The little birds...

If you watch little birds you will see they are busy and happy! Using whatever they can find they create the most gorgeous little nest.
I would be the little bird with some glittery thread in her nest!
We can be like this. Happily working away with the things that are available to us to create a beautiful and happy home.
All the while with a little song in our heart.

Banner by Free Pretty Things for You.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

The Christmas Challenge. Nature.

Thank you to everyone for so many great comments about investments. Some of the savings were inspirational! So many ideas. I am thinking now what could we invest in that would have the same results as the simple coffee cup!

Today for The Christmas Challenge I want to think about how we can use the natural world around us in our gifts. We need our eyes open!
Recently we had a good example of this when Jen used sea shells she collected to hold pretty little soaps. This looked beautiful!

For all our crafts, gifts and decor nature is our best friend! Plus we have what is around our garden and immediate area but when we travel there is a whole world of possibilities! (When I was little the nature table was the thing I liked best about school!)

And it is all free!

If you have looked in a florist lately you will see so many natural elements with massive price tags. Sticks for $60 a bunch an example I saw a little while ago! Bundles of twigs tied up with string, vases of foliage. Giant leaves for $8 each! yes, leaves! I could go on!

Mimi is a star at making up a floral bouquet with flowers and foliage and presenting it nicely. This is a lovely gift anytime or for a birthday. At Christmas this could be flowers for the table or a centre piece. If you study what you have and what is around you it might turn out you can give lovely bunches of flowers. You may even have wild flowers.
Flowers can also be gathered and pressed and used in your card making.

At the farm Mum has a native garden that blends into the bush. So it is full of native flowers. When I am there I pick masses! A bunch of these in the city would be $30 for a posy size and $100 for a massive bunch.  Last year I was there when a lot was flowering so I made up small bouquets to bring home for gifts.

I have to say it was also beautiful just to be out gathering flowers in the sunshine!

When I got home these went into red tissue paper. They worked as presents really well!

Also in Mum's garden I picked bunches of fresh rosemary and Bay leaves. This is a lovely git for a cook. My neighbour went mad over this! Also in the shops they sell these in tiny bunches for a few dollars and these were ten times that size!  I just tied them up with brown string.

I dry the Bay Leaves and have given packets as gifts in with all kinds of kitchen gifts. Also if I am giving a little hamper gift I pop in a bunch of fresh herbs from the garden. It looks really nice and they are useful.  Not to mention the scent!

Another time I dried my own herbs and made Bouquet Garni. I had Parsley, Thyme, Bay Leaves etc. I just air dry them.

I packed the Bouquet Garni into cellophane bags. These were a gift I gave lots of people a couple of years ago. Plus I made a big jar of them for the kitchen!

Also at Mum's I pick Lavender. I give it away as gifts or make it into gifts. Last year I made Lavender Sachets.

In my decorating my dream item is a nest! Basically everyone knows this and so if a nest has fallen they end up with me. I would never take a nest in use. These have blown down well after they have been used.  I would rather a nest than an expensive ornament! (the eggs are fakes!)

I have also used nests in wreaths and loved how they have looked.

At home my hydrangeas give me both flowers to give as gifts and for the house. I also dry them as they make glorious wreaths as well.

Every year they are an asset to me. Also I can give bunches of cuttings to grow these and most years I do that too.

I have to include picking up kindling and wood. It is free at the farm and I grew up collecting firewood. I still love it. I love the sight of it sitting ready for the fire.

A basket of wood is still a lovely gift for anyone with a fire or for my Son in Law for his pizza oven!

We always pick up pine cones too. On our travels we often see gum nuts and pinecones and collect them. Apart from good kindling they make great Christmas decorations! One year I gave away bags of these and another year I decorated my Christmas presents with them...

I often make a cake for a gift. I am no cake decorator but flowers from the garden do the trick and make my cakes a much nicer gift.

I know that I have many more possibilities and need to open my eyes. One I am thinking of is that the deer leave fallen antlers in the paddocks. These are in trendy homeware shops! So I am thinking how can I use antlers... that is at least one more natural element I can use.

What do you have around you that could become gifts and an asset? If you have herbs, a fruit tree, roses, wild berries... ohh ... all these things mean you are set! Run with all the possibilities! If you have roses you can make lovely bunches up as gifts,  decorate cakes, sugar roses, rose petal scented bath products! They might not be your roses. A friend or relative might have a rose garden....
If you have a fruit tree you can give fresh fruit, fruit pies, dried fruit dipped in chocolate, jam, jam tarts, preserved fruit...
You see what I mean. So many possibilities!

This is going to be different for each of us depending on where we live but nature has a way of providing so many beautiful things. Just now on the streets around us there are beautiful giant sized autumn leaves falling. I usually collect some and have a bowl of them inside. Just lovely.

There are so many ways to incorporate natural elements into our gift giving with stunning results and it is all free.

What do you have that might be able to become gifts? Recently Vicky's husband cut down a tree so we had a kind of challenge to see what Vicky could make from this wood. And we came up with so many things as natural "slices" of branches make everything from stepping "stones" to rustic placemats! She came up with so many ideas!

If you have made gifts from natural elements please share!
One of my favourite things is road side gathering! The things you find! My eyes are always busy as I love gathering! I keep scissors and a basket in the car too! You just never know....


  1. Annabel,
    Your flowers are all so pretty. Those wood slices will be ready soon! I am making sure they won't warp. For anyone that likes tea there are a lot of homemade teas that can be made from leaves and petals. And dried ornamental berries look nice in bouquets and on packages. And grapevine is easy to use and can be made into many things. Fall is my favorite time of year with all of the color. Leaves and pumpkins and gourds. And blown eggs can be very pretty. Dandelions can be made into poor man's honey or even wine. Violets jelly is very pretty and looks good in a gift basket. Painted rocks oh the possibilities are endless!

    1. Dear Vicky,
      I can't wait to see what you do! Lately I have been watching a cooking show. They had a table set up for a dinner party with round "slices" of a tree for placemats and a nature style table with moss etc. It looked gorgeous! So your wood slices are the hight of fashion!
      Oh and also with a block of wood underneath as a cake stand...
      Grapevine! I have made wreaths from pruning! They are beautiful! This is a great idea! All kinds of vines can be made into lovely wreaths.
      Thanks for your ideas. I have heard of the use of dandelions several times lately. And I love violets to sugar for a cake decoration!
      With love

  2. Dear Annabel,
    This is such a great post! Isn't it funny that things we can find in nature for free have such a large price tag in the stores? I think it is because nature is so beautiful and appealing. At least it is to me! Anything with flowers is a win.
    Feathers are another thing that can be collected. They can be added to a vase, tied onto a package (would be especially good on a man gift), or even arranged in a frame as art.
    I like the idea of giving wood as gifts. We have loads of this from dead trees we had to cut down when we moved in, but I never thought of giving it to people. The kind we have is expensive to buy. Vicky's projects reminded me that I want to make some drink coasters, too. Those would also be good gifts.
    Annabel, I like this post so well, I think I am going to have to read it multiple times lol! I hope you are having a good week! Love, Kelsey

    1. Dear Kelsey, Feathers! How could I forget feathers! Andy wears hats so when we find an amazing feather it goes into a hat.
      Wood is a wonderful gift for anyone with a fire or even pizza oven etc especially if they normally buy it. Here in Adelaide a trailer of wood is $300 upwards.
      If you can get wood cut into thin slices i.e. an inch or so then there are a lot of projects to do! I will show you some that Vicky and I were talking about. And thinner and smaller for coasters... Kelsey you may have another windfall here!
      I was thinking of you when I mentioned the wildflowers!
      I hope your week is going well! With lots of love,

  3. I love reading what everyone is up to and their individual take on Annabel's ideas. I live right near the beach and surprise, surprise I collect interesting shells. I have the ones I collect in jars, similar to mason jars, around the house. At certain times of year we have loads of cuttlefish on the beach. I collect these for friends with birds.
    Looking forward to being inspired by everyones ideas as mine are quite limited.

    1. Dear Jane,
      I love shells and many beaches here don't have them. Tummy Bay had zero! I once had a beautiful vintage bathroom mirror surrounded by a thick frame of shells. It was amazing.
      We do have cuttlefish and I collect those for our birds! They are sold in shops!
      This reminds me that my Nan loved driftwood and made it into floral table centrepieces. So driftwood is another potential.
      The ideas that have come in comments are amazing! Plus we all live in different areas with different resources! With love,

  4. Hi Annabel,"Scissors and a basket in the car" it! I do that too. I never go out without them! Just remembered that I used to press voila/violets and make gift cards....Thanks for all the great ideas, inspiration and the encouragement to have a go. Cheers.

    1. I really need to be pressing flowers! I love Pansies and Violets!
      Thank you so much Jo! xxx

  5. Hi, Annabel.

    As we travel so very much, I have my snipping scissors clipped to a lanyard I can hang around my neck, and also carry a small, hard plastic box of all types of needles, a pouch of crochet hooks, a seam ripper, small bottles of Alene's craft glues, a mini-stapler, pencil sharpener, tape, and multiple sizes of zip-top baggies. I am prepared whenever inspiration strikes!

    I collect sea glass, sea shells, sand, acorns, pine cones, seed pods from flame trees-- anything that might make an interesting ___? or an embellishment or could be glittered or glued to a wreath, etc.

    My daughter Dana one year made coastal-themed Christmas ornaments. Before she slathered glue all over styrofoam egg-shapes and ornament size balls and rolled them in beach sand, she used a wire cutter to cut long U's from paperclips and pushed them into the tops, cementing them in there with glue. She left a little space to thread ribbon or jute for the ornament hanger. This helped them to hang while they dry, too. Then she hot glued tiny collected seashells onto the dried sand. That Christmas, those were the only gifts she gave. Her friends still talk about her treasured handmade ornaments. So cheap to make, and fun!


    1. Dear Kelley, You sound like a nature lover and collector like me! I love sea glass!
      Your daughters costal decorations sound lovely! They could be year round decorations too.
      Collecting adds a lot of fun to travel. And things you find hold memories of the places you visited too.
      So many lovely possibilities! Many thanks Kelley! with love,

  6. Hi Annabel!

    My husband just informed me that my 'Bluebirds' mail had arrived during the day. "I know!" I told him. "I read it while you were in that electronics shop!" This gave us a good laugh! Thank you!!

    Annabel, this work is beautiful - all the way through. Natural things are at the pinnacle of beauty!

    I am a little envious of those who live near the sea. I have found pumice stone before, and find sea glass a wonder that I'd love to actually see!!

    Well, I've been thinking, so you're welcome to take a little ramble through the outdoors with me!

    Similar to Kelsey's situation, we have red cedar trees that self prune when it rains. For an 80 year old friend, we wrote a poem and gave red cedar sticks for what we called 'a royal fire'. To a wood turner/furniture maker we gave a larger branch section, since it seemed too good to waste. As a child, my siblings and I used to hand stitch camphor laurel shavings (left over from council tree lopping) into pillows. I wonder what happened to them?! I've seen beautiful large gum nuts used to decorate baskets, and these, or other small timber pieces, could carry essential oils.

    My Dad is an expert in taking little bits of this and that from various gardens to put floral arrangements together. You wouldn't even know he'd been there. He shares your gift of getting on with people in practical ways, Annabel!

    At home here, I used to collect dry leaves from gutter cleaning for use as fuel in my eco billy. We also cleaned gutters for a friend. After years of leaves, this produced for her a great source of potting mix! Around here, too, the fibres that the birds leave can be potential sources of tinder for those with an interest in fire lighting techniques.

    Then there are unusual things which, for the right person, can be a great gift. For instance, a friend gave me a whole bunya nut cone. As far as bunya nut cones go, it was a smaller one and, after only a couple of weeks, it opened to reveal only a couple of nuts inside. Since they were shooting, I planted them down in the bush. It was interesting, and I learnt how to prepare the nuts. When I learn something interesting about plants, especially native plants, I find it interests others, too. Just wait 'till I dig up some wombat berries, or give a bouquet of lush weedy cobblers pegs as a wonderfully useful plant that I've just heard about - via a herbalist I respect and have met.

    On my 'give it another go' list is loofahs/luffas. They can be eaten when young, or used as loofah sponges when fully matured. We see them glued to timber handles for back scrubbers. They can be used for the dishes for those of us who are not up to the crochet dish cloth stage! That's for planting after winter.

    Then there are native, and other, cotton plants. The usual cotton grows such beautiful flowers. I've had the fun of deseeding cotton bolls before. It's a lovely task, and also produces clouds of cotton. Just the seeds, for the right person, is an interesting gift. I am thinking I could spin a little by hand to make candle wicks. With a jar of sea water to soak the wick in, this would work in our olive oil lamp. You can see that I'm enjoying this, can't you?!!

    I'd love to learn more about Vicky's poor man's honey and violet jelly. It's useful having the internet!

    I know this is long. You started it!!

    With warm regards,
    Rachel Holt

    1. Rachel,
      Poor Man's Honey is just dandelion heads steeped over night and strained and twice the sugar as liquid and boiled until thick. It has a mild honey taste and the violet jelly is pretty much the same, but lemon juice and pectin added to make the jelly. It is very very pretty!

    2. Dear Rachel,
      Thank you for wonderful thoughts and ideas! I think the cotton plant is so pretty and would happily have vases of it with the little tufts of cotton!
      My Nan was very creative with flowers and drift wood often featured.
      I daresay it is not a good idea to be under cedar trees when they self prune! Im going to google that as HOW much do they self prune is my question? In any instance cedar is a wonderful timber!
      Im glad I kept you company while your husband was in the electronics shop! It is amazing what we all come up with between us. I think your family all sound very creative and resourceful. Thank you Rachel! With love

    3. Annabel, our red cedar trees are Toona ..... australis, a deciduous tree, and likely quite different to the red cedars you might have in SA. I think yours would be much safer.

    4. So many lovely ideas Rachel and I've never heard of poor man's honey Vicky but I'll have to try and make it one day! x

  7. Hi Annabel,

    This is an area of gift giving in which I need to hone some skills! I think I'll have to develop my green thumb.

    Thinking about Vicky's mention of homemade teas, has got me thinking - my DSIL has an Indian background makes THE most delicious Chai Tea using star anise, cardammon, cinnamon (and I'm not sure what else). I think I need to have a chat with her as I can see this would be a great addition to a gift.


    1. Dear Janine,
      I think having someone with a skill like making Chai tea is very handy! My friend went to India and came back totally crazy over the teas and has been brewing them up since. This could make great gifts!
      Keep your eyes open as many people have amazing things in their garden and never use them i.e. herbs etc. I have thought of someone I know with a holly bush. I have picked that to make Christmas wreaths and it was just lovely!
      I hope you are having a good week. With love,

  8. My husband hunts and likes to joke around looking for deer sheds, he's made me a few presents that I love from them! My favorite one is he sanded two smaller ones smooth and drilled two holes (in the area where they would have attached to the head) then hung them by the windows for using as tie backs. Also if you find ones where the tips are the same length you can attach a base (found wood, piece of metal etc.) in the other end and use it as a candle holder. Along the lines of your outdoor chandelier if you find many sheds you can wire them in a circle and hang from rope for a beautiful centerpiece or chandelier. I know I've seen other ideas, including spray painting them white and dip ends in glitter for a bookend or paperweight. So many creative things to do , not enough time:)

    1. Dear Elizabeth, Thank you for your ideas! My brother has an antler chandelier and it is all wired up with lights and everything. It is amazing!
      It is very handy having a husband that hunts. I have also seen antlers made into the handles for knives which look really good.
      Thank you so much! With love

  9. First of all, I want to tell you, Annabel, what a treasure you are. I know your husband is so proud of you--you are so special. I love your blog and I like how you just simply write as if you are having a conversation with us. I really appreciate you and all your ideas (and the ones the other ladies contribute!). I had to smile when you mentioned that as a child you loved the nature table. I could just see you as a little blonde haired girl all enthralled. It reminded me of when I was small and would find pretty fall leaves. I would place them between sheets of waxed paper and my mother would carefully press the paper with a hot iron to seal. I kept those leaves until they turned brown! Your idea of gifts from God's creation in nature is wonderful. Years back, I had a 'flower and bread ministry'. I would cut bouquets of flowers from my yard, bake a loaf of French bread and ask God who I should take it to. When a person came to mind, that is who I would take the gifts to. I also used to secretly place bouquets of flowers on doorsteps for people, I would save used (clean) glass jars for the vase. One spring, my husband and I took huge bouquets of peonies and iris to the people at a local nursing home (in fact I have a touching story about that), and one time, for a funeral for a lovely friend, I took a bouquet of flowers and set it amongst the floral shop bouquets. The funeral director said it looked like a professional arrangement. There are so many great gift ideas here, and your wild flower arrangements are FANTASTIC!

    1. Dear Joy, Thank you so much for so much encouragement.
      I have seen the idea of ironing the waxed paper together with flowers in the middle and completely forgotten it! I am going to do this! Thank you so much!
      I just love your Flower and Bread Ministry! Truly that is gorgeous.
      I would like to hear the story too of the nursing home...
      What beautiful things to do. You have inspired me so much Joy! With love and thanks,

    2. Hello Annabel, the story of the nursing home can be found here:

    3. Thank you Joy! We have found an old lady in a home by circumstances of Andys job... and the same applies, she gets no visitors. So we are it now! There are so many lonely and forgotten people! Beautiful story! Thank you!xxx

  10. May I please share a couple of gift ideas from nature? A few years ago I brought back small, pretty seashells from the beach. I purposefully selected some that had a small hole where I could attach jewelry findings (very inexpensive to purchase in bulk). Then I crafted macramé cords to make summery necklaces. I have made necklaces using small, pretty stones in a similar manner. On a more recent trip I was blessed to find several beautiful pieces of sea glass. I wired the glass pieces as pendants to make unique necklaces to give the ladies in my family as Christmas gifts.
    Blessings, Leigh

    1. Dear Leigh,
      I love the necklaces! How beautiful! I want to do this... I really like shells.
      Also I have seen gold dipped shells...
      And I also love sea glass and know where I can get it. In the country near where I used to live there is a beach that is actually called Glass Beach. Many years ago the town dumped bottles into the sea. Now it washes in as sea glass and this little beach literally sparkles! it is amazing!
      thank you for lovely ideas Leigh! With love

  11. What great gift ideas! Just in time too, as I was pondering what to give my daughter whose first day at her new job is today! Well, I made her a delightful card from my card-making supplies and then (although not free) purchased an inexpensive spearmint plant! I fancied it up with light brown tissue paper and jute tie and it's just the right gift. Thank you, Annabel, and all, for inspiring me to go natural with a gift. A plant is much better than purchased candy (which is what I was going to default to buying). Blessings! Teresa

    1. Dear Teresa,
      I hope your daughters first day went really well! I am sure she appreciated your gift.
      I really like gifts that keep giving! Thanks so much Teresa, love

  12. Dear Annabel, this is a gorgeous post! I love how you pare the idea back to it's basics and make it so do-able. Some nature elements that I've used, include many that you've mentioned, plus things like twigs from trees that are shaped like miniature trees themselves, that can be spray painted and glittered to gift in pots for Christmas. Tying miniature ornaments to them can be an added bonus, and that can be anything from seed pods to smaller pine cones, to seashells as Kelley mentioned, or even prettily wrapped chocolates or lollies. Seed balls to attract birdlife, flower seeds enmeshed in hand made paper, and bath soak using dried flower petals and herbs are all gorgeous too. Thankyou for the wonderful inspiration. Love, Mimi xxx

    1. Dear Mimi, Thank you! There is a weed that grows on the way to the farm. it is very prickly but looks like a tiny Christmas tree! I have sprayed them silver! Great minds think alike!
      I love your use of rose petals. Next spring I am going to be saving rose petals with crafts in mind.
      There is such abundance around us and it can be a massive asset, we have to see it and think how to use it. Much love

  13. Hi Annabel,
    I was so pleased to read this post. For years I'm sure my children and husband thought I was a little crazy with my collection of natures bounty. Blackberries by the bucket load for pies and jams, getting harder to find but still available, I keep notes when I see them and note if and when they have been sprayed pine cones for fire starters and for decoration. Gum nuts for floral decoration and as buttons on homespun garments.
    Gorse or furze flowers boiled up to make dye for homespun, my dad loved that, he said the colours were very 1930's he could remember his mum knitting with wool that colour.
    The best thing of all my family are now on board with mum, not so crazy. My husband made twig vases, shawl pins and coasters from the wood cut out of our hawthorn hedge, they were beautiful and the people we gave them to were thrilled.
    My daughter asked where my favourite berry spot was after the imported berry scare last year. The grandchildren love collecting flowers and leaves for making cards and gifts.
    The possibilities are endless, lichens, eucalyptus leaves, even some types of fungi can be used for dyeing not only wool, but silk and cotton. Of course we do need to look to our own backyard first, and ask permission before collecting on other people's land. Generally people are quite happy to let you collect, I think they're quite intrigued by the idea that you will create something from the leaves or whatever you've collected.
    Anyway I could talk about this for ever, and I've had a few ideas just as I've been writing this. I'll see if they work out, and once I've nutted out how to send a photo will send you one for the Christmas challenge.
    Best wishes
    Susan K

    1. Dear Susan,
      It sounds like we may be related! I used to keep notes on the calendar when the road side apple tree would be fruiting etc!
      My Nan used onion skins, beetroot and other things to dye the wool she spun and the colours were lovely too.
      I love the sound of the things your husband made from the Hawthorn Hedge.
      I would really love photos Susan! Once you have uploaded and emailed a photo once it is so easy then you will be set. With love

  14. Lovely post with so many great ideas! Ive made rosemary salt and herb vinegars with the herbs in my garden. In a pretty bottle, they make lovely gifts! My husband has a thing for collecting rocks and pebbles when we go walking and sometimes large bits of fallen wood and sticks. He has a knack for making beautiful nature gifts. A few years ago when money was really tight he made our youngest son a large gnome tree house from fallen branches and old wooden shelves he found on verge collection. It was the most loved gift and I've seen similar ones for hundreds of dollars. He also made a set of "dueling wands" for our Harry Potter loving son which was just 2 lovely sticks sanded down with ribbon, feathers and gems added and put in a decorated box. A friend of ours makes the most lovely rustic walking sticks from fallen branches, my hubby was lucky enough to be gifted one which has been of great help to his back. I'll have to send you photos so you can see what I'm talking about :) The kids and I always collect shells and sea glass from the beach and have made necklaces and earring with them. xx

    1. Dear Mel,
      I have rosemary! I could be doing that!
      Mel I love what your husband made from fallen timber. To a child this would be so magical! Actually to me this would be so magical!
      Your ideas are fantastic! The walking sticks sound lovely too and I know someone who doesn't need a walking stick but she uses one as she feels it is a form of security, protection.
      Yes please re the photos! Thanks Mel! Love

  15. Love this post Annabel! We also collect dried leaves, flowers, sticks, pods and pinecones for fabulously free potpourri! :)

    1. Thank you Jes! Collecting to me is so much fun! I have always been the same. You never know what you will find! xxx


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