The Enduring Gift

Perhaps it is a sign of growing wise with age but I’m just plain tired of the commercial pressure to run out or get on-line to buy the latest and trendiest products to hand around as gifts. Am I the only one astounded that cars are considered perfectly normal Christmas presents? The insistent barrage from all manner of media dictate that I should not be the one who missed out on being the coolest gift giver. The message preys on the pervasive insecurity of humans – the fear of being the odd one out, to be considered stingy, ‘out of it’, unfashionable. Yet, for the most part, a month after the holidays, both gift and giver are forgotten. The world resumes its day to day rhythm and struggles to keep New Year resolutions and make those credit card payments. What are we doing to ourselves? More importantly, what does this say about us?

I have no idea how to change anybody but I do know what I can and will do to give what I believe is an authentic, thoughtful gift. One that surpasses time and trends. A gift that endures.
And I’m not talking packs of tube socks, electric toothbrush or flannel pajamas. While these are all practical, much used, loved and long lasting items, they admittedly do not carry the pizazz to elicit the squeal of delight one expects. They are simply not special. (Personally, I don’t need the squeal. I’ll take a genuine. heart-warming hug instead).

So how does one converge thoughtful with interesting? Welcome to the garden where it will show you how. Here, being rich or poor is inconsequential. What matters is the generosity of the heart.
The garden itself is a timeless, most generous gift. Day after day all through the years it feeds, nurtures, comforts, inspires and delights. For so much, all it asks in return is your time and attention. And there you have the key elements of honest, sincere giving – reciprocity, time and attentiveness.
Keeping this in mind, here is how I apply myself to the season of giving which, in my mind, is all year round.

First and foremost, I believe in passing on the benefits of being present in a garden. So, I’m happy to welcome friends to my own garden not only for gatherings I put together, but also for their own quiet pursuits like meditating, painting or writing. To those in need of continued encouragement to garden and gain inspiration, I give memberships to the New York Botanical Garden ( or the premier botanical garden in their area) and the Garden Conservancy. Then all through the year they can visit public and private gardens gaining intangible benefits that will last a long time. ( Pssst!This works for non-gardeners too!)

Staying with the horticultural theme, gifts of young trees, shrubs and plants are always welcome. Sometimes they are in memory of or in honor of somebody or some event. Toss in an assurance to help with their planting and your gift is golden. If funds are short, a promise to help with weeding and/or mowing on a weekly/monthly basis will be priceless. Even the offer to share your garden’s bounty is always much appreciated. Homegrown fresh flowers, herbs, veggies and fruits provide the most elegant of offerings. Sharing, helping, kindness equals feeling good all around.

One of the sweetest gifts I’ve received was a flat of young plants from seeds carefully collected by an old gardener going through very hard times. Knowing my love for columbines, he’d collected seeds from those in his plot and got them started. When they were ready for planting, he presented them to me. It felt like I’d just inherited the earth.

With children, taking the time to teach them or have them ‘help’ in the garden is one of the best gift exchanges of all. The adult gets to enjoy alone time with the child, pass on valuable lessons and the young one gains more than he/she can ever know. While receiving instruction on growing plants, thoughts and secrets are shared, confidence boosted and bonds strengthened.

If someone enjoys music or the theater, get tickets to a performance. Go together. Share a meal before or after. That memory will endure far longer than any object you might have given. Trust me.
If tickets are beyond your budget, make a date to watch the show on DVD/Netflix/on-line. Pizza, popcorn and libation of choice round out the present nicely.

One year, struggling to come up with gift ideas for boys, I taught a college sophomore a few super- simple recipes he could use to ‘impress’ his friends at his next party. We not only got to know each other better but, we shared lots of laughter over those tasty treats and the young man has gone on to become quite the amateur chef. I didn’t make him a cook. All I did was show him he could do it.

If a child plays a music instrument, then taking her to a concert where the soloist plays that particular instrument will go a long way in sustaining the interest. It doesn’t have to be a concert at Lincoln Center ( which of course is a real pleasure), but there are lesser known,highly talented groups/orchestras that play locally. Tickets to their events are less costly and just as enjoyable. In which case, a season’s subscription could be in order.

Likewise, an interest in art or natural history can be supported with membership to museums. Taking that person to a special exhibit might be all you can afford but it’ll be more than sufficient to show how much you care.

Walking/biking dates with a friend, a regular visit and game of Scrabble with one confined to the bed/house, a weekly phone or Skype chat living someone living far away …. the list is endless. Recently, a friend told me her son, a college freshman in the Midwest, missed the colorful fall of the Northeast. So, I sent him a box of multi-hued leaves. I had fun picking the leaves and he had a good laugh receiving them. I was sent a photo of his window decorated with said leaves.

The common thread through all of these gifts is that triumvirate of thoughtful giving: Personal Time, Attention and Understanding. The garden taught me that.

Note: From Dec 8 – 22, 2015, the Holiday Art Show is on at the Phyllis Harriman gallery of the New York Art Students League. Lots of art to be enjoyed! You might score a great deal. Take a friend and make it a play date. Full disclosure – I have a painting in the show.

Enjoy the photos of this year’s Train Show at NYBG. It is always inspiring and delightful.

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(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

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