality garden spade like this Joseph Bentley one from Johnstown Garden Centre. When it comes to tools for the garden you can never buy the wrong one in my eyes. If they don’t think they need it at first a gardener will soon realise that it comes in very handy to have a full arsenal of tools. I am a big fan of wooden handled tools and I really like the design of this garden spade’s handle.

I, for one, would love a gift of seeds for Christmas. I think plants can be a bit too tricky to buy for some people and seeds are the safer option. When it comes to gifts of seed the more unusual the better. Buy the person something that will excite them and not just some bog standard sweet pea. I love these gift boxes of seeds from Brown Envelope Seeds. They are presented well, the company does good work and they are available at a few different price points.

Homemade Gardeners Gifts

Gardening Gift Ideas for the Holiday Season

Photo Credit: Our Fairfield Home & Garden

If you’re still stuck for ideas after all those suggestions, or would like to make your own gardening gifts, Jill Guarino Brown of Brown, Green & More shows us how to make our own from bouquet garni to seed ball ornaments and seed bombs. You can find out how here.

Patti Zacharia Estep from the Garden Matter blog gives a step-by-step guide on how to make hand printed tea towels using ferns while Barb Rosen from Our Fairfield Home and Garden blog has put together a post with some lovely DIY garden gift baskets that are a far cry from the ones Gareth referred to above.

My Wish List….

Gardening Gifts


I think my own list would include a luxurious bar of lavender-scented handmade soap as I’ve noticed that the skin on my hands is much softer and doesn’t crack like it used to since I stopped using pump-action soaps. I’d also like to try out the oscillating hoe mentioned in Tanguay’s comments as I’ve heard great things about them.

Gardening Gifts


Lastly I’ve a terrible habit of loosing my gardening gloves and my Showa gloves are by far the best I’ve owned to date so a brightly coloured pair, perhaps in bright pink that would stand out a mile, would be very useful.

Have you anything to add to the ideas above?


Please note, other than a few of my own images, all photo credits belong to the pages directly linked in this article and I have only used them for the purpose of helping to spotlight them.