Planting Trees For Special Occasions

tree plantingPlanting indigenous trees is one way we can all make a difference. Whether it is because we want to reduce our carbon footprint, restore a bleak landscape or just because we love trees, a tree planted and looked after will most likely outlive us, a positive legacy that we can be proud of.

Planting a tree is a great way of marking a special occasion: a birthday, an anniversary. Now that the autumn rains have started it’s a great time for tree planting and our girls were determined to plant a tree each for Easter, not so much for their carbon footprint, it must be admitted, more because the Easter bunny has always left eggs in their special trees! Even though you don’t need to wait for an occasion to plant a tree it is lovely to have a growing memorial to a special birthday or event, and kids love having their own trees to look after. Continue reading

Green Gifts For Valentines Day

So red roses are out as a romantic gift, if your love is a green, green eco-warrior… so what would he or she like instead, as the ultimate romantic gesture that shows that you are equally committed to their environmentally friendly ideals?

soy heart candleNatural heart candle
A heart shaped hemp and soy candle with a gorgeous scent ticks all the boxes for a romantic token.  The oils are totally natural and beautifully silky so that you can use them as massage oils after you’ve enjoyed your candlelit dinner. This candle is available from Hemporium in several fragrances and is 100% vegan. Continue reading

Natural Air Freshener – A Bowl of Hyacinths

sweet smelling hyancinthsAir fresheners were one of my pet hates even before I had any idea of green living. Now I’ve read about what goes into creating the artificial fragrances used for air fresheners I am even more against them.

They are very bad for respiratory health especially for young children, often aggravating allergies or triggering asthma attacks. Even worse some of the ingredients are cancer-causing in the long term, so all those chemicals can seriously damage the health of your family. This article has more on the dangers of air fresheners if you want to scare yourself!

I’ve written before about using natural scented candles instead of bathroom air fresheners. But what other ways are there of making your home smell nice?

Ours often smells of baking bread, but just as often of wet dog, so I was over the moon when my sister-in-law reminded me of a winter tradition from my childhood. She gave us a bowl of hyacinth bulbs. They have flowered quickly and their scent perfumes the air all around. It would be almost overpowering in a small room, but in a large space wafts appealingly as you pass.

There is no need for any artificial fragrances with that rich floral scent filling the air, and better still the flowers last for ages. In fact the bulbs are coming out in stages so they should be giving us sweet scents for a couple of months at least. Then we’ll put away the bulbs till next winter, re-pot them and they will grow and flower all over again. How about that for renewable, sustainable, sweet-smelling living!

A bowl of hyacinth bulbs also makes a great green gift for kids to give parents and grandparents – they can plant them up and decorate the bowl to make it even more special.

Consol Solar Jars

Consol solar JarI first saw these fun solar lamps on urban sprout. I thought it was a great idea but then promptly forgot all about them.

A little while later my sister-in-law returned from the Design Indaba in Cape Town with one for us as a present, saying it was the best thing she saw there.

So last night in addition to our usual candle at supper we had the glow of our very own solar jar. It came already charged, so I haven’t had time to assess how long the light lasts for on an average solar charge, but last night at least it shone surprisingly brightly for several hours.

The jar is now charging outside on the grass – it’s a lovely sunny day so hopefully it should reach its maximum charge to shine again tonight. A great idea, only depending for maximum efficiency on us remembering to put it outside to charge.

Solar jar lampEdited to add: Two days later it has been recharged outside and is still shining brightly for as long as we need it every evening. The ‘boys’ took it apart and approved of its construction, sturdy batteries and LED light bulbs, so altogether we think it is great value for money. And pretty cool too!

Buy solar jars online direct from Consol’s Solar Jar website if you want to try them out for yourself. Or they are available from the Consol retail outlets in Stellenbosch and Woodmead, Gauteng.

Christmas Cards – Can they be Green?

Christmas cards

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Are Christmas cards just a chore for you that you’d be happy to dispense with? Or do you love the ritual of catching up with old friends once a year and sharing the latest annual family photo?

Christmas cards are still a firmly rooted tradition for many but are they ever really green?

Several friends have sent out their Christmas cards by e-mail, which is probably the greenest option – no paper used, no postage, no carbon footprint for getting it delivered to your door. But for some this is a cop-out – how can that e-mail pic of the kids in their Santa hats, however cute, ever make it to the display of Christmas cards on the mantelpiece or hanging from the ribbon on the wall? Only if the recipient prints it out themselves… and then it is no longer carbon neutral! While I actually like the immediacy of e-mailing cards – nothing better for the last minute Christmas panic catch-up – some people just don’t feel that they are proper.

Other green options include making your own Christmas cards from recycled paper, packaging, found items, such as leaves and pressed flowers and so on. Hand-delivering can save on postage and help with the green profile, unless you are driving several miles just to deliver it, of course.

What about if the hand-made look just isn’t you, but you still want something unique and individual? It’s well worth looking out for specialist printers with a green ethos, if you like a more formal or sleeker design of card. You can either design your own card, or provide some images and have it designed for you. Ask for recycled paper, check that they use earth-friendly, vegetable based inks and have your own green Christmas cards printed especially for you.

If you are trying to keep costs down, think laterally – why not design yourself a business card size Christmas greeting, so that you can take advantage of special rates in litho printing. Or a postcard size – this will save on postage and envelopes too.

One tip to keep postage costs down – design your cards to fit the standard envelope size. International postage costs far less in this size than it does when you move one size up.

So if you are weighing up tradition versus green living when it comes to Christmas cards you can find an acceptable balance… except now with a countdown of just over a week till Christmas it may be too late to send out the traditional printed and posted Christmas card, this year anyway… e-mail cards here I come!

Dreaming of A Green Christmas – Tree Gifts

tree gifts for urban greeningWe’ve suggested large trees as gifts in our useful green gift guide, but what if you’d like to give a tree, but the recipient doesn’t have space for one?

Greenpop has the solution. You can buy a tree from them and they will plant it for you in one of their urban or rural greening projects. Choose from a fruit tree to be planted in a school, an indigenous tree to green up an urban area or reforest a rural area. They will send a certificate in the name of whoever you are giving the tree to, with the GPS co-ordinates of your exact tree. They follow up on the tree care to make sure it is sustainable, so your gift will last for years and make a real difference to a community and to nature

You both have the satisfaction of your gift contributing positively to the environment, instead of loading you with the guilt of more stuff to de-clutter a few weeks after Christmas!

The tree gift offer is currently deal of the day on CityMob, or buy direct from Greepop. It costs R75 for an indigenous tree and R100 for a fruit tree.

Green Gift Ideas – Useful Gifts

Green Christmas gifts

© Stuart Miles | Dreamstime.com

Useful gifts used to be frowned on. It was better to give something frivolous and decorative than something the recipient could really use. Gifts were supposed to be inessentials, luxuries, prettinesses.

Nowadays we reckon it’s time those restrictions went out of the window. With everyone tightening their belts and cutting budgets, or else going minimalist and decluttering, most frivolous gifts end up being a waste of money and a waste of precious resources.

The truly green gift is useful.

Useful is defined as being something the recipient will actually use – it doesn’t have to be dull – socks again, Dad? Not that there’s anything wrong with socks!  So here are just a few suggestions of useful gifts that would be welcome at our house.

Gourmet cooking ingredients
I love cooking and baking and am always sorely tempted by the gorgeous but expensive ingredients on display next to the regular ones at the supermarket. So a hamper filled with Nomu cocoa and other goodies, real vanilla extract, organic stoneground flour and other organic and gourmet ingredients would be used and appreciated.

LED light bulbs
Like many families we want to go greener but can’t always afford the materials. We’ve had LED light bulbs on our shopping list for ages, but haven’t been able to afford to make the switch. So for the aspiring green family a selection of top quality LED light bulbs would make a thoughtful and very green gift.  Just check what light sockets they have before you buy and consult with an LED specialist about the best options.

Trees or Plants
If someone in your family enjoys gardening, or is about to redesign their garden, how about buying plants or trees. One of my best gifts last year was a whole selection of herbs to re-stock my herb garden, a gift that I am still enjoying over a year later as the herbs continue to flourish. Depending on their garden think of getting a couple of large trees, together with the planting service (no-one wants to spend Christmas holidays digging enormous holes and hefting about large trees!) Or else give them a voucher for a plant nursery near them so they can choose their own selection of plants.

Craft materials
This is a great one for kids – instead of getting yet another plastic toy, get craft materials for them to create with. Don’t get a set in a box (just more for the recycling and often cheap and nasty materials inside) – rather buy a stack of felt squares in a rainbow of colours together with needle and embroidery silks. Or buy a blank canvas with a set of paints or a stack of good quality painting paper with a selection of art materials.

Natural Candles
If you’re still struggling with the useful concept a candle would be the perfect gift for those that love candlelight. To make sure it is green make sure it is a soy, beeswax or hemp candle, not the usual paraffin/petroleum wax. Candles made from natural materials are more expensive, another reason for them to make good gifts, but they are better for the air quality  in the home, better for the environment and smell much nicer too!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea – find something that the person would like to buy regularly but which is a bit of a luxury. Everyone has something different. When I was a kid it used to be tobacco for pipe-smoking uncles or a favourite brand of whisky – nowadays my biggest vice is chocolate, so I’d be more than happy to be bought a bundle of slabs of Lindt chocolate… useful, maybe not… appreciated definitely!

More green gift ideas for gifts that aren’t just stuff. And green gifts that aren’t just clutter.

Green Gift Ideas – Don’t Give A Thing!

Green gift ideasI don’t mean not to give anything as a gift, but rather don’t give a ‘Thing”… a thing being an object that takes up space, isn’t really wanted and quickly becomes clutter to be discarded before next Christmas. It’s fine if you know that someone really wants that object, will use it and appreciate it, but what about all those other unwanted gifts that nestle under the tree.

Here are some green gift ideas that aren’t things, won’t take up any space and will be appreciated all the more for that.

Massage
Everyone loves a massage, but how many of us actually treat ourselves to one regularly? A gift of a massage session with a skilled masseur, whether it is an aromatherapy massage, a foot massage with pedicure or any other pampering treatment is a Christmas gift that is bound to be appreciated by most women and many men. Choose a therapy centre near the recipient, or a luxury spa, depending on your budget, pay for the massage and ask them to give you a voucher to be used any time in the next few months.

Photography Courses
How many budding photographers do you know who are struggling to learn all their camera functions and would love to learn how to take better photos? Why not arrange a photography course or workshop for them as a gift.  A one-on-one workshop gives them a chance to ask all the questions they need and focus on their particular area of photography or a longer course gives them time to practice their skills in a group.

Flower pictures
Looking for an inexpensive gift idea – how about selecting and downloading some flower pictures from a photo gallery online. They can be downloaded in several sizes depending on what you want to do with them –  the small size suitable for web use can cost as little as $1, larger ones for web use $3 and sizes for printing from $10. So you can get some beautiful flower art for very little.

Meal out for Two
When budgets are stretched almost the first thing we cut is eating out. The gift of a meal out at a good local restaurant would delight many couples. Arrange with the restaurant for a voucher and check with them the average price of a three course meal.

Tickets for a Concert or Show
Is there a band coming to town that they love, or perhaps the Kirstenbosch summer concerts if you’re in Cape Town. Surprise them with tickets for the show.

Download books
Have they got a kindle or other digital reader?  A Kindle book download voucher is a very green gift – just make sure that you know which format they use.

Eco travel
If you really want to splash out on a gift, how about paying for holiday in an unspoilt paradise, where the locals are restoring a coral reef and need the support of travelers to fund the process – perhaps the flights make it less green overall, but as a gift it certainly would wow the recipient!

If you want to have something tangible to put under the tree, how about a home-made card on recycled paper that contains a voucher or a slip of paper telling what the gift is going to be.

More green gift ideas that aren’t just clutter.