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Nature Inspired Gifts and Decorating (For the Creativity Impaired)

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: Nature-inspired Gifts, Christmas Gifts, Nature Gifts, Christmas Decorating, Cindy Murphy,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgI am not a creative person; I’m don’t sew, quilt, bake, knit, do wood-working, or anything else that requires patience, practice, and time to produce beautiful handmade gifts or delicious culinary treats to give at Christmas and ornaments to decorate my home during the holidays.

I love homemade gifts and decorations; when I receive something that someone took the effort to make, it warms my heart ... oooo, especially those delectable goodies that make me imagine the good smells coming out of the kitchens of those who made them. So what’s a person with practically no creative talent, but with a desire to share that warmth, do?

I garden; I like plants. I always think I’d like to make heavenly scented botanical soaps to give as gifts, but when December approaches, I realize I’ve forgotten to gather the desired plants before they turned brown and crispy, or are buried beneath snow.

While a snow covered landscape is not the time to clip fresh flowers and herbs, it does present seasonal inspiration. All it takes is a walk through the snow, some garden pruners and loppers, and a few other basic supplies to get my house looking festive, and me in the Christmas gift-making spirit. Here are a few holiday decorating ideas and gifts that don’t require much creativity, foresight, time, and ever-so-importantly these days – money.

Evergreens have been traditionally used as symbols of Solstice and Christmas for centuries. Following this tradition, I cut Douglas fir, juniper, and holly boughs. Yews, Christmas fern fronds, boxwood, euonymus varieties, arborvitae, and false cypress can also be used for decorating, and give a different texture to the traditional Christmas boughs of pine, spruce, fir, and holly.

Cut boughs

For color and structural contrast, I chose red-twig dogwood stems, curly willow branches, and winterberry (a type of holly that loses its leaves; the bare stems loaded with big red berries are very striking). Other things that provide structure and a delicate contrast to evergreen boughs are birch twigs, grapevine, bittersweet, or any branch that’s not so thick that it will over-power the softness of the evergreens.

Let’s begin with the front porch. I like to keep it very simple, but if you prefer more glitz, any of these decorations can be festooned with bows, ornaments, and all things shiny. Bare branches can even be spray-painted white, silver, gold, or red for a flashier look.

Inside a beat-up old basket that has seen much better days, I placed a bucket of dirt which I shoveled way back before the ground froze. A bucket of snow works just as well. The dirt (or snow) is used as an anchor to keep the basket from blowing over in the wind, as well as a medium in which to arrange the branches. When making any arrangement, cut branches to varying lengths, but keep them in proportion to the container, placing them in at different angles, rather than straight up and down. This prevents them from looking like little evergreen soldiers standing in formation.

Basket of greens

The flower boxes on either side of the steps get the same treatment. Branches are lashed securely to the railing with twine.

Flower box

I cheated a bit on the wreath. I’ve made them in years past, but this one I purchased from Shelby’s friend Kendall, as a fundraiser for the junior prom. I like Kendall; with dreadlocks bouncing and an impish grin, he brought in my carload of groceries before he sprung the fundraising bit on me. How could I resist after that? No matter how much I like Kendall, though, I was not going to fork over to the prom committee an extra $20 for a few sprigs of holly. I ordered a plain wreath, and spruced it up (no pun intended) by wiring in holly, winterberry, and redtwig dogwood stems.

Festive wreath

Voila! The front porch is done. No, not up to Martha Stewart’s standards, but unlike many of Martha’s decorating projects, it didn’t cost a penny (except for the wreath), and was finished in no time.

Decorated porch

Next comes centerpieces to give as gifts. Supplies needed are Oasis floral foam (found at any florist), evergreen boughs, and a container that holds water. Keith once brought home a bunch of Easter baskets of varying sizes that he found someone had set out for the trash (it made me laugh, considering he’s always teasing me being a trash-picker). To make the baskets watertight, I lined them with plastic butter or deli containers that always seem to multiply like rabbits in my Tupperware cupboard.

First step is soaking the Oasis block until it’s saturated. For small baskets, I sometimes reuse Oasis I’ve saved from floral arrangements I’ve received earlier in the year. It looks pretty icky, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, it’ll all get covered so no one will see it.

Oasis flower foam

Just as with the outside arrangements, remember to angle stems of varying lengths into the Oasis, working all the way around the basket until it’s nice and full, and the foam doesn’t show anymore.

Holly, winterberry, fir basket

Shannon helped me with a basket for her teacher by putting pencils into cellophane treat bags, tying them with ribbon, and sticking them into the arrangement.

Teacher's basket

For those who aren’t the traditional red and green type, I’ve used orange winterberry, dried PG hydrangea blossoms, and bare bittersweet vine. Dried roses, rose hips, poppy pods, milkweed pods, and of course, pinecones also look nice mixed with evergreens.

Orange winterberry and hydrangea basket.

All the greens and berries get sprayed with an anti-dessicant, also referred to as an anti-tranpirant. This is not only used as winter protection for broad-leaf evergreens, it also holds the moisture in cut greens, keeping them from drying out and losing their needles, and prevents the berries from shriveling. “Wilt-pruf” is a brand name product sold in many box-stores and garden centers, but it’s quite expensive. Check with your local nursery; we buy a similar product in bulk concentrate, sell it in one ounce containers which when mixed with water makes a gallon, and pass the savings along to our customers. A gallon of Wilt-Pruf can run from $30 to $50 dollars; an ounce of concentrate of the same type product that we sell, costs $3.50. I highly recommend using an anti-dessicant; sprayed greens stay fresh for weeks longer than those without the spray.

If making arrangements ahead of time, store them in a cool place that doesn’t freeze (45 degrees is ideal). An unheated garage or mudroom is perfect. Water the oasis every three to four days so it stays damp. Once brought inside the house, an arrangement should last for about three weeks to a month.

Another thing I’ve made to give as gifts started this summer when a neighbor cut down a mulberry tree, setting the wood out on the parkway for yard-waste pick-up. Keith asked if he could have the wood to use in our firepit. Stacked in the woodpile, I noticed one of the cut ends of a log was in the shape of a heart. Keith cut the log with a chain saw into approximately one inch thick slices for me, and “Heartwood” was born….though I had no idea what I was going to do with them.

Again, I decided to keep it simple and rustic-looking. Leaving the wood unsanded, I applied a light coat of spray shellac. I strung binder’s twine with a few natural looking beads, wrapping it around the wood slices. Another piece of twine criss-crosses the first, and beneath it, I tucked typed poems or quotes that in some way reminded me of the person to whom I’d be giving it.


Whew! I’m done being creative for the year, and get to go have fun at a Christmas party this weekend! The hostess gets a basket and heart, and oh, shoot! I almost forgot I have to bring a favorite dish to pass. If cooking was as quick and easy as the basket and heart making, I’d be set.

s.m.r. saia
12/29/2010 10:45:26 AM

Wow, I have to take issue with your self-assessment of not being creative. Your gifts are lovely. I hope you and your family enjoyed a very merry Christmas!

michelle house
12/21/2010 11:56:24 PM

You are one busy lady, so I can understand the delay. <3 lol, I have alot to say about nothing as well.:) Merry Christmas to you, Keith and the girls. :)

cindy murphy
12/20/2010 8:06:13 AM

Thanks, Stepper. Funny thing about that Heartwood - it was just a little thing and I had no idea how well it'd be received. Not only did the people I gave it to like them, but I've had a couple of calls from other people who saw them wanted to BUY one to give as a gift themselves. I made them with specific people in mind though, and only had the four. The log had a big knot in it, and the portion after the knot wasn't shaped like a heart. I have one more similar thing to make for a friend: Heartstone, I think I'll call it...cuz it's a stone. (eye-roll) A friend and I were walking on the beach, collecting stones for my garden. She found one in the perfect shape of a heart. It's nice and flat, and about the size of my palm - I think it'll make a perfect paperweight with a little note attached in similar fashion to the wood. You have a great Christmas too...and that's from the heart, of course.

chris davis
12/19/2010 12:56:10 PM

I have to tell you Cindy, the Heartwood is a wonderful idea! I hope you kept one for yourself - it'd be a nice reminder of a fortuitous find. I hope you have a great Christmas, and look forward to your next blog.

cindy murphy
12/19/2010 7:31:12 AM

Thanks, Michelle. You are very sweet. I hadn't realized 'til recently it'd been that long since I'd written anything. November got away from me with the rush of putting the nursery to bed, then Thanksgiving just popped up immediately after. Now that I'm off for the winter, I think I'll have more time to write. I may not have much to talk about, but I've always got a lot to say. HA! Merry Christmas!

michelle house
12/18/2010 10:12:43 PM

Cindy, ((hugs)), I have been checking, I was getting ready to send you an e-mail, because you had not written anything.:) I was a bit worried, I don't mind telling you. I have always loved your writing. Ever since Keith sent me the first one. :) Happy Holidays to you and yours. <3

cindy murphy
12/17/2010 8:22:50 PM

Michelle! Thanks for stopping in; I always enjoy seeing you here. A happy holiday season to you too! Peace, hugs, and cheer in the New year.

michelle house
12/17/2010 7:37:38 PM

Excellent, I love the basket, and the heart woods. :) You do have talent for arrangements, Cindy. More so than me. Have a Happy Holiday, to you and your family. Hugs Michelle

cindy murphy
12/15/2010 8:59:40 AM

You are too kind, Dave. Creative Queen of the Garden and Woods? I LOVE the title, but all I'm really doing is sticking sticks into a basket. Those on the receiving end seem to enjoy them, though, so sticks in a basket it is - which is a good thing, because that's about as creative as I get. As for me, I don't have a symmetrical bone in my body. I couldn't make a straight line if my creativity depended on it. That's why I don't sew; sewing requires making straight lines. Or bake - baking requires measurements; measuring requires using numbers, and numbers require a sort symmetry. Or knit - the double whammy; knitting requires making straight lines and counting which involves numbers. Or build anything which requires making straight lines, measurements AND using power tools. Using power tools requires going in the garage and taking them out of Hubs' nice and neat tool area, and putting them back just as nice and neat as I found them. Which, of course, involves symmetry. I AM quite creative though, in coming up with excuses as to why the tools aren't lined up as symmetrically as they were before I got a hold of them. Thanks for stopping in. You have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year too!

nebraska dave
12/14/2010 9:42:51 PM

@Cindy, you are the creative queen of the garden and woods. I’m always amazed at those that can take a bunch of stuff and make creative decorations. My Mom was that way. We never threw anything away. It was all stored in the basement craft store room just waiting to be called into a creative master piece. As for me, I don’t have a creative bone in my body unless it involves power tools. I’m working on breaking the regimental thinking patterns. Square, round, evenly spaced all are just not natural looking in nature. We will see how well things change next flower season. I did better with the poor man’s patio this year but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Have an extremely creative Christmas and a Happy New Year.