There is a certain satisfaction in gardening--watching your flowers bloom and vegetables ripen--but Maggie Oster has come up with some unique ways to let you and others enjoy the fruits of your labors for many seasons.
Oster, 39, conjures up craft projects using everything from dried flowers, grasses and herbs, to okra, wheat and willow. Her new book, "Gifts and Crafts From the Garden" (Rodale Press, 224 pages, $19.95), contains more than 100 projects for making gifts from the garden that won't wilt or get eaten.
Oster has been involved in such crafts since she was 6.
"My mother is a gardener and I remember we were making baskets when I was young," Oster said from her home in Palmyra, Ind.
"It's very satisfying to create something yourself. There's the issue of self-esteem and self-satisfaction. We get so in the habit of running out and buying something."
Oster said her own gardening and craft work come in handy when the pace of life gets a little hurried because "it slows me down," adding that some of the projects in the book require a lot of time and effort.
"Some things (in the book), I won't pretend, they do take a lot of time," she said. "If you had to figure out what you got paid by the hour, you wouldn't do it. The act of creativity is the key for all of us."
The projects, using natural plant materials, include wreaths and swags, decorative baskets, pressed-flower pictures and place mats, scented candles, pomanders, potpourri, table centerpieces and holiday decorations.
There's even a chapter on making personal-care products--hand cream, soap, body powder, shampoo and facial moisturizers. "I grow a lot of herbs. I'm fascinated by herbs," Oster said. "I just thought it would be a fun thing."
One recipe, an Oster favorite, is a facial vinegar described in the book as something that "refines the skin's pores and restores the natural acid balance of the skin after washing."
"What fascinated me was the vinegars," she said. "You don't think of vinegar as a beauty preparation. Of course, with all the beauty products, the shelf life is not long. Storing them in the refrigerator will help and the colognes, because of the alcohol, will last longer."
Oster uses many of the plants from her own garden, but she does seek other sources for some materials and advised would-be garden crafters not to be ashamed to do likewise.
"My garden is not that big, only because in previous times I tried to do too much and got overwhelmed," she said. "It's probably 70 by 50 feet in my front yard. Hey, life's too short. I go to other sources too."
Oster said she considered her garden, kitchen and work space in her home as a laboratory and she has tested and completed each of the projects in the book.
"I'm a horticulturist by training and I've worked in publishing," she said. "I pride myself on the step-by-step process in the book. The instructions are easy to understand."
Easy instructions aside, there are some folks who may have wanted to try these kinds of projects for years but always feared the results would be less than stellar. Don't worry, Oster advised.
"Probably, if you live in a condo, you don't bother with growing and all that," she said. "But you don't have to feel limited by gardening skills. A lot of places that sell materials have classes, and while these projects are for doing at home, you may want to start out with a class. Don't be afraid to try.
"There was one project on weaving that got cut from the book, with grasses and dried things. I have a friend who's a weaver and it was so much fun to watch her. I have always thought that you have to do something just right, but she was so free-form. There is no right or wrong.
"Just have fun with it. It's sort of like being childlike. You know, the kids get out their Crayolas and they just have fun."