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It's no wonder that folks aren't sending out Christmas cards like they use to. When you add up the cost of cards, envelopes, the gas, time and parking to shop for them (not to mention postage), this old tradition is downright pricey.

For anyone with a computer, there's a free, green way to send out holiday greetings. Create your own electronic holiday cards with a simple e-mail and beautiful images.

For garden lovers, there are some excellent free online resources of botanical illustrations. These include antique renderings of conifer trees, holly and other plants traditionally linked to the midwinter holiday season. The richest source for botanical pictures is at the Missouri Botanical Garden Library's website, "Illustrated Garden" (illustratedgarden.org/mobot/rarebooks/browse.asp). It has scanned whole books of rare botanical art from extensive archives, making them all available online.

Another great source is the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery, where it now offers thousands of images scanned from its archives (digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/). The "Nature Illustrated Collection" features many plant renderings, including conifers and other holiday species. "Vintage Holiday Postcards" contains a wide range of turn-of-the-20th-century holiday cards from both American and European sources. For those celebrating Hanukkah, the "Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts" are an excellent resource for greeting cards. These beautiful and sentimental color JPEG files are low-resolution, making them easy to download and slot into a holiday-greeting e-mail.

When you find an image online that would make a good holiday card, download and save it to your computer. Do this by right clicking on the image. A pull-down menu will include the option "save image as." Click this to reach the next menu that will show the "My Documents" section of your computer as the default location for your images.

You can make a separate folder for these downloads for easier access. The image will automatically save in the universal JPEG format that is easy to use in any photo or graphics program. You can save under the existing image code of origin or rename it. (Keep in mind that these are instructions for a PC.)

When using these and any other online images from graphics databases, please read the copyright restrictions. Most are free for personal use, but may not be sold or used on websites.

During the dreary days of winter, it's fun to browse through these fabulous graphic archives in the comfort of your home. They are an incredible visual resource, owing to the efforts of institutions to make their vast and previously little known collections available for the public to enjoy.

If you would like more information on using online JPEGs, download the free ebook "Online Botanical Illustrations" at www.moplants.com. It will help you better understand the process of utilizing online graphics from sources around the world. The great museums and universities of Europe, with their ancient illuminated manuscripts, are gradually digitizing their collections, so don't overlook these even if they're in different languages.

In a time when everyone is pinching pennies, cards and sentiments are more important than ever. With computers widely available, using these images for other kinds of paper crafts is a real money-saver. Print your pictures for scrapbook projects or frame them as miniatures to decorate your home. Don't overlook their value as holiday gifts, either. There's a perfect picture for everyone on your list.

Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist. Her blog, the MoZone, offers ideas for cash-strapped families. Read the blog at www.MoPlants.com/blog. E-mail her at mogilmer@yahoo.com.