I have personally said and heard the phrase “April showers bring May flowers” more times than I can count. Did you know there was a time in our nation’s history when the start of May was actually celebrated with baskets of flowers? Some still celebrate this lovely occasion by gracing their friends’ and neighbors’ front porches with baskets of beautiful flowers.
May Day (May 1) has been celebrated for centuries as a time to welcome spring. With the more pleasant weather and the garden coming to life, boys and girls would surprise the object of their affection with a May basket left secretly. May baskets were typically handmade out of paper. Though flowers were a common gift, anything could be placed in the baskets including candy, cookies or trinkets. The giver would hang the basket on the door, knock and then run off to hide before the door was opened. This would sometimes ensue a chase between the smitten children.
May baskets have been hung on doors since the 19th century. Over time, the baskets were used for friends and neighbors as well as love interests. In the early 1900s two different first ladies were surprised by children bringing May baskets to the front door of the White House. Unfortunately, by the mid-1900s, the tradition of May baskets was fading.
One of the more charming features of May baskets is the simplicity. Children could gather flowers from their yard and make a holder out of paper or even a milk carton requiring little to no financial input. The sentiment was pure innocence and creativity, leaving out the commercialization of many holidays.
In an effort to preserve the history of this celebration, here are some simple steps to make your own May basket.
Choose a piece of paper for your cone basket. Ideally the paper will have a colorful design, but even plain paper can make an attractive basket that showcases the contents.
Make a cone shape with the paper and staple to secure the shape. Line the inside of the cone with plastic. The cone-shaped bags used for frosting a cake work perfectly, but sandwich zipper bags can also work well. This step allows the basket to hold a small amount of water for the flowers. You can skip this step if you don’t plan to fill your basket with flowers.
Create a handle for the basket using a strip of paper about 12 to 18 inches long. Staple this to the top of the cone on opposite sides also securing the plastic bag in place.
Select the stems for your basket. A trip through the garden will yield a variety of options. Don’t be limited by blooms. Look at the greenery around the landscape as well and think creatively. Even a bouquet of dandelions is lovely when given as a gift of admiration. Place the stems in the basket and carefully add water to the liner.
Choose your recipient and quietly hang the basket from their doorknob.
What better way to welcome the spring sunshine and warmer weather than spreading love to the community? This is a quick project to get the children involved while also teaching the importance of taking time to remember our friends and neighbors. The garden is meant to be shared. Happy May Day!
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.