Baskets are some of the oldest forms of containers created by hand. Examples from the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians help us understand how those civilizations went about their everyday tasks. Baskets were shaped for various purposes—a basket with gentle curves to hold eggs, a tightly woven basket to hold grain, a basket with a handle to make it easy to carry crops in from the field.
Over time we’ve come to see that these humble baskets have great beauty. Years ago I began collecting Native American baskets. A favorite is one that serves as a wallet, woven so finely there are 1,500 threads per square inch. It was made by the Native Americans who lived on the island of Attu in the Bering Strait. I have another group of baskets constructed by the Cherokee, woven of honeysuckle vines and made to hold trinkets or to be used for gathering berries.
In the 1970s I owned a shop, The Potted Plant, where we created the now-ubiquitous basket flower arrangements, filled with ferns and other exotics mixed with flowering plants. We sold them as “Flowering Compositions,” and they were quite the thing in their day. For florists, baskets are part of their stock-in-trade. Florists will have stacks and stacks of baskets around, woven of bamboo, wire, and osier—particular willows with long twigs well suited for basketmaking.
Antique baskets created for flower arranging became part of my collection, several of which are shown in the photos illustrating this article. Tall, cylindrical baskets with graceful, hooped handles became a traditional container for funeral flowers. Young girls would process into the church carrying baskets of flowers that had been given in memory of the deceased. Flower girls these days are most often found in weddings, carrying their baskets of flowers and sprinkling petals as they go. These humble vessels are an integral part of so many traditions. Where would we be without our Easter baskets and our picnic baskets?
Beautiful, functional, handmade, and constructed primarily of natural materials, baskets are the perfect container to hold the bounty of your imagination.
Basket Flower Arrangements
By Ryan Gainey
The late garden designer and author, Ryan Gainey wrote a regular column in Flower for many years, sharing his remarkable gardening knowledge and stories. See more from Gainey’s garden:
- Flowering Vines, Climbers, and Twiners
- Fragrant Flowers
- Collecting Camellias and Memories
- How to Condition Roses