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She turns "weeds" into household accessories.

After reading the articles in the Nov/Dec issue regarding starting your own home-based business, I decided to write to share some of the projects I have found and really enjoy. Each project may or may not be appropriate for everyone, nor will they constitute a profitable business product, but I can say that they are extremely fun and could generate a little extra income in some cases.

About a year ago, I began paying attention to the plants growing wild around my home. I live in a relatively "odd" area that is quite different, geologically, from the general area. It is very sandy and there are lots of shin oak. Locals refer to this area as "the shinnery." Most old timers have plenty of gripes about the landscape: grassburs, sand fleas, catbrier, etc. Fortunately, with the right care and cultivation, this land will grow virtually anything. You just have to beat back the jungle in order to get it to that point. It isn't uncommon for people to purchase property and then abandon it completely because they found that it was too difficult to maintain with a lawnmower!

I, on the other hand, began researching the different and unusual plants by working with the Lady Bird Johnson Native Plant Society to identify as many as I could. One interesting discovery was a lovely plant that produced little black "berries," had pretty little white flowers, grew like crazy beneath the oak trees and loved shade. Turns out, it is a variety of chili pequin peppers! I had liked the plant so much, I began moving it into the flower beds to mix with my nursery-grown plants. This is another suggestion I would make, to work with some of your local plants and wildflowers. Many of them are often varieties of plants grown for nurseries and sold at high prices. One in particular that I actually found in a seed catalog was the Butterfly weed or Butterfly plant. It forms a beautiful orange/red flower and is very hardy in dry climates. The catalog described it as "difficult to find!" I often find plants and flowers one year that had not been there the previous year, or find only a handful of them.

This year, I began realizing how many of the wildflowers make wonderful dried flower arrangements. I continually find beautiful and unusual things that dry perfectly. I seldom have to use commercial drying agents as the plants often are already dry. Most of them grow tall and have a "papery" quality. Flowers that contain a lot of water, like zinnias, roses and other flowers with large petals, tend to not keep their color as well. I also found that the wild prairie grasses make great "filler" in the arrangements. I'm still working on identifying many of these plants because I feel that I should be able to describe the arrangement's contents to the customer. I have found some, but not all. It's funny to see people's faces when they look at the arrangements and see the familiar "weeds." These things are not very attractive just growing out in the fields, but you'd be surprised at how beautiful they are when isolated. You can see the details of each plant and appreciate how pretty they are. Many of them are the plant or flower, after they have died back or become dried. Sunflowers, the small bushy variety, leave behind a nice little papery globe where the seeds are held. It's kind of spikey and a pale wheat/cream color. Horsemint, after it dries, is a dark slate gray color and very hard. Both make great fillers and have an interesting texture. Most of them grow on stiff, straight stems which make them ideal for arrangements. Wheat and grasses add height, and cattails also work well. I'm planning to sell the actual arrangements but will also try to sell the individual flowers as well.

If you've never heard of "catbrier," or some variety of similar brier, you're in for a real treat! This is one of the most prolific and vicious little buggers you'll ever encounter! It's next to impossible to kill it out completely, and given the right circumstances, it can and does literally choke the trees to death. I have spent many an hour, pulling that nasty stuff right out of the trees just to find that the tree had virtually no foliage left on it. All the foliage had been the leaves of the vine! I actually have saved some trees from imminent death, though.

While working on this, I noticed that the vines often grow in perfect spirals up into the tree branches. When they are pulled down, they can be in huge coils, like lugging several big water hoses. I also noticed that while they generally sport huge thorns that make a rosebush look tame, the thorns are rubbed off as the vine coils up into the branches of a tree. The end result is a thick, sturdy, rope-like coil. Much of it can have three or four separate vines entwined together to form a beautiful spiral. They are extremely flexible and strong. You could swing from them like Tarzan, if the tree were not near death and brittle. I began making wreaths from the vines, similar to the grapevine wreaths but more interesting. I glue dried flowers on them and they look great.

So far, I can't say that this would be a profitable business venture. I have a lot of work to do, making contacts and building my webpage. It also is not the only project I have working at this time. I do several things, similar to this. It's just one small area that might give readers some ideas 'about having fun with your own local options. My best advice is to pick something that you enjoy. I figure that if I don't sell much of the product, I will have lots of things that will make great and inexpensive Christmas gifts!
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Author:Walker, Sheri
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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