Tired of frenzied crowds, long lines and trinkets made abroad?
As an alternative to malls and the Internet, consider “shopping” in the greenhouse, nursery or perhaps your own landscape.
Handcrafted garden gifts may not thrill everyone on your shopping list, but certainly giving such a present should merit points for originality and environmental awareness. After all, most are devoid of excess packaging and locally sourced.
Although the obvious garden prize is a bouquet of fresh flowers, freezing weather precludes cutting backyard blooms. If you’ve gathered cut flowers prior to freezing weather, dried bouquets are an excellent option. If picking flowers from your own garden is not possible, consider buying flowers from a local market. Be aware that many shops import flowers, so request locally grown blooms whenever possible. Plants used in cool-season floral arrangements include asters, chrysanthemums, carnations, stock, roses, goldenrod, forced bulbs, violas, pansies, scabiosa, snapdragon, sweet pea, aster, primrose, ornamental grass and zinnia.
DECK THE HALLS
Dried flower stalks, evergreen foliage, berries, ornamental grasses, herbs, fruit or nuts may be used to create one-of-a-kind gifts that will “deck the halls” for weeks to come. Gather, for example, rose or sunflower stalks. Cure the flowers indoors by hanging them in bundles in a cool, dry place. When they are dry, discard dark or damaged foliage and tie flowers into small bundles using twine. Then make an elegant composition with twine-tied bundles.
Simply insert each bundle into florist’s foam, and then secure bundles into terra-cotta pots. Decorate the pots using paint, dried moss, buttons, sparkles or ribbon. You may also make twine-tied bundles of ornamental grass or herbs, such as lavender or salvia.
Make beautiful wreaths using purchased forms, floral wire, glue and garden supplies. Evergreen branches and magnolia leaves are popular choices for crafting because their foliage adds rich color and texture. Fruit, such as pomegranate, and brightly colored berries from shrubs, such as nandina and holly, are often wired to a form between foliage. Nuts and purchased citrus may also be added to arrangements by using wire and hot glue. Finish wreaths with wired ribbon or leave them naturally adorned.
Herb gardens are beloved gifts for the person who likes to cook. Purchase packets of seed and place them in a pretty pot along with nice garden gloves. Add an herbal cookbook for bonus points! If you are comfortable handling plants, buy a selection of herb transplants and pot them in small-to-midsized containers. The herbs will flourish if maintained properly and kept near a window that receives plenty of sunshine. Group the pots atop a large tray to catch excess water.
Pinecones look stunning when artfully arranged in wooden bowls or glass vases. Other garden finds used to craft gifts include abandoned bird nests, pine straw, seed pods, dried foliage and flowers. Dried flowers and pods, for instance, are handy for making aromatic potpourri.
For centuries, people have brought nature’s beauty indoors with paintings or prints, so why not collect true botanicals and use them as art? Press foliage such as colorful leaves inside the pages of an old telephone book or place them between sheets of blotting paper in a flower press. When the materials are completely dry and flat, they can be glued onto paper or mat board and framed under glass. Foliage that looks attractive when framed includes ivy, oak and maple leaves, fern fronds and herbs such as parsley.
Foliage is also handy for paint projects. Nature provides perfect images for decorating fabric curtains or pillows, linens, wall stencils, floor cloths, containers, etc. Leaves are great inspiration for fabric stamps, which are made by tracing leaves onto foam core board and cutting out the shapes with a craft knife. Fasten leaves to the foam core stamps with glue, keeping the smooth, non-veined side against the board. Brush the mounted leaves with a thin coat of paint and press them onto walls or fabrics.
Roots, nuts and flowers are a few of the plant parts that can become natural dye ingredients. Plants commonly used to make red dye include red leaves, dandelion root, rose hips, beets, hibiscus flowers and wild blackberries.
Pink colors are derived from strawberries, roses and lavender. Orange comes from onionskin, carrots, lilacs, barberry, coreopsis and bloodroot. Yellow is produced using alfalfa, marigold, willow celery, dandelion flowers, daffodil and sunflowers. Green, blue, purple, grey, black and brown dyes are made possible using acorns and bark.
The Internet and library are great sources for inspiration and instruction.
And don’t forget the obvious; give homemade jams or jellies, flavored oils or vinegars and other scrumptious gifts from garden to kitchen!
Resources: Jeanette Mills, Tarleton State University; “What Can I do With My Herbs?”
For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.