The Cottage Garden - Crafty Plants

For millennia animals, birds and mankind have turned to plants as a source of materials to use in the creation of nests, shelters and homes. Humans have also turned to plant materials for making useful things to assist them in their day-to-day lives. The Marsh Arabs of Iraq lived on floating islands of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) and the plant was used by ancient Egyptians to make the earliest form of paper. Cotton (Gossypium sp.) has been used for fabric making since prehistoric times, whilst sisal (Agave sisalana), jute (Corchorus olitorius), hemp (Cannabis sativa) and flax (Linum usitatissimum) have variously been used to produce a wide range of textiles, twine, rope, matting, bags, etc. Humans have also turned to plants to provide the materials for crafts and artistic pursuits with the leaves of Indigofera tinctoria, for example, being used by various civilisations since ancient times to produce the beautiful deep blue indigo dye.

When the Plant Craft Cottage was established over thirty years ago, one of its main functions was to foster the practice of plant-based crafts and this continues through the various craft groups to this day. The garden planted around the cottage was created with these crafts in mind. Although it could not possibly supply all of the materials required by each of the groups, we have endeavoured to cultivate examples of many of the plants used. The Basketry Group relishes the long strappy leaves of many plants, including NZ Flax (Phormium species), various members of the Iris family, Daylily (Hemerocallis), Gladiolus and Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia), all of which are represented in the garden. Other plants such as Maidenhair Vine (Muehlenbeckia complexa), Wisteria, Jasmine, Willow and Red-stemmed Dogwood (Cornus alba) are valued for their stems, whilst even pine needles, especially those that are extra long, can be used to make very charming small baskets. The long flower stalks of Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) are also basket-making material, but Lavender is a valuable ingredient in potpourri too. The use of dried scented plants to perfume rooms dates back to ancient times and a great variety of plants can be used. As well as Lavender, he Potpourri Group favours perfumed Roses, Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and for making moth repellent, the leaves of Southernwood/Lad’s Love  (Artemesia abrotanum) and Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus). These plants can all be found in the Plant Craft Cottage garden.

Card making requires plant material that can be pressed. Beyond this, the only limitations lie in the imaginations of practitioners of this particular craft. It is smaller flowers which are of special interest to the Plant Card Group and amongst those favoured for use are the flowers of Correa, Geraniums and Pelargoniums, Lavender, Viola species (Pansies, Violas and Violets), Fuchsia and miniature roses, including Banksia Rose. Leaves are used too, a favourite being those of the Maple, and ‘skeleton’ leaves are especially prized if they can be found. The Plant Craft Cottage garden provides plenty of scope for card makers to wander and see what appeals to their creative sense. There is always something in flower. 

It would seem that the craft the Dye Group practices is much akin to alchemy and the members of the group delight in trying things out just to see what happens, hoping for magical results! A tried and true source of leaf material for the group comes from the Eucalypt family. Although the Cottage garden can provide leaves of only one species (E. nicolii) the Group is able to source many others through the RBGV. The dyes resulting from the Eucalypt leaves produce beautiful colours in a range of soft greens, browns, tans, oranges and gold. The seed-pods and stems of NZ Flax give a pinky-brown colour, whilst the flowers of Dyers’ Chamomile (Cota tinctoria) and Coreopsis produce yellow. The Coreopsis gives a beautiful dark yellow that is particularly good for silk scarves. The leaves of the Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum) produce a lovely green, whilst the dark skins of the ripe fruit of the Black Apple (Planchonella australis) can be used to produce blue tones.

The Plant Craft Cottage has on display (and for purchase) many beautiful items which have been made by these various groups, and also books made up of samples of the different crafts practiced. Members would be very happy to show them to you. 

Christine Trumble
(article reproduced from Botanic News Summer 2017-18)

Artemesia abrotanum used by the Pot Pourri Group for moth repellent

Correa used as a pressed flower by the Plant Card Group

Hemerocallis (Daylily) whose leaves are valued by the Basketry Group

Sweet Pittosporum, which produces a lovely green dye
Photos: Christine Trumble