Nature is a great source for holiday gifts and decorations

Published 5:11 pm Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A visitor to the Crosby Arboretum once commented that the best Christmas she’d ever had was the year her family had no money for gifts, and they all decided to make presents for each other. Her comment kicked off a great conversation about the many free and inexpensive holiday projects you can create from nature. So grab a friend to help you brainstorm, and you’ll soon be on your way to making unique gifts that are even more special because they are handmade. Children also enjoy helping to create these kinds of projects.

The Arboretum has offered programs on the theme of “making sometime from nothing,” such as building holiday wreaths. The visitor I spoke with talked about how she had learned to make beautiful pine cone wreaths using metal double circle frames as a base (available at craft stores or homemade). Walnuts and other nuts in the shell may be hot glued among the pine cones for additional decoration.

Wreath making will serve to put you in a holiday mood, and simple wreaths can be made from evergreen tree branches such as Douglas or Frasier fir. Locate a Christmas tree source that trims the trunks for customers. Many of these sellers are happy to give you armloads of trimmings to avoid having to dispose of them. Purchase some green floral wire at a craft store, and obtain wire coat hangers (the type from the dry cleaner’s). First, bend each coat hanger into a circle. This will become the base for your wreath. Then, bend the hook portion to make an “eye” to allow for later hanging. Take a handful of branches, and lay them against the wire circle. Anchor the floral wire bundle on the hanger, and begin to wrap firmly around the ends of the first group of branches. Add more groups of branches, laying each on top of the other. Once the circle is complete, prune to shape. Add a bow, decorate with pine cones, or leave plain. Although it might sound complicated, once you’ve made it through one wreath, you’ll be ready to tackle your second. Many craft sites on the Internet offer directions for creating this type of wreath, if you need more guidance.

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Making holiday ornaments for wildlife is a popular workshop at the Arboretum, such as the one this past weekend where children enjoyed stuffing pine cones with “bird butter” and creating other treats. Recipes for bird butter can be found on craft web sites by searching for the keyword “bird butter” or “homemade bird suet”.

The mixtures are composed of ingredients such as solid vegetable shortening, oatmeal, cornmeal, peanut butter, dried fruit such as raisins, and black sunflower seeds. Use bird butter to fill in pine cones, or spoon into orange or grapefruit halves. Hang from tree branches with pipe cleaners threaded through holes punched in the edges.

Remember making popcorn and cranberry strings? This is certainly one holiday pastime that the whole family can enjoy – and if you have a dog or cat, the falling pieces will provide additional entertainment! With large craft needles and some yarn, you can let your imagination run wild. Add dried fruit such as apples or raisins, or O-shaped cereals. String the garlands over shrubs or trees in your yard. When you are ready to discard your Christmas tree, get even more mileage from it by putting it out in your garden and decorating it with wildlife treats.

Perhaps you made bookmarks when you were a child by ironing pressed flowers between layers of wax paper (setting newspaper on top when ironing), or created note cards with pressed flower art. Laminating sheets come in many sizes, and leaves and flowers may be added to make bookmarks, “stained glass” window hangers, and other gifts.

Involve your children and fashion a set of note cards, or artwork for which you handcraft a frame. Old frames, found in thrift stores or in your attic, can be revived by using hot-glue to secure items found in nature such as sticks, shells, or acorn tops. Holiday catalogs often have “rustic” items that provide inspiration for home projects.

Other holiday nature crafts come to mind from my past, such as studding oranges and other citrus fruit with whole cloves, and wrapping them with ribbon and pearl-headed pins. We would also make Boxwood “trees”, using a cone-shaped base of “wet” floral foam (not Styrofoam, but the kind that is made to absorb water – for future reference, these cones can be ordered online if you can’t find them locally). Other combinations of holiday greenery can be used for long-lasting table arrangements using this wet floral foam. Add floral (or real) moss at the base and some ribbon in holiday colors to finish off the picture.

Take a walk into your garden or forest to cut an armload of holiday greens and create festive decorations for the dinner table or mantelpiece. Branches of American holly, laden with berries, are the quintessential holiday decoration. Other ornamental hollies can be used, such as the common dwarf Burford holly.

Fashion simple garlands to decorate doorways or staircase rails by pruning greenery and attaching clusters to a length of twine, using floral wire or more twine. Again, holiday catalogs often have great inspiration for wreaths and garlands. Garlands may be simple, or composed of many different types of plant material mixed with other decorations such as pine cones, or ribbons and bows.                                

For the industrious among you, consider learning how to make pine needle baskets. Our classes at the Arboretum that teach this craft are always well-attended. Talk about making something from nothing! This craft can quickly develop into a life-long obsession, and the best pine needles to use for these baskets are those collected from our native longleaf pine. In fall, the trees are “ripe” with browning leaves on the young trees, which make for easy collecting. 

Come see the homemade crafts and other handiwork of local artisans and craftspeople at the Crosby Arboretum’s Open House this Saturday, December 11, from 10 a.m. to 1p.m.  Browse the Gift Shop, featuring items made from recycled materials. Light refreshments will be served. The Arboretum is open to the public during this time, so if you’ve never visited, this is a great opportunity. Visit or call 601-799-2311 for more information. The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, on Ridge Road (between Wal-Mart and I-59.)


 1) Research what type of gifts you might have given, or received, in pioneer days; 2) Look around your property to discover materials from that could be used to make some unique gifts for your family; 3) Explore “nature craft” websites on the Internet.