Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Do you know a gardener, either friend or family member? If so, consider making at least some holiday garden gifts this season. Making gifts yourself is a good way to slow down during the hectic holidays, to have some quality time if making them with others (especially with children), and often to save some money. These are in addition to the usual holiday trimmings such as evergreen roping, swags, and arrangements with berries and other natural materials.
Although many decorate evergreen wreaths for the holidays, consider decorating a grapevine wreath with natural materials for the rest of winter. You can either collect grapevines and make the base wreath, or buy one at a florist or craft store. Then collect cones which can be sprayed with glue and rolled in glitter, or spray paint seed pods as from milkweed. If collecting cones, rather than buying them, make sure they are dried and open first. Hop vines and Virginia creeper are a couple other vines, if you have access to them, that make good wreaths either by themselves or to serve as bases.
If using dried flower clusters, as from some wildflowers, spray first with a shellac to help hold them intact, and then use naturally or spray paint. Some dried berries may be collected too, just make sure that they aren’t poisonous if children are around. Hydrangeas are common shrubs in many landscapes, and their dried flowers can be collected
Some of the easiest gifts to make are to decorate clay flower pots. This is something I did with my daughter when she was still quite young, but can be done even more elaborately by adults. Gardener’s invariably need more flower pots! It can be as simple as painting designs, such as flowers, on the pot with waterproof paints from a craft store. I like to paint the pot with a light background color first.
For an aged look, paint clay pots a solid color such as dark green or black. Then brush or wipe with an acrylic gold or copper paint, diluted half with water. When dry, the undiluted gold or copper can be used for small designs, highlights, or trim.
Another pot decorating option, still quite simple, is decoupage. If using a clay pot, first seal with a polyurethane or similar paint, so moisture doesn’t wick through to ruin your final work. Next, cut out paper designs, shapes, photos from seed catalogs, or seed packets, to affix to the sides. Using either decoupage material, or a white glue thinned with equal parts water,lightly coat the pot sides. Put the cutouts on the pot, then finish with a final coating over all. Other clay pot decorations, easily attached with a glue gun, are an endless variety of items from craft stores such as small silk flowers, buttons, reflective shapes, and ribbon.
If you use clay pots already in gardening, you likely have some broken pieces. The flatter pieces, perhaps 2 to 4 inches wide, can be painted with the names of flowers and designs, then glued onto painted wooden dowels. If for use outside, protect with a clear sealant.
If using green plastic pots, decorate with simple flower designs using acrylic paint markers. Practice first on paper, even with colored pencils. Using small dots, or simple lines, in contrasting colors is often quite effective and easy.
Metal cans can be turned into holders for dried flowers indoors, or candle holders outdoors for the patio. For luminaries along walks, use larger cans (I got mine from a local pizza parlor). Remove the labels, rinse well, then fill with water and freeze if making a candle holder. The reason to freeze is so you can then punch a design in the side with many holes made by hammer and nail. It helps to draw the design on the side first. Then paint the cans.
Stepping stones are a popular and easy gift to make, either using purchased molds in various shapes (even flowers), or old cake pans. Spray the mold with cooking spray, so the dried mold can be removed. Cut a piece of plastic or wire window screen the shape of the mold. This is added to help prevent the cement from cracking. Mix the cement, pour half in the mold, add the screen, then fill. Don’t move the mold until the cement hardens, or it will crack. The finished stone can be painted, or designs such as from leaves pressed into the cement before it is completely dry.
For the birds, an easy gift is to drill inch or wider holes part way through a piece of log, such as from a birch, about a foot or so long. Then pack with suet, or a homemade mix of peanut butter and nuts. You can build birdhouses using plans in books and online, or simply buy an unfinished one and paint it.
A project I saw at a country gift shop, then came home and made, consists of simple wooden tulips. Out of an inch thick board, you’ll need a jig saw to cut a simple tulip design—basically a U-shape with W-shape on top, or flaring V-shape. Drill a small hole in the base, into which you can insert a sturdy dowel for the stake. You can vary the dowel length from one to two feet for various heights. Sand all surfaces, then paint the dowel green, and flowers in bright “tulip” colors. I love adding these around outdoors in early spring, before the real bulbs emerge, and even intersperse with daffodils in large pots.
Another “saw” project is a flower press. Using wood one-quarter to one-half inch thick, cut two squares or rectangles, anywhere from 6 to 12 inches on a side. Corners can be angled for a better appearance. Sand cut edges, then shellac, stencil, or paint as desired. The boards are held together with bolt and wing nut on each corner. Inside, place cardboard and white paper layers, cut to the same shape and size.
Saw small rectangles out of thin wood, to attach to wooden dowels or craft sticks with a glue gun, to use as plant markers. Paint or stencil the plant name, add designs from stencils or rub-on transfers, then seal all for outdoor use with a clear sealant or varnish. You can use names instead, such as “mom’s garden”, or larger wood pieces for short garden sayings.
Short on time for making gifts? Then buy wooden tool totes or fruit baskets, and paint these. Seed packets, and a piece of ribbon, can be used to adorn a straw hat. If you collect seeds from your garden plants, consider making and decorating your own seed packets for gifts. Add some fresh herbs such as lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, or thyme to sugar to use in cooking and beverages. Gently crush the herbs, add a few leaves or sprigs to a cup or two of sugar, and let stand in an airtight jar (stir every couple days) for a couple weeks before using, herbs and all. .
Another easy project is to press various leaves and flat plant parts into wide candles. Simply dip the candle, using tongs, into boiling water for a couple minutes then lay on wax paper. Press the leaves or plant parts into the softened sides, then redip in the hot water for another minute to seal. Being “homemade”, don’t worry if the candle ends up a bit uneven.
Hopefully these few ideas will help you come up with many more of your own. Make a note now to plan ahead for next season to collect your own seeds, supplies, containers to decorate, and flowers to dry for future projects.