10 garden gifts, dirt cheap

The frugal gardener cultivates simple joys, so harvest unused craft supplies and items you grow to make some gifts that mean a million.

By Yvonne Swanson, Special to the Times
Published December 15, 2007

About this story
After raiding my craft, gift wrap, garden and floral supplies, I shopped for creative containers and ornaments at a Salvation Army store, Target and JoAnn's Crafts. It only took a few hours to create these 10 garden-themed gifts, and I spent a total of $28.81.

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Pruning gloves, $31. Watering can, $85. Herb seed kit, $23. Amaryllis in glazed bowl, $45. Watching your friends and family open expensive presents? Priceless. Ha!

Retailers and credit card companies want us to believe that money is no object when it comes to giving the perfect gift. But unlike most U.S. shoppers, who plan to spend an average of $859 for presents this year, you don't have to blow your budget on holiday gifts.

Why not simplify the holidays and gift giving by making thrifty yet stylish gifts that use your garden's bounty and a little ingenuity?

There's a big difference between being frugal and being cheap. A frugal shopper gets the best price on good quality merchandise and is resourceful. A cheapskate buys the lowest-cost item, regardless of quality or usefulness.

Inexpensive gifts don't have to look low-cost. With decorative embellishments, including ribbons, tags and ornaments, you can create beautiful presents. Best of all, it's fun to make your own gifts and share the joy of gardening with your loved ones.

I made 10 thrifty garden-themed gifts that cost less than $5 each, and one that didn't cost me a penny. They're practical, useful items that you can easily make at home with clippings from your garden, supplies from your garden shed and pantry, decorative items from your gift wrap supplies, and from your "regifting" closet or box.

A few other cost-saving strategies you should employ: Never pay full price. Shop at discount stores (including Goodwill, the Salvation Army, consignment and other alternative retailers). Use discount coupons. Buy items throughout the year and pack them away for future gift-giving. Save and re-use ribbon, bows, gift bags and undamaged wrapping paper. Don't toss Christmas cards; cut out their decorative parts and reuse them as next year's gift tags.

Several weeks before the holidays, start cuttings of plants you'll give as gifts, to give them a chance to get established. Divide overgrown plants to create even more, and harvest seeds from your prized plants for gift-giving.

Ten gifts, $28.81. Making them myself, free. Sharing the joy of gardening with family and friends, priceless.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.

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The gifts:

99-cent rocking chair plant. I potted a cutting from an easy-to-root sweet potato vine and placed it in a doll-sized rocking chair (with a hole in the seat to hold a small pot) purchased for 99 cents at a Salvation Army store. Add a bow from my stash and a tag made from one of last year's Christmas cards, and it's a cute gift for under a dollar.

$4.79 bird ornament and feed. I filled a pint-size canning jar ($1) with bird seed (about 60 cents) and topped it with a pretty tree ornament of two cardinals in a nest ($3.19). I sprayed the lid red and sprinkled on glitter, using craft supplies I had on hand. A free ribbon and gift tag top it off.

$4.19 black gold. Gardeners consider compost "black gold" because this super-rich organic is a treat for plants and soil. I sprayed the lid of a pint-size canning jar ($1) with lacquer and sprinkled it with gold glitter, filled it with my garden compost and topped it with a glittery gold butterfly ornament ($3.19), bow and tag.

$3.78 herb basket. The fresh-cut herbs from my garden are free, and a festive holiday basket was on sale at a Salvation Army store for just 39 cents. I used a bow and gift tag from my holiday supplies. At this price, why not throw in a package or two of herb seeds (priced from $1.07 to $1.25 each)? (This gift is best given to someone who is prepared to use the fresh herbs right away.)

$4.73 gnome holiday plant. A cutting of my Christmas cactus fits nicely into a glazed ruffle pot ($1.74) sprayed with lacquer and sprinkled with red and gold glitter. Add a bow, gift tag and cute garden gnome ($2.99), and this is a festive gift for anyone on your list.

$1.56 floral supplies. It's nice to have everything you need on hand to make floral arrangements from your own plants or store-bought ones. I filled a Santa jar (49 cents) with wired floral picks, packets of floral food, water picks/tubes and colored glass stones (all unused extras from my own floral supply basket). I added a roll of floral tape ($1.07) from the craft store. Even if you purchased the items, the cost of each would be well under $5.

$4.19 seasoning blend. I filled a small jar ($1) with dried home-grown herbs that I crushed and blended. The aromatic mix of rosemary, sage, thyme, basil and other herbs is ideal for poultry, so I added a pheasant ornament ($3.19) to the gold-glitter lid.

99-cent compost tea. A pretty bottle (99 cents) from the Salvation Army, tied with a festive bow and tag, makes anything look nice, even a nutrient-packed tea made from garden compost. Brewing compost tea is easy. Just pour a few cups of compost into an old pair of pantyhose, tie it closed and steep overnight in a bucket of water (2 cups of compost to each gallon of water). It can be used full strength or diluted. Make sure you mark the contents of this "tea"!

$3.59 plant food. We all eat too much during the holidays, but what about our plants? They'll love time-release fertilizer (about 60 cents) in a pint-size jar ($1) topped with a watering can ornament ($1.99).

No-cost gift certificate for yard work. This costs nothing to give, but is a generous gift of time and labor. It's a perfect gift for anyone who needs help in the yard. To jazz it up, I used a CD jewel case wrapped inside and out with holiday paper and inserted a certificate I created on the computer.