December 24, 2008

Rediscovering the Craft of Berry Bowls

A Vintage advertisement for 'Berry Bowls' from a HORTICULTURE Magazine, circa 1957

Born and raised in New England, I had grown accustomed to the Berry Bowl, a traditional craft which was simple, inexpensive and beautiful. It's been difficult to research the history of the Berry Bowl, but what little I could find, explained that colonial women would gather woodland plants in late autumn and early winter, and arrange or plant them in moss, also from the woods in a glass vessel, which would undoubtedly be something they had arround the house, such as a fancy glass, or a canning jar. Essentially, this was a terrarium, which would last for the entire winter indoors, in a cold house, reminding them of the summer woodland. The plants in Berry Bowls are strictly limited to a few species, all grow in New England, and near my home in Massachusetts, and they include the Checker Berry ( which tastes like wintergreen), rattlesnake plantaoin, ( Goodyera pubescens), with it's white and green netted foliage, a native wild orchid and Partridge Berry ( MItchella repens) a vine which creeps along the forest floor and whose vivid bright red berries are most decorative once the leaves fall off of the trees, between October and Christmas.

The Berry Bowl Reinvented with cultivated plants.

When I was young, I was quite active with the Worcester County Horticultural Society, a very active and prosperous Horticultural Society ( now transformed into Boston's premier Horticultural center, the Tower Hill Botanic Garden). In the 1960's and 1970's, I was very active in competitive classes in the Society's annual exhibitions, and the Holiday exhibition was most competitive, with classes to enter in such things as Della Robia swags and wreaths' ( think- old Della Robia paintings, or better yet, Xmas decorations at Colonial Williamsburg with lemons, oranges, other citrus, pineapples and greens), and classes like Pomanderballs ( clove studded citrus), and most competitive, the Christmas Tree decorating section, I don't know what I was thinking competing against garden clubs and private estates, but even though I was out of my league, and 30 years younger than everyone else ( I think most joined these old societies for the cocktail party opening events,- I mean, founded in 1856, china in the old kitchens with the seal of the society on them, cocktail trays,...) but since I could not drink yet, it was the Berry Bowl class which I would enter, which at least would get me out into the woods for a week searching for the perfect Goodyeara or even a Pipsissewa ( Chimaphila maculata) if I was lucky to tear out of the ground. Not unlike truffle hunting, each competitor had their own secret source for such rarities. I still can;t look at Richard Jordan, another local boy who, in a year with no sign of a Rattlesnake Plantain in a 20 mile radius, would show up with a massive glass brandy snifter with three stunning specimens, claiming the cash prize of $6.00 and the treasured State Rosette.

My New Berry Bowl Experiment.

Today, things are different. I can't imagine collecting wild orchids and 'secret sources' for Partridge Berries' from the 'wild', although not all on the endangered species list, most of these plants are, or should be protected. So in my search for a replacement, I am trying some experiments. All the same, I have some rules, such as, keeping the same aesthetic and a similar species list, with substitutions. Here is my first attempt which I tried yesterday. Moss from the woods, and instead of Partridge Berry, I used some cuttings that I took of the Japanese evergreen Ardisia, which I grow in the greenhouse, and combined this with a relative of the Goodyera orchid, another 'Jewel Orchid', (Sarcoglottis septrodes), which I selected for it white veined foliage.
I used a glass vessel that one would place a pillar candle in, a sort-of hurricane glass, in which I placed a layer of pebbles, a tuft of Sphagnum moss, since the Sarcoglottis will need moss and not soil, and then I used the root ball of the Ardisia which is composed of mainly Pro Mix, a commercial soiless mix intact, but placed deep into the moss. The entire surface was then covered in a tuft of moss, and in that, I planted a cutting from a Rabbit's foot fern ( in place of the Rock Polypody, which would have been easy for me to 'collect' from the granite boulders in the woodland behind my house, but irresponsible, to do so, none the less. I feel pretty great with the results.

Everyone loves a soil test kit for Christmas. Double click the image to see the caption, ahhh.....the 50's.

1 comment :

  1. Anonymous1:48 PM

    I purchased a Sudbury soil test kit in the early 1980s, didn't use it much. My Grandfather poo-pooed such things. Claimed he could taste when the soil was wrong. We made our own dirt from several different components and then steam sterialized it.
    Thanks again. Your posts always brings me back to my roots.


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