Aunt Eliza (Chasmanthe floribunda).
Native to South Africa, this plant is sold as a flowering garden plant in many countries.
It is a strap-leaved plant to 1.5m (6') tall with prominent red-orange flower spikes bearing 20 - 30 blooms in winter and early spring. Leaves are 80 -100cm (2-3') long with a prominent mid-vein. It is a perennial plant, arising from a corm every year.
Cut the leaves after the plant has finished flowering. Spread the leaves to dry immediately in a shady, airy place. Turn frequently to avoid mould damage. Leaves dry quickly and should be ready for use in 3 to 4 weeks.
Banana (Musa spp.)
A tropical plant that can be grown in sheltered positions in temperate climates. It is a stout, usually perennial herb, to 7m (20') or more high; large broad leaves spirally arranged atop a trunk that is made up of the leaf sheaths.Each plant fruits only once, being replaced by new suckers which in turn fruit and die.
Cut down the whole stem after fruiting and stand it upright in a dry, shady, airy place to let the sap drain. Seperate the outer layers as they dry off. Lay the pieces flat to finish drying. Do not split these pieces too narrow at this stage as there will be a lot of shrinkage.
Cabbage Tree, Cordyline (Cordyline Australis)
A native of New Zealand, cultivated in Australia and throughout the world. A tree to 10m (30') high with leaves to 1m (3') long which are fibrous and tough. Flowers in large pannicles, fragrant and white.
Collect the dry leaves as they fall to the ground and store in a dry shady place. They should keep indefinitely. For core material use the leaves finely stripped and dry, for wrapping and stitching use the younger leaves. Remove the hard mid-rib and cut off the leaf base. If the leaves are picked green, they will remain green. If they are collected dry they will remain dull brown. Finished baskets can be rubbed with tissue paper to give the material a glossy sheen.
Daffodil (Narcissus spp.)
A native of Europe and North Africa, the Daffodil is in cultivation throughout the world. It is a bulbous perennial with strap leaves of a glossy green. Flowers are usually yellow or white, borne upon a single stem.
Pick the leaves several weeks after flowering to give the bulbs time to replenish. Collect the flower stalks as well and keep them seperate. Care must be taken not to bend the leaves as you harvest them. Dry them immediately in a shady, airy place, turning regularly with great care. They can become fairly brittle when dry but the colours in the finished basket make the effort worthwhile.
Flax, New Zealand (phormium tennax and cultivars)
Native to New Zealand, this has become a very popular plant among landscape gardeners due to the wide variety of colours that are available in the different cultivars. Leaves are between 1-3m (3-9') long, 5-10cm (2-4") wide, sword shaped, fibrous and very strong. Flower stalk to 5m (15') high with dull red or yellow flowers.
When cutting green, leave the 3 central leaves of the fan to keep growing and cut green leaves from either side of these. Include a few inches of the tough base which can be trimmed later. Split the leaves into widths suitable for basketry. Strip out the harder mid-rib and retain this for core material. Tie the remaining leaf in small bundles and hang in a dry, airy place for about 2 weeks. They can then be used or left to dry out completely and can then be stored indefinitely. If you are collecting these leaves dry, choose leaves which are dry and brown but not yet tightly curled, weathered or lying on the ground. Some may have interesting black markings which can look good when worked into a basket. These leaves are ready for use with no further drying.
Gladiolus (Gladiollus spp.)
Native throughout Europe and Africa and in cultivation around the world, these plants are a hardy perennial arising from a corm with strap leaves up to 1m (3') long and a 2-4cm (1-2") wide. Flowers are borne on a single upright stem in spikes. There are many flower colours.
Gathered green and dried in the shade, the leaves will retain a better colour. The leaves must be turned regularly while drying to avoid mildew.
Lavender, English (Lavandula angustifolia)
A native of the Mediterranean area, these plants a garden favourite for their flowers and fragrant foliage. A bushy perennial to 1m (3') high with silver-grey foliage and lavender (purple) flowers on longer spikes.
Lavender flower heads are usually harvested just before the flowers are finished. Pick them with as long a stem as possible for basketry, tie in bundles and hang upside down to dry. The flower heads are usually stripped off before use but can be left on to create a more interesting texture on the basket but most will fall off as you work anyway. Stems retain a lavender fragrance for many years, making a fragrant basket.
Pines (Pinus spp.)
Evergreen trees with leaves (needles) in clusters of 2 to 5 surrounded at the base by sheaths. There are many sub-species of pine with various growth habits and some varieties produce a needle which dry to a reddy-brown while others can dry to a light tan.
Collect dry needles from under the tree in summer and autumn. Needles picked green will usually retain a greyish-green colour. Store in loosley tied bundles in boxes pierced with holes to allow air to circulate.
Grapevines (Vitis vinifera)
Native to Europe and Central and East Asia, grape vines have been in cultivation for thousands of years. Growth in cultivation is regulated by trellising and pruning. The leaves are large and broad with prominant veining and deep serrated lobes. There are many cultivars of grapevine in cultivation. Some have canes which are very flexible and suited to basketry, whilst others have more brittle canes that are prone to cracking when bent too much.
Collect the canes in Autumn as the vines are pruned. Cut to a manageable length and store bundles in a dry, shady place. Vine canes can be used to make interesting exposed core baskets with stitching of flax or cordyline or can be woven to make a sturdy basket suitable for a range of uses.
More Suitable Plants
This is just a short list as there are many more plants suitable for basketry. Here are a few more that may be growing in your area, or even in your vegetable garden.
- Couch grass
- Flax, Mountain
- Guilford grass
- Palm, Date
- Palm, various spp.
- Pampas grass
- Passion flower
- Red Hot Poker
- Vines (climbing beans, peas)