Eco-Friendly Gifts

Illustration: ticketsEnriching Your Holidays

When you bestow something homemade upon a loved one, you generally receive misty-eyed, heartfelt thank-yous—just as you cherish the love and effort that goes into the homemade gifts you receive. (Teenagers preferring iPods, Guitar Hero, or a gift card to Sephora are the sulky exceptions.) This holiday, consider giving something homemade, or these other meaningful gifts, as you incorporate eco-friendly practices into your celebration:

  • Memberships. These thoughtful gifts are always welcome, especially to the Chicago Botanic Garden, which also includes free admission to 200 other botanic gardens nationwide!
  • Donations. You can honor a loved one by making a donation to the Garden, or to other organizations that help plants, people, or animals.
  • Tickets. Send your loved one to a concert, play, or special event. There’s always something new!

There are also thousands of make-it-yourself holiday gift ideas. Here are a few relatively simple suggestions:

Illustration: cookiesFood. Recipes not only provide helpful information, but often prompt happy memories of family gatherings around a table. This holiday season, gather popular family recipes, copy them, and insert them into decorated notebooks to be given to family members. Think about dividing them creatively (“Picnics at Grandma Hattie’s”; “Thanksgiving for Omnivores and Herbivores”; “A Celebration of Children”; “Caesar and Other Greats (Salads)”). A once-a-month batch of cookies is a terrific gift idea if you are an enthusiastic baker with friends or family in the vicinity. They live far away? No worries: just layer the dry ingredients for a baked item in a mason jar, attach the recipe, finish with a festive bow, pack, and send it to as far as you’d like—another simple and fun food-oriented gift.

Illustration: dried flowersDried Flowers. Easy. Fun. Gorgeous. If these descriptors aren’t enough to send you running (better slow down) with your shears toward your blooms, how about this one: inexpensive! All you need to make a spectacular bouquet of dried flowers are flowers—of course—string, scissors, and a cool, dry room where you can hang the blooms to dry in peace (hanging them in a busy spot can result in an unproductive mess of broken petals and leaves). A storage area in the basement with exposed pipes is great; so is an empty closet in a spare bedroom. Clothes racks work very well for hanging plants, too.

This is one gift that must be planned in advance, as you must harvest your flowers at their peak of bloom. After cutting, gathering, tying, and hanging your flowers, dry them for as little as ten days or as long as several months, depending on your selections. A properly dried plant has a stem that snaps easily. These are just some of the many plants that dry well: hydrangea, especially ‘Annabelle’ (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’), yarrow (Achillea), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), larkspur (Consolida ambigua), globe amaranth (Gomphrena), statice (Limonium), and starflower (Scabiosa stellata). Herbs are wonderful for drying too, especially English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and rosemary (Rosmarinus). Strengthen your dried flowers or herbs by spraying them with clear lacquer, hair spray, or clear craft spray.

If you lack the flowers, time, or interest in creating your own dried arrangements, you can still give these lovely, all-natural gifts during the holidays. Mark the Garden’s Roadside Flower Sale on your calendar next year. Usually held in late September or early October, this popular sale of natural plant and dried floral arrangements showcases gifts crafted from the Garden's specially collected dried flowers, pods, and grasses. More than 300 dried flower arrangements and wreaths are available for purchase each year!

Illustration: hammerTalent. So you love beading? Your favorite pastime is building model airplanes? Who knew? ‘Tis the season to consider sharing the joy of your hobby with others. Almost any hobby can be transformed into a gift. How thoughtful of Don, the amateur furniture maker, to fix that squeaky old rocker. How helpful when cousin Mary, the interior designer, spends an hour discussing color options for your living room. And how wonderful to arrive home and discover that your friend and avid gardener Diane has done your container planting for the holidays!

Kids have plenty to offer, too. They can give gifts of “help coupons” good for extra chores or, if they’re old enough, babysitting or lawn mowing. The cost in time, materials, or both, that these gifts require is more than offset by the joy they bring to recipients.

One more thing about gifts… When you do shop for presents, think about alternatives to the plethora of petroleum-based products lining the shelves. Plastic, for example, is everywhere and can provide real benefits in some cases (particularly medical), but it’s beneficial for many reasons—environmental, economic, and political—to make other gift choices. (Type “petroleum-based products” into your computer search engine to find surprisingly long lists.) Many stores, including the Garden Shop, carry gifts featuring natural elements: beeswax- or soy-based products, toys made from renewable wood, and items made from recycled materials, glass, or ceramics.

Whether you give memberships, food, flowers, or something uniquely “yours” to your loved ones, such personal and eco-friendly gifts embody not only the affection you feel for the recipients but the respect you have for the environment. And that makes for a meaningful holiday indeed!