When time gets short for shopping, a gift plant is a happy way of saying Merry Christmas, though for the most lasting pleasure, it will be a plant that survives its new home.
Many people donâ€™t know that some of the loveliest plants prefer cool, humid temperatures to the warm, dry atmosphere that most of us live in.
Some show this more quickly than others: the fastest to have a leaf-dropping flower-falling tantrum are the gorgeous Christmas azaleas.
My first Christmas azalea did it, and though I misted it daily and kept the soil moist, it got more and more sickly.
By February Iâ€™d had enough, and I tossed it into the compost â€“ where in gentle spring rains and humid air, the leaves grew back, and it started to root.
For an outside porch, a greenhouse or a gardener with a cool, airy home and time for frequent misting, these azaleas are magnificent. The leaves can be lovely all year.
My father had one in an outside verandah for ages. It flowered every year and grew to be a metre (three feet) across.
Another lover of humidity and a cool atmosphere is the Christmas cactus.
People who take one home and find the new buds drop need to mist twice a day, and make sure it doesnâ€™t sit in water.
Oddly enough, those plants will survive with little misting and watering, once flowering season is over.
Like other plants with many forked branches, the larger ones make a good framework for the hanging of dangling Christmas-type ornaments.
Cyclamen also like cool climates, humidity, and moist soil in the growing season, but donâ€™t show distress as quickly as azaleas and Christmas cactus.
But in warm atmospheres, leaves start yellowing and buds begin drying out.
It helps if you put them in a cool place at night.
They can be recycled if you let them dry out naturally â€“ water just enough to stop the tuber from shriveling, and put them outside in a shady spot for the summer.
Other Christmas plants adapt easily to indoor conditions.
One type is the kalanchoe, with its bright red, yellow, orange, or pink flowers and succulent leaves.
Itâ€™s a sunlover thatâ€™s small enough for narrow windowsills and can handle dim light and dryness for a few weeks.
African violets also fit into narrow spaces, and usually bloom in bursts, depending on the amount of light they get.
They prefer gently bright light, but summer sun can burn and sicken them. The muted light of an east window is perfect for them.
Another easy house guest is the chrysanthemum.
It likes to be misted, but it can live without it. The chrysanthemum does need moist soil, but can handle shade as well as bright light.
These plants can stay in good shape and bloom for weeks.
One of the most spectacular plant gifts is an amaryllis.
The ones already potted up and in full bloom are best bought very close to the time they will be given.
Earlier than that, and the best choice is an amaryllis in which the bud is emerging but is still several days away from opening.