Christmas cheer!

Ah! What to get the gardener who has everything. Check out these sweet-as-pie gift ideas for your
green-thumbed friends and have a Christmas that's merry and bright.

Those clever boys from The Litle Veggie Patch Co have released a too-cute pack of
How-to cards that's only $19.95 at

Sow n Sow's beautifully illustrated packs of seeds are a growing sensation at $8.95 each. See
How adorable are these Chocalaticas shoes for pottering around the garden? They're $74 at

A handsome pair of gnomes to loiter in your pot plants! There's a whole range of
pot plant deco ($14.95 a set) at

Who can resist a yellow watering can? This beauty is $29.95 at

There's a world of loveliness on offer at Sweet William.
This print is $15 at
A succulent selection of stickers from Love Mae. The set is $14.95 at

This stylish set of gardening tools is $74.95 at
Have You Met Miss Jones has created a pretty range of planters for $19 each.
If you have to spend hours swinging on a spade, it may as well be a funky one.
These gems are $34.95 each at


Top 10 movie gardens

I couldn't resist a little diversion here. Who doesn't love a good movie garden? You know, the kind you could lose yourself in. The kind that makes you watch the movie over and over, even though the movie is pretty ordinary. I've put together my ultimate list of movie gardens. Some of the movies aren't exactly Academy Award winners (mind you, some are sensational) but, oh, the gardens. They're just so divine.

1. It's Complicated (Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin)
This is a fairly cringeworthy viewing, but it's worth watching for the garden alone. And the house. And Meryl Streep, of course. This veggie garden sent waves of oohing and aahing around the horticultural world when the film first screened, but true green thumbs were dubious. It was just a little too perfect to be true. And it turns out, they were right. Apparently all the plants were grown in a greenhouse and then the best and most beautiful were selected and transplanted straight into this gorgeous plot. But, really, who cares? It's Hollywood, after all

2. The Great Gatsby (Leonard DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan)
I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to The Great Gatsby. Cos who could possibly do justice to F.Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, I ask you? When it comes to the films, if I had to choose, I'd opt for the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version. After all, it's Robert Redford. But, our own Baz Lurhmann sure does know how to put on a show. Here, it's all about the location. Apparently, Sydney's St Patrick's Seminary was used for the exterior shots of Gatsby's estate (they hung faux ivy on the first two floors, installed a temporary fountain in the courtyard and added the turrets digitally). But who'd want to live in Gatsby's mansion, or even Daisy's Georgian red-brick manor, when they could take up residence in Nick's oh-so charming cottage with its climbing white rose and stepping-stone front path?

3. Practical Magic (Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock)
Let's be frank: this film is a shocker. But when it's full of so much loveliness of the garden variety, who cares. If I could live in this grand old white Victorian house, complete with fenced veggie patch, lawns sweeping down to the sea, picket fences and, yes, a conservatory, I'd quite happily settle for the dead guy buried under the lawn. Hmm, should that be a spoiler alert?

4. Return to Me (Minnie Driver, David Duchovny)
Awwww, I hear you say! Yes, this is a syrupy sweet romantic comedy from Bonnie Hunt and, I confess, I'm rather fond of it. In a nutshell, it's the story of Grace, who has just had a heart transplant, falling in love with Bob, whose wife was killed in an accident and donated her organs...Yes, you can guess where this is headed. But it's Grace's pretty courtyard garden, brimming with flowers, that really steals the show.

5. Howards End (Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter)
One of my all-time favourite movies, Howards End (based on the E.M. Forster novel) is lyrical and beautiful. The property Howards End is a lovely example of the English country garden complete with meadow, climbing roses, cottage flowers and wych-elm tree. The English country-side (Leonard Bast's wanderings through the carpet of bluebells is to-die-for) is also spectacular.

6. Enchanted April (Miranda Richardson, Polly Walker)
While we're on the subject of favourite films, this little-known gem is a gentle and whimsical movie. Two women in unhappy marriages, living in cold and miserable 1920s England, decide to rent an Italian castle for the spring. To save money, they advertise for two other women to join them. Of course, it turns out to be a heavenly place dripping with lilies, wisteria, hydrangeas and geraniums.

7. Green Card (Andie MacDowell, Gerard Depardieu)
I'm sure this Peter Weir movie is one of the reasons I love gardening so much. I grew up on this film, madly in love with Andie MacDowell's greenhouse and apartment. And Gerard Depardieu. French doors open from the apartment into the greenhouse, which has an old fountain and a stack of glorious begonias, cordylines, aspidistra, heliconia and bromeliads. Then there's the rooftop garden. And the way Andie MacDowell's character dreamily lists the plants in need of attention to the apartment-building's board is sensational. Oh to be able to recite the Latin names of plants like that.

8. Memoirs of a Geisha (Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe)
I am such a sucker for Japanese gardens. Cherry blossom, wooden bridges, stepping stones. Ah, the serenity. There are so many of these tranquil features in this film: the bridge where she first meets the Chairman as a girl and the exquisite cherry blossom festival she attends as a young geisha. You'll be booking a flight to Kyoto before the film finishes.

9. Anne of Green Gables (Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst) Yes, yes, I know: This is not technically a movie. But it just has to be included on any list of gorgeous gardens for the sheer beauty of Prince Edward Island. Glorious roads lined with deciduous trees, sweeping meadows filled with wild flowers, the Lake of Shining Waters and the White Way of Delight (an avenue of apple blossom for those who don't know). Oh my.

10. The Secret Garden (Kate Maberly, Maggie Smith)
This one's a bit of a no-brainer for a list like this. Still, it's definitely worthy. Illustrators, animators, theatrical directors and filmmakers have been conjuring up this garden ever since Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the novel in 1911. The 1993 film does a pretty good job of getting it right, from the wooden door in the ivy-covered wall to the roses, the hedges, the foxgloves and loads of other glorious flowers.



Author and illustrator Tania McCartney

Greenery and roses surround the deck. Photography: Tania McCartney
A bountiful veggie patch is a must in Tania's garden. Photography: Tania McCartney
Tania McCartney is one of those awe-inspiring people who is amazing at whatever she turns her hand to. She writes, illustrates and designs books, blogs, flies around the country speaking at schools and author events, and looks after her two children. She has a swag of awards and credits to her name for both her adult and children's books, and she founded Kids' Book Review, the No. 1 children's literature website, as well as the 52-week Illustration Challenge, which is exhibiting in Western Australia later this year. Phew! When she's not busy with work, Tania and her family love to chill out in their pretty garden, on the outskirts of Canberra, where she plants bulbs, harvests home-grown veggies and finds magic in trees. 
See more at

What is the story of your garden?
Our garden was placed into grateful arms the moment we moved into our house in late January 2009.
We had been living in Beijing for four years, so to come from a grey, polluted, built-up city (albeit an
amazing one!) to this pristine patch of quiet on the outskirts of Canberra, was the most moving experience. The previous owners were owner-builders and obvious garden-lovers. They had created the most tranquil, inspiring outdoor space, with beautiful, thoughtfully-chosen plants, and all we had to do was move in and enjoy it.

Azaleas in shades of pink and box hedging. Photography: Tania McCartney
I could hardly believe my luck when we moved in. I have a particular affection for birch streets, tulip trees, Japanese maples and cyprus, and the garden features four to eight of each of these, as well as other established trees including a bay tree and a massive ash tree; I absolutely adore them all.
Other highlights of our garden include eight standard iceberg roses along the front of the property, the little border of box hedge running along the drive, a decent thatch of purple agapanthus and the mass of azaleas and hellebores in the large beds at the rear of the house. The hedging around the property is also a standout. We have smaller hedges along the front of the property and then at the rear, one side is a cyprus hedge and two sides are established photinia that stands at least 15-20-feet high and runs over 100 feet all up. Dividing our back yard is a magnificent pittosporum hedge that closes off a large, risen veggie patch and a small tree orchard containing nashi pear, peach and plum trees. There was also a lemon tree but it wasn’t in the best position and we removed it recently. We adore our veggie patch, and each year we harvest a farmers' market full of produce, from potatoes and beets to tomatoes, peas, cucumber, squash, zucchini and masses of herbs. We’ve not had much luck with carrots, but we’re determined!

The family veggie patch is tucked away behind a hedge. Photography: Tania McCartney
Tania's gorgeous daughter harvests some beetroot. Photography: Tania McCartney
As we live on a small mountain, right on the ACT border, the soil is shallow, heavy with clay and sitting on rock. This has made keeping lawn very difficult and we’ve been through many ups and downs, with varying types of lawn, including a full re-turfing that promptly died. Coupled with Canberra’s woeful rainfall, we’ve thrown in the towel and recently decided to faux turf the back yard. We hope to do this within the next six months. It’s the only patch of lawn on the property (thank goodness) and our 11-year-old boy Riley is football obsessed, so it makes sense to invest in faux turf, both for his enjoyment and in regard to water consumption. I honestly think faux turf or no lawn at all is the way of the future.One thing that struck me when we moved in was the lack of native plants. I’ve made it my mission to add some, without compromising the delicate balance of the garden. We’ve added many native grasses in the front garden beds, which are drenched in full sun and therefore need hardy, heat-tolerant plants like our newly-added pink kangaroo paw (am obsessed with it). I also adore bulbs of all incarnations. Last winter I hand-planted over 200 bulbs, which was a challenge in such rocky soil, and the result was spectacular. I’ve also added French lavender, because I simply can’t resist.We have two small parts of the garden that I feel don’t work well. One is a line-up of small camellias along the side fence that never grow but we literally have nowhere else to transplant them. Another is a small bed that frames the window of our lounge room—it has full, continuous sun and currently contains some heirloom-style roses that are pretty much all stem and thorn. I’d like to remove them and put something else in. How I would love a bank of hydrangea (my favourite flower) but there’s simply too much sun. I keep hydrangea in pots on our back decking, along with camellias, gardenias, ginger, herbs and small citrus trees. I’ve also tried growing two small crows nests in pots—I pilfered them from the garden of a dear friend on the Sunshine Coast and they’ve done surprisingly well in this climate. I’d like to keep more pots but I’m very work-focused and I need really low-maintenance plants for now.

Lavender adds a shot of purple to the garden. Photography: Tania McCartney
How has it changed over the years?
Looking back at photos, I hadn’t realised how much things had grown, particularly the maples and cyprus. The agapanthus have also swarmed and multiplied. We have a typically inland, bush climate, meaning each year is very different. We go from severe drought (mostly) to too much rain, so each year, different parts of the garden have both flourished and struggled. We’re a little heartbroken over our pittosporum hedge, which is on its way out. It’s done well for 10-15 years in situ, but sadly, these things have a shelf life and it’s not doing well. We’re still wondering what to replace it with, and may choose mock orange.
As mentioned before, the lawn has gone through ups and downs and will soon be removed, and our beautiful cyprus hedge has also thinned out considerably. Even though pretty much everything else is thriving, I’m really mindful of the fact that our weather will only become hotter and drier, so replacing water-loving with drought-tolerant plants is a must. This means my dream of having a cutting garden of flowers is unlikely. Lucky I adore succulents.

Agapanthus are a hardy and colourful option. Photography: Tania McCartney
The pittosporum hedge and a photinia hedge. Photography: Tania McCartney
How do you like to spend time in your patch?
We have hammocks in the back yard, right in the middle of the largest garden bed, and it’s a lovely shady spot for reading. The whole family also loves the veggie patch and we spend a lot of time in it through the warmer months. We have a gated front garden that’s like a little slice of heaven, with stepped decking that leads up to the master bedroom. It faces north so it’s a little hot in summer but the rest of the year, it’s a divine space for reading, and I’ve started doing morning yoga on the decking, too.

A hammock beckons in a shady corner. Photography: Tania McCartney
Basil ripe for the picking. Photography: Tania McCartney
Nashi pears fresh from the tree. Photography: Tania McCartney
How does your garden inspire you?
My writing studio overlooks the front garden, a small maple and bay tree. It’s consistently inspiring because it’s just so darn pretty. I have little flamingos in the patch outside my window, and they make me smile. I spend a lot of time photographing our garden through the seasons; it’s one of my favourite things to do. I’m always chronically busy, so I guess my greatest inspiration from the garden is a sense of beauty and calm. It’s so nice to earth ourselves in nature, and to have that possibility right outside my front door is amazing.

What are your must-haves for a garden?
Balanced beauty - from large, vibrant trees to dainty jonquils popping from the soil in spring. Fragrance. Variety. Privacy. Alternatively, dappled light, deep shade and bright, hot spots for native plants to thrive in. Somewhere the kids can run and play, and somewhere we can sit still and be silent. Bulbs bulbs bulbs. Hammocks. Somewhere pretty to eat and read. Being able to take cuttings and bring them inside to enjoy, from swathes of flouncy iceberg roses to budding plum-tree branches.

A visitor enjoys the blossom in Tania's garden. Photography: Tania McCartney
A pretty patch blooms along the fence line. Photography: Tania McCartney
All-time favourite plant?
Goodness! How to decide. My favourite flower is the hydrangea (and the peony) but the first thing that came to mind was ‘bulbs’, perhaps because they epitomise earthiness and the miracle of intense beauty from such humble foundations. But I think I’m a true tree girl - their majesty and might is humbling. There’s a tree on the Swan River in Perth that I fell in love with when I used to stay on overnights (as a flight attendant) and I used to climb up that tree and sit in a branch overhanging the water and just Be. Brings tears to my eyes at the thought of it. We also had a beautiful willow tree when I was a child (in Hobart) and we used to swing from a long, twisted branch. I cried inconsolably when the tree was cut down. Trees have true magic to them (one of my favourite series of all time is The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton) and even now, if I’m feeling doubtful or stressed or blue, sitting on the ground with my back to a tree is instantly healing and energising. I highly recommend it.

Tania is drawn to the majesty and strength of trees. Photography: Tania McCartney
Dappled light and maple leaves. Photography: Tania McCartney
Tania's new book, Tottie and Dot, illustrated by Tina Snerling (EK Books)