Your Natural Home
Creating a cozy hearth for the family


DIY Garden Shed

In our part of the Midwest, spring has lingered, and we’re so grateful. There’s been no rush into the hot and humid days of high summer as in years past. We’ve had light rains, pleasant blue skies, and nighttime temperatures in the 40’s. In fact the weather’s been so chilly, we invited friends over for a bonfire and s’mores…not a typical June get-together!

Even though spring has been fair and cool, it’s been a time of doing and enjoying, and the extraordinary sunlit days have been just right for gardening. The vegetables and herb plants are in, along with some new perennials and colorful annuals. It’s been a fine time to enjoy simple country pleasures.

Along with gardening, comes time to pull much-needed tools from the barn…hoes, rakes, watering cans, hoses, each in a variety of shapes and sizes…you know the drill. And each year they’re tucked into a metal hose holder that becomes so full it ends up leaning against the lilac bush that sits by the garden.  This summer, it was time for a change.

I needed a garden shed; nothing too big, nothing too fancy, but something that would be just right for the tools I need every day. I decided to look through the barn…there are always hidden gems in a barn from a farm built in 1864.  Tucked in the corn cribs are lots of screen doors, windows, and wooden doors. Then I began putting the pieces together…hadn’t I seen a shed made from old doors somewhere? I began pulling out doors, corrugated metal from the old barn roof, scrap pieces of wood and so the plans for a shed began.

Here’s what we started with…to some, not worth keeping, but to me, worth their weight in gold. Old, chippy doors full of character…just what I wanted. Now to get started!

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While I wish I’d taken pictures during the put-together, truly, you’ll be able to look it over and make your own. There’s no right or wrong…do whatever you like!

For me, I only wanted three doors…I’d keep it an open shed with no closing front door, this would keep access to tools quick & easy. Three hinges were spaced evenly apart on each side of the center door to make attaching each side door simple.

I didn’t want a floor either…again, my goal was to keep this a quick & easy project. Once the doors were hinged together, it was easy to set them in place.  Now for the roof…I was lucky, the center door was shorter than the other two, so it would be ideal for water runoff when a roof was added.

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Some scrap wood was cut to rest on the tops of the side doors, angled to be lower in the back and then screwed securely into place.  Another piece was added across the front and back, meeting the angled pieces, so the roof would have a secure resting place.  To complete the roof, corrugated metal roofing that had been removed from our barn was used  (I knew it would come in handy some day!)  The metal was cut to fit, then screwed to the pieces of wood. The shed was complete!

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I couldn’t wait to add some garden finds I had tucked away…hooks to hold smaller hanging tools, a garden shed sign I’d found at our local feed store, and a vintage dustpan I’d filled with flowers.  A raised panel easily became a shelf after adding L brackets to the back center door for it to rest on, and I was done. 

I love it! It’s ideal for corralling the tools I use most, and maybe more importantly, it makes me smile!


Mary is a Midwest farm girl who will tell you, “I love simple, old-fashioned ways. For me, it’s the country pleasures that mean the most ... tying on an apron for Sunday dinner, barn sales & auctions, farmers' markets, county fairs, porch swings, and slow train rides. Add to these the laughter of children, and I couldn't be happier!” You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here, Windy Meadows Farm.

The Importance of Using Natural Cleaning Products

Corporations have spent millions of dollars and many years of research to provide consumers with products that effectively create sterile environments. Although effective, are they truly to our benefit? Sure, window cleaners that remove grime and don’t leave streaks are helpful, but are they safe?

If you were left alone in a small room with no ventilation with window cleaner rich in ammonia, it would literally burn holes in your lungs over time. Research has found the chemicals present in popular cleaning products have the ability to cause headaches, disrupt our endocrine system and possess carcinogenic properties that can lead to cancer. It is becoming increasingly clear that using natural cleaning products is the only sure way to avoid these health issues occurring within your own home.

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Photo by eskay lim/AdobeStock.com

Danger to Children and Pets

Large cleaning supply companies have also learned how to best market to consumers using certain colors and fonts in their labeling, designing appealing packaging and using variously shaped bottles. This can be dangerous in our homes when our children or pets find them to also be appealing and misuse them.

According to a study published by the journal “Pediatrics,” more than 17,000 children under the age of 6 were seriously ill after ingesting colorful laundry pods between 2012 and 2013. Ingesting things like laundry pods can result in infant or animal fatalities that could have been prevented by only using natural cleaning products. If you do use harsh chemicals in your cleaning products, be sure to store them away in a cabinet not easily accessed by children or curious animals.

In further consideration of children, when you use harsh chemicals to clean your home, they are emitted into the air your children breathe. They are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can cause respiratory issues to those who inhale them, including you. When you use aerosols and conventional cleaning products you are polluting the air within your home. Hopefully, as cleaning companies continue to evolve, VOCs will be eliminated, but for now, are something we all need to be aware of.

The Future of Cleaning Products

The Food and Drug Administration just came out with reports about how the overuse of antibacterial soaps make us less resilient to bacteria as the bacteria become more resistant over time. It’s similar to the overuse of antibiotics and the generation of superbugs as bacteria evolve to outlive the prescriptions that were once effective.

Implementing the use of natural cleaning products in your home helps to reduce the growth of superbugs and protects your personal health as well. Be sure to be an educated consumer and not fall for products that greenwash their marketing in an attempt to appear more eco-friendly than they are.

Read the ingredients and be sure to watch out for the following chemicals:

  • Butyl cellosolve — Suspected carcinogen
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylate — Endocrine disruptor
  • Chlorinated phenols or chlorophenols — Toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems and suspected carcinogen
  • Glycol ethers (including diethylene glycol and 2-butoxyethanol) — Negatively affects liver and kidneys
  • Formaldehyde — Irritates the respiratory system and suspected carcinogen
  • Benzene — Causes damage to the nervous system and linked to leukemia
  • Butane — Toxic to the brain and nervous system

Although products may advertise “all natural” or “eco-this or that,” they often still include one of the chemicals listed above, just in smaller amounts. There is nothing that legally prevents a company from using creative marketing techniques to disguise themselves as something other than what they truly are.

Implement Natural Options

When in doubt, making your own homemade cleaning products will ensure you know exactly what is in the product you are using. It also empowers you to make sound decisions for you and your household by thinking twice before spraying down your kitchen counters with just any cleaning solution.

Creating a natural cleaning supply list is inexpensive and simple to do, once you have the materials. Purchase or repurpose a few spray bottles and clearly label them for their intended product. This ensures you don’t have to whip up a new batch of cleanser every time there is a spill in the kitchen.  

Some items to always keep on hand for cleaning purposes are:

  • Fresh lemons — natural disinfectant and deodorizer
  • White vinegar — natural disinfectant
  • Salt — natural abrasive
  • Baking soda — natural abrasive and deodorizer
  • Olive oil — natural polishing agent and adhesive remover
  • Castile soap or an all-natural liquid soap — natural degreaser
  • Essential oils — natural scents

You can even make your own cleaning materials, such as pre-moistened dust cloths. Returning to the ways our grandmothers used to keep a household clean is a mantra to keep in mind. Generations before us found ways to manage their households with simple, natural products, and we can work to do the same for our homes and families, now.

Necessary Ranch Salve

My husband and I have a lot in common. First of all, we love living out away from town. We also love animals especially dogs, horses, and barn cats. We love road trips and Mexican food. Another thing we share are mysterious bumps and bruises, scrapes and cuts. Every week, as we work around the place, we come up with bumps and bruises, scrapes and cuts and a lot of the time we have no idea how we got them! I guess we are so focused on what we are doing at the time that we don’t notice when we get some minor ding.

Next thing you know we’re in the kitchen and looking at our arms, for example, and wondering how that got there! It’s not that we’re accident prone. Well, maybe we are but we are only small accident prone. When we went to see the dermatologist recently he told us that plain old Vaseline works best on minor stuff and we were not to use antibiotic ointment. Imagine that! I decided to make my own salve as I am not in favor of petroleum products no matter how recommended they are by the good, ole doctor!

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Here’s my concoction:

Fairfield Ranch Salve

Makes 4 ounces

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup beeswax - grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. shea butter
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 vitamin E capsule (400 IU)
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil

Supplies

  • Measuring cups (I use stainless steel because you can pour boiling soapy water on them afterwards making it easier to clean the beeswax out)
  • Measuring spoons (same thing- stainless steel)
  • Double boiler (it’s very helpful if the top pan has a spout)
  • Small bowl (I use Pyrex custard cups. They are also easy to clean afterwards by pouring boiling soapy water on them.)
  • Straight pin
  • 4-ounce jar (glass or plastic – either is fine)
  • Wooden stick (I use hibachi skewers)

supplies

Instructions

Melt the beeswax, olive oil and shea butter in top of double boiler. You can use a microwave but I feel that’s harder to control because you can’t see what’s happening. If you do use a microwave go for small increments of time. It would be unpleasant to have to clean melted beeswax off the inside of your oven. Start out at short intervals until it melts.

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Turn off the heat and leave the mixture in the pot to stay warm and melted. Put honey in small bowl. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the melted beeswax mixture in to the honey and stir together. Stir until it becomes creamy. It will start to solidify so don’t delay in stirring it. If you delay you may find that there are small lumps and it won’t be 100% smooth. Now add the mixture to the rest of the beeswax mixture in the pot and blend. It won’t blend very well because the olive oil is resistant. Just do your best. When you pour it into the small bowl near the end there will be an opportunity to cream it.

mix

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Poke a pin in the small end of a capsule of vitamin E and squeeze it into the mixture. Add the essential oil and mix as best you can. Now pour it into a small bowl and let it sit for a minute. It will start to solidify. After a minute or two while it’s still warm, cream the mixture. Once it’s creamed, spoon it into small jars and cool. Cover with a lid. This is good for minor scrapes, cuts, rashes, insect stings, mild sunburn, etc. The honey has anti-microbial properties and the vitamin E is good for your skin.

Clean up: Put all your utensils in the pot, squirt dishwashing liquid in and pour boiling water over all. It should be easily cleaned this way.

Eco-Friendly Plumbing Tips

When trying to be environmentally conscious, it is important to figure out how to do so in as many aspects of your life as possible. Recycling certainly helps the world at large, but there are other ways that you can reduce any negative impacts your home might have on the environment. While energy-efficient bulbs and appliances are widely available and easy to install, the plumbing in a home is an often overlooked area that can be made more eco-friendly.

Maintenance Prevents Damage

Replacing plumbing fixtures is often expensive, and the longer that you’re able to extend the life of any plumbing fixtures or pipes, the less environmental impact you’ll have. Not only will performing regular maintenance help to keep your plumbing in working order for years to come, it reduces greenhouse gases involved in producing and shipping new plumbing hardware. Extending the life of your plumbing through regular maintenance also puts more green into your wallet, which is the icing on the cake.

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Maintaining your plumbing isn’t all too difficult, as long as you remember to regularly check to make sure the faucets aren’t leaking and the toilet isn’t running. A leaky faucet or running toilet may not seem like the end of the world, but all those little drips add up to a whole lot of wasted water. In the wintertime, it is important to winterize your pipes to prevent them from bursting, which can lead to water damage requiring costly repairs.

If you do end up having to replace any of your bathroom fixtures, give your bathroom a boost by investing in a low gallon-per-flush toilet is the way to go. Not only are these toilets much more efficient and environmentally friendly, but they can save you hundreds of dollars on your water bill over the course of a year. Additionally, you can install a shower head shut-off button which allows you to stop the flow of water while you lather up, saving gallons of water in the process.

Keep Sustainability in Mind

When trying to improve your home with the environment in mind, going for the most sustainable options possible is a must. Around the globe, civil engineers are improving sustainability with plastic roads, vertical farming, and innovative ways to harvest rainwater. Though you’d be hard pressed to convince your HOA to install plastic roads, using a rain barrel to water your plants is a great, environmentally conscious way to conserve water without spending all too much.

Getting the most out of your plumbing can actually tackle two problems at once. While resting water cools relatively rapidly after it exits the water heater and waits in the pipes, installing a recirculating system keeps warm water ready to go without it cooling down. This means that you won’t have to wait for your shower to heat up, which can save you loads of water. Additionally, you can use the radiant heat from the pipes in the walls to keep your bathroom toasty warm all year round.

If you need to upgrade your water filtration system, note that new systems may take more than just pollutants out of your water; they can also remove essential nutrients like calcium and magnesium. While this may seem trivial, it can have an impact on your well-being over the long term. Some home water filtration products are designed to re-introduce an essential mineral balance into your water, keeping your water clean as well as healthy to drink.

The world at large recognizes the need for sustainable, eco-friendly plumbing solutions. The market for eco-friendly plumbing fixtures is booming internationally, and soon it will become the standard for all new construction to implement these environmentally conscious fixtures. As a consumer, this means that the availability of eco-friendly and sustainable plumbing solutions are quickly becoming widely available. In the future, you won’t have to search too hard to find a system that works for you.

Get Creative

One of the main tenets of the concept of green plumbing is the reduction in overall usage of water. The kitchen and the bathroom are the two areas in a home in which the most water is wasted. While installing efficient fixtures and appliances certainly helps, changing your habits and getting creative with how you conserve water will make the biggest difference. Shorter, cooler showers, turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth, and not allowing the faucet to run when you wash dishes or produce is a great place to start.

There are some truly ingenious ways that you can save water each and every day. Consider buying a dedicated “shower bucket” for your bathroom to place under the tap to collect the cold water while you wait for it to warm up. This is a proven effective method of conserving water in areas affected by drought. You can then use this water to water your garden or even to flush the toilet. While it isn’t the most pleasant of methods, not flushing after every time you use the bathroom unless it is absolutely necessary can also save gallons of water.

Always try to do full loads of laundry and dishes to maximize the effectiveness of the water that you’re using. Another inventive way to save water in the bathroom is to place a water displacement device into the tank on your toilet. While a brick is often recommended, they can break down over time and fill your pipes with damaging sediment, so a half-gallon jug filled with water is generally a wiser way to go about it.

All in all, as long as you’re making the conscious decision to try and use the bare minimum amount of water, you’ll be doing mother nature a huge favor. Supplementing these changes with water-efficient appliances, pipes, and fixtures only compounds the good that you’ll be doing. Saving water means saving the planet, and with a little knowledge on your side, it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Our Life is Real Life

Ten years ago, I was arriving home from the hospital from the birth of my second baby, a son. My husband drove us, with our 21-month-old daughter strapped in next to her new brother. We were a family of four, huddled down for the winter in Wisconsin, on our farm. As soon as we were settled in the house, Andy headed out the door to feed our hens and sheep and cattle. The sheep and cows were expectant mothers as well. In a few months we would have the delight of lambing season upon us. At the same time, our Holstein and Milking Shorthorn heifers would start to freshen (give birth) and we would become dairy farmers.

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Photo by Rebekah Sell

I look back at that time and give a deep sigh. It’s both fatiguing to think of all we did at once and bittersweet to know it is no more. We tried for three exhausting, yet rewarding years to take over my parents’ farm, but in the end, my dad just wasn’t ready to quit.

We left the farm in order to save our relationship with my parents.

In doing so, our little family entered a sort of wilderness. We had little direction and didn’t know what God had for our lives. In the midst of that, we added two more boys to our family, moved five times and went through six job changes. It turns out, we had a lot to learn about ourselves, about relationships and more growth of character than I ever could have imagined that day, that day I held my second baby for the first time.

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Photo by Rebekah Sell

In 2013, we had an opportunity to buy a small house on seven acres of land. It was right across the street from our farm, the family farm, which is still in Dad’s hands. Ever since we returned to the country, we work tirelessly on creating a home out of our little space. We work diligently to raise our four children in the way they should go. We double down on what we have, instead of longing for things we don’t.

As our path continues to unfold, we’d love to share it with you: all the love, the successes, the failures, the pain. Because our story is about Real Life...and I know yours is too.

17 Capital Rules of Indoor Plant Care

When you buy a new plant, you find her the perfect place in your décor and she looks stunning. But time flies and soon she has lost some of her original stamina, for mysterious reasons. Too much water? Too little light? All we want is for our plants to keep looking fresh in the long run, but that’s not always easy. That's why I collected the best plant wisdom into this list. Regardless of your experience with plants, from beginner to advanced, keep these capital rules of indoor gardening in mind for the sake of your green babies. But don't be too harsh on yourself, as we all kill plants.

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Photo Credits: Hàn Vi Phạm Thị

17 Capital Rules Of Indoor Plant Care

1. Know your plant's water preferences. 

Indoor plants can be divided into two major groups according to their preferences in terms of moisture: the Dry Type (a.k.a. Desert type) prefers dry soil and the Moist Type (a.k.a. Tropical type) prefers moist soil. Easy so far.

2. Cacti and succulents are from the Dry Type, they prefer dry and well-drained soil. Leafy green indoor plants can be from either type, depending on the species, but most of them are from the Moist Type.

Leafy Green Indoor Plants (Moist Type)

3. Most tropical plants will flourish in indirect sunlight, and some can even live in a darker corner. Indirect sunlight is key because direct sunlight can be too harsh and scorch the leaves.

4. Moist Type: on average, water once per week (rule of thumb).

5. Holiday watering tricks: to increase moisture around your plant when you're away, fill a pebble tray or bucket with water and place it near your plant before you go on holidays. You can also use the garden-twine technique or other self-watering tricks. Also, think of using self-watering pots, there are plenty and they saved my life (okay, my plant's life) a few times!

Cacti, Succulents and Dry Plants (Dry Type)

6. Cacti and succulents require plenty of light, preferably direct sunlight. Perfect for a windowsill.

7. Stay on the under-watering side, for root rot caused by over-watering is the no #1 plant killer.

8. Cacti require a little water once per month, succulents twice per month (rule of thumb).

9. Cacti and succulents require a special potting mix with high drainage properties. Don't mix with common houseplant soil.

All Indoor Plants

10. Water more (or more often) during the warm months of the year (summer in the northern hemisphere).

11. Neem oil or peppermint oil are natural insect repellents and can help keep your plant free of pests.

12. Always check the soil before watering, assessing the soil under the surface with your finger. If there are visible cracks in the soil or a gap between the soil and the pot, the soil is dry and the plant has absorbed all the water out.

13. Always drain out all the excess water after you water your plant. Don't let the plant's roots sit in still water, that's the #1 plant killer.

14. Check the roots regularly, fertilize at the beginning of the growth season (spring in the northern hemisphere), and re-pot when roots are outgrowing the pot.

15. Prune unwanted growth and cut dead leaves to refocus the energy towards young leaves. Rotate the plant so that it's not always the same side facing the light.

16. Top up with fresh soil, at least every year, because the plant eats it out in order to grow.

17. Clean dusty leaves with a cloth, it will help your plant restore natural breathing.

If you're keeping those rules in mind, your plants should be thriving most of the time. Remember not to be too harsh on yourself, we all kill plants at times, and even the most experienced gardeners do. It's just learning through experience.


Learn More About Houseplants

Want more tips for your plants and indoor jungle? Check out my blog dedicated to houseplant care or follow me on social media. Planti-fully yours!

Green Gifts and Books That Indoor Plant People Will Love This Christmas

As a plant lover myself (I have more than 40 plants in my flat in London, UK), I'm used to telling family and friends that a green gift is always welcome: a houseplant, of course, will always bring me joy. A book about houseplants and indoor gardening will also surely be appreciated. Ideally, the book should be quite recent and tell a story, or at least showcase stylish photography of plants because I don't want to dive into a boring plant dictionary between Christmas and New Year's Eve, even though I love plants a lot! So, here is my Christmas list of books for the indoor gardener that I am. These books about houseplants have different styles (choose the one that fits best with the personality you're offering it to), but have the following in common: beautiful photos, simple language for any skill level, and they all have been published recently. They’re all loaded with enough plant-y stuff and useful tips that any plant lover will enjoy. A big thank-you to the authors of the books who put a lot of love and dedication into them.

The Books are Urban JunglePlant Society and Living with Plants.

Urban Jungle: Living and Styling With Plants (by Judith De Graaff and Igor Josifovic, 2016)

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By the founders of Urban Jungle Bloggers, Urban Jungle has been a reference among houseplant people since its publication. Broadly acclaimed for crystallizing the urban jungle trend, the book tells the story of people from around the world through the prism of plants. Each chapter is organized around a combination of human portraits and plant portraits. The "At Home With" section tells the stories of plant-loving couples as they describe their interior and plant choices for their home. "Plant Portraits" focuses more on the plants themselves, how to care for them, and how to magnify their beauty. With a combination of styling tips and DIY ideas, the reader will step inside the best urban oases in the Netherlands, France, and Turkey, and discover how these families display and care for their favorite plants. Slightly bohemian, beautiful in all cases, the style of the book is warm and cozy. An ideal companion through the rough months of winter!

Plant Society: Create an Indoor Oasis for Your Urban Space (by Jason Chongue, 2018)

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The newest one on this list, Plant Society is written by a talented interior designer and plant cultivator, Jason Chongue. His experience with plants started as a kid in Australia when his grandma taught him all the tricks and transmitted to him the plant obsession that many of us share. The book is driven by a simple idea: Help anyone care for their plants and keep them happy like his grandmother would do, regardless of their skill level. Packed with helpful advice, solutions against pests and the most common plant issues, the book takes the reader on a step-by-step journey from the basics of houseplants to more advanced propagation techniques, styling, and DIY projects with plants. Gifted with an entire section dedicated to finding a plant for each room, the book has become my plant bible for care advice. The style is modern and refreshing, and Armelle Habib's unique photographs stand out throughout.

Living With Plants: A Guide To Indoor Gardening (by Sophie Lee, 2017)

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Houseplants offer the perfect solution to the urban dweller, lacking in space — indoor and outdoor — and in Living With Plants, botanical-stylist, Sophie Lee, shows you simple but innovative ways to make your home gorgeously green. Starting with the basics, learn how to pick the right plant for your home (and specifically what room), what levels of sunlight your plant needs, and the best space for your plants to thrive.          

Bonus: How to Raise A Plant and Make It Love You Back (by Erin Harding and Morgan Doane, 2018)

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As I'm writing this article, I just heard that a new book about houseplants is out. I'm so excited and just couldn’t leave it out! I have a tendency to already know all the plant books out there and the latest one from popular bloggers and Instagrammers Erin Harding and Morgan Doane from House Plant Club comes right on time for Christmas. That's why I add it here as a bonus for you to check out, as I haven't had a chance to get a copy yet. Let me know what you think if you've got hold of it.

Aimed at a new generation of indoor gardening enthusiasts, this book is a perfect guide for anyone keen to see their plant offspring thrive. Gaining ground on food and pet photos on social media, plants have found popularity in the small home, and are being proclaimed the new stars of Instagram. This beautiful little book is ideal for the novice 'plant parent', providing tips on how to choose plants, where to place them, and above all how to care for them and keep them thriving.

For more book recommendations about house plants, here is a bigger list: Best Books For House Plants Lovers on InvincibleHousePlants.com, the House Plant and Urban Jungle Blog.

Indoor Gardening Accessories

To complement your gift, nothing is better than a plant itself, freshly sourced from your local nursery. A nice pot would also be perfect if you know a bit about the size and style. But if the above is not an option for you, here are some classic indoor gardening accessories that will always be helpful.

  • The Plant Mister (Brass and Glass)
  • The Watering Can (Copper)
  • The Propagation Station: For plant propagation lovers, a propagation station (set of propagation vases and stand) is a perfect small gift. Check out availability on Amazon or on this new online shop that I just discovered: Warmly.

Have a wonderful Christmas!


Boris Dadvisard, urban naturalist based in London, UK, is the author of indoor plant focused blog InvincibleHousePlants.com, The House Plant and Urban Jungle Blog. This article contains affiliate links. By buying through the links the author may receive a tiny commission for the sale, but this has no effect on the price for you.







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