A-Tisket, a-Tasket, Flowers in a Basket

Beautiful, functional, handmade, and constructed primarily of natural materials, baskets are the perfect container to hold the bounty of your imagination
basket flower arrangements
This antique woven wire basket was in the late Ryan Gainey’s collection for decades, serving as a charming accessory and container for basket flower arrangements at many events. Here it’s filled with pale-pink, yellow, and ivory rose varieties such as ‘Ambridge Rose,’ ‘Delicate Beauty,’ ‘Easter Basket,’ ‘Irish Hope,’ ‘Lion’s Fairy Tale,’ ‘Penny Lane,’ ‘Sea Foam,’ ‘Snowbird,’ ‘Snow White,’ and ‘Summer Snow.’

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

spring flower basket
Flower magazine’s Jessica Cohen shows how to make a colorful, spring flower basket arrangement with step-by-step instructions
basket flower arrangements
For this antique wire basket, Ryan Gainey scooped a clump of violets from his garden to achieve a look perfectly arranged by nature. Photo: Jeffrey Lee Adler
basket flower arrangements
Portland, Oregon-based designer Francoise Weeks captures the magic of spring growth in this basket arrangement of witch hazel branches, rosary vine, tulips, anemones, sweet peas, paperwhites, muscari, hellebores, viburnum, alchemilla, freesia, succulents, cyclamen foliage, and larkspur. Photo: James Fitzgerald III
basket flower arrangements
An antique wicker flower basket, typical of what florists used to send out for a funeral, is filled with an arrangement of roses and spring-blooming gladioli called Byzantine glads. A French antique, woven-wire basket filled with rose petals sits nearby. Photo: Jeffrey Lee Adler
basket flower arrangements
An antique grapevine basket from Ryan Gainey’s collection, filled with flowers is placed beside a sterling silver miniature basket, which would be perfect filled with miniature rosebuds. Photo: Jeffrey Lee Adler
camellia varieties
A wire antique basket in Gainey’s garden offers six varieties of camellias: ‘Black Magic,’ ‘Scentsation,’ ‘Herme,’ ‘Dr. Tinsley,’ ‘Bernice Boddy,’ and ‘Ville de Nantes.’ The statue of “Winter” holds a ‘Man Size’ camellia in a sterling silver lapel pin.
basket flower arrangements
Sparkles carries a wicker basket of dahlias, ‘Lemon Pompon’ garden roses, ranunculus, diablo, ninebark, and chamomile—the perfect riot of color against her black and white fur. See more flower dogs in “Best in Flower Show.” Photo: Liz Young
basket flower arrangements
Placing an assortment of asters in a wire basket created to hold fine bottles makes arranging flowers beyond simple. Photo: Jeffrey Lee Adler
basket flower arrangements
Here two dozen common sunflowers are arranged with zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis), a member of the bamboo family, in an antique rattan basket hanging in Gainey’s greenhouse. Photo: David Schilling
basket flower arrangement
Echoing a Dutch Master’s still life, Sybil Sylvester of Birmingham’s Wildflower Designs captures the essence of spring in this vintage, rustic flower basket overflowing with Bells of Ireland, hybrid delphinium, viburnum, parrot tulips, muscari, sweet peas, peonies, hellebores, daffodils, narcissus, ranunculus, anemones, jasmine on the vine, galax, poppies, primula, daphne, candy tuft, euphorbia, winter jasmine, lavender foliage and star magnolia branches. Photo by Jason Wallis

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:

Spring and Easter Flower Arrangements