Melanie McDonagh

The dos and don’ts of Mother’s Day gifts

The dos and don'ts of Mother's Day gifts
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Mother’s Day (more properly, Mothering Sunday) is an occasion when it really is the thought that counts. You can give your mother a bunch of daffodils and a home-made card, and tea in bed if you live at home, and, unless your mother is Cruella de Vil, it’ll make her day. When I was a child I used to rob the daffodils from people’s gardens in the country. Now, at a pound a bunch, you really don’t have to. Just buy lots … they look fabulous in quantity.

But if you are going to spend money – and it’s not obligatory - then you may as well get something good that she’ll actually like. I’m getting tetchy at the retail sexism out there. If you believe the advertising, the gist is, to make mothers happy, you need something pink, something floral, with a bubbly beverage. Plus chocolate, again in pink. I have no animus against pink, ditto chocolate, but you can do better than that.

Flowers are fabulous, especially in spring. Forget roses; a spring bunch of tulips is beautiful; ditto a mixed bunch that features hyacinths or narcissi. And thank God, fewer bouquets now are wrapped in cellophane. If you want something showstopping, head for The Real Flower Company and their spring bouquet: it’s cheers me up whenever I look at it. 

For a gift that keeps on giving, assuming your mother has a garden or room for a pot, you could give her, with your daffodils, an actual rose bush – something lovely from David Austin Roses. Check out Emily Bronte or Queen of Sweden or Eustacia Vye: all beautiful.

Arena Flowers also do lovely seasonal bouquets; for each Mother’s Day bunch of flowers, they donate a pound to Sue Ryder. Their bouquets include letterbox flowers, which can fit through the letterbox, from £28 plus delivery.

Chocolates are good, but Mother’s Day isn’t an excuse for rubbish confectionary. You can get decent chocolate inexpensively; the Waitrose no 1 range is good. I’m a fan of the salted caramels (I know, they’re everywhere): £6 a box.

If you’re prepared to spend a bit, I’d go for a box of chocolates from William Curley. He does excellent, interesting couture chocolates, 16 for £25, or for a fun treat he does a fancy take on nostalgic chocolate: think Snickers, Bounty bars, Jaffa cakes.

Barebones Chocolate, the excellent little bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Glasgow does a Flowers and Chocolate hamper for £50, including three bars of its very good chocolate, hot chocolate flakes and a little bunch of dried flowers.

And what about smelly stuff? I maintain there is no better present than soap; everyone uses it, it wraps brilliantly, and the good stuff cheers up your day. Bronnley is lovely; check out the classy Regency Soap: 3 for £19. Everyone loves Santa Maria Novella from Florence; I’d be happy with anything from them but the pomegranate soap is especially good: Melograno Soap Body Care Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.

Just check your order will arrive on time.

For the most fabulous packaging, a box of nine lovely Claus Porto soaps, in beautiful art deco wrappers is £60.

Claus Porto soaps

Actual fragrance is lovely too; I am partial to Ormonde Jayne: interesting scent in vivid orange boxes; the frangipani is soft, sweet and creamy (£110 for 50mls or £160 for 100ml) Frangipani though I also like the elegant, lighter X’ian (50ml for £135).

Let’s not forget skincare and makeup; my mother loved all that. Try Charlotte Tilbury; it’s catnip for teenage girls but terrifically flattering for all ages.

The Pillow Talk Lipstick kit, £37.50 in Original is lovely for most complexions but there are options for everyone. 

Or for a moisturising base, the Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream, £75, which plumps the skin nicely, is wildly popular.

And if money is no object, you really can’t do better than the expensive, but brilliant cream from Dr Augustinus Bader; I’d wear it all the time if I could. 

The dread word for Mother’s Day is Pampering, or what the French would call routine maintenance. I’d say the best treatment is a perfect pedicure – there’s nothing more relaxing - and for that you want Margaret Dabbs. There are several clinics around the country, for which you could buy a voucher for a medical pedicure £85 or a Supreme Pedicure, £65. Or they have an excellent DIY kit.

How about a book, something pleasing but inexpensive? The Macmillan Collector’s Library, an excellent edition of little gilt-edged classics for about a tenner each, includes Rumer Godden’s The Greengage Summer, a story of a young English girl on holiday in the French countryside, and the havoc she wreaks. For garden buffs, there’s Elizabeth Jane Howard’s admirable anthology of garden writing, In a Green Shade. The excellent little Renard’s Press has slim gift books; I enjoyed Sarah Bernardt’s In the Clouds, a story of a chair which goes travelling on a hot air balloon. Yes really.

Now, how about treats on the day?

Breakfast in bed is just the best bit of Mother’s Day. If you want to buy in the whole thing in a breakfast box, there are several options. Somehow, with hampers, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The Mother's Day cake from Betty's

The supreme breakfast hamper is from Fortnum and Mason. For £125 there’s champagne, coffee and tea, granola, eggs, smoked salmon, honey and jam, bread and butter, all in a fabulous wicker hamper.

Less pricy but also good are Daylesford breakfast boxes. The Butcher’s Box has sausages, rashers, eggs and black pudding (made with fresh rather than dried blood) and eggs, £25

The Nourishing Breakfast Hamper (in a handy coolbag) has an entire breakfast; tea, coffee, milk, bread and butter, eggs, granola and smoked salmon, orange and apple juice, £65. 

And how about hot chocolate? Knoops, the exciting hot chocolate shop, has very good 72 per cent chocolate flakes, £9.95:  72% . Their brownies are good too, in-store.

Or there’s lunch, if you haven’t made it for breakfast. What you want is something delicious and not tricky to cook. For excellent roast beef, it’s hard to beat the grass-fed, happy meat from Piper’s Farm. Or for fish eaters, The Fish Society’s (frozen) Coquilles St Jacques are easy and delicious; £7 each; they tell me the Paella kit is easy-peasy too.

Laduree Macarons, printed with Happy Mother's Day

For cheese lovers, and a break from the pink vibe, Paxton and Whitfield are doing a Mother’s Day Cheese and Sweet treats box – three excellent cheeses made by women plus crackers with a bag of fudge thrown in, £40: Mother’s Day Cheese & Sweet Treats. Check out their very good English sparkling wine too.

Harvey Nichols has a Mother’s Day picnic set – actually, more of a grazing box, with a fun flowers and egg cotton tote bag. It includes a very good prosecco. £75

Finally, Afternoon Tea. If you’re doing it at home, you could always bake yourself. A Year in Cake (Quadrille, £22) by Peggy Porschen, Cupcake Queen, means you too can make her gorgeous layer cakes. (If you live in London, you can cheat and order them in).

Or you can buy in a Fortnum’s Cream Tea in a box for £100: scones with jam and cream, with tea, champagne and and that unfairly neglected treat, a Battenburg cake. 

Betty’s of Harrogate do a really pretty springtime cake, £15.50 or four lovely fondant fancies for £9.

For irresistible presentation, you can’t do better than Laduree. There’s a very covetable 20-macarons gift set for Mother’s Day, £52, or you could make up a box of six for £17 including the Mother’s Day special macaron.

Or for flowers on cake, combining two good things, try the Blushing Cook’s floral brownies, a pretty flower-embellished slab of chocolate brownie, which can be sent by post, £36.

But as I say, it doesn’t have to be expensive. As the mother from hell, I am making my teenage children learn a poem for my present. But the breakfast in bed is non-negotiable.