A month ago, I removed the dried leaves from my Watsonia plant, which grows in the center of my garden. You can see it in bloom with its scarlet flowers in the banner at the top of this page. Watsonia is from South Africa, a member of the lily family which grows from croms, similar to bulbs.
In the Central Valley climate this plant blooms from May into July. The eighteen inch long leaves dry up in the heat of August. I usually wait until January to remove them. But this year, I decided to remove them as I was clearing out other things in that area. As I worked, I could see the tips of the new shoots for next summer beginning to emerge from the croms. I had to be careful not to damage them.
I have had this plant for nine years, and I haven’t dug it up to separate the bulbs because it seems to be fine — “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” — being one of my favorite themes. So it has now become a very large plant producing a huge bin full of dried leaves.
I wanted to sit down immediately and make baskets with these leaves, but the week ahead was full of dental and medical appointments, and urgent home repairs. The desire to work with this material was an actual physical longing to experience handling the leaves.
To make a basket from these leaves, or any plant that has dried, they must be soaked to make the material pliant, so it doesn’t break when handled. I have a small square fountain at the edge of my patio, and when I finally found a day, two weeks later, with time to play, I dropped a hand-full of Watsonia into the water to soak.
Damp Watsonia is very tough. I wove a square base in the center of nine leaves crossed by nine more, with equal lengths of the leaf on either side to make spokes for the sides of the basket. I tried to press the leaves close to each other because I knew they would shrink up when they dried, but Watsonia doesn’t want to be packed closely. This first basket was made to familiarize myself with the best way to use the material.
I used twining around the woven square to secure the position of the leaves for the base. Twining is using two strands of the material that twist between each spoke, and once you get the hang of how to do it, it is very easy. When I got near the end of a leaf, I laid the cut end of a new leaf along side of the short one and used them together until the short one ended.
On my sample basket, I found that the material did not want to make even corners where I thought it should, and two of them are rounded not square. The first two inches of twining are open spaced, but the rest of the basket has the rows close together.
I made a larger basket allowing the nine by nine plaited bottom leaves to space themselves, and began the twining with the expectation that as I worked the Watsonia would pull together into upright sides. By the second day of working on this basket, I realized that steep sides were not going to happen, so I have more of a tray- type basket than I had envisioned.
Finishing the rim can be done several ways. On the smaller basket I bent the spokes inward and stuck them down through several rows of twining. On the larger basket I carried each spoke along with the twinner for an inch or two. Additional finishing involves clipping off the exposed ends where new twinners were added and cutting the ends of spokes after they are secured. On these baskets I left some of the narrow pointed ends of the leaves sticking out to add a decorative interest