What constitutes the ‘perfect’ flower to you? Is it the vase life? The size? The vibrancy of colour? The scent? The stem? A completely balanced combination of all elements? If one falls shy of these made up constructs, should it be tossed aside, disregarded, chucked away - ‘ not good enough’?
I’ve had flowers thrown at me across a shop by a customer who called them “brown, hideous and dead” (it was October, they were English hydrangea - the amazing mottled petals that only happen when the seasons are changing and with it their colours every day). That was one of many moments that collectively led me to move away from the ‘customer is always right’ approach, towards a slightly different (admittedly quite longwinded) approach to selling flowers. "It’s my responsibility to make sure the customer knows what they’re spending money on and where it’s come from before they buy it". Both require equal amounts of energy and patience, but the latter has revealed itself as much more rewarding (to both parties in the long run, I guarantee it).
Why have flowers become a thing to be pulled apart and distorted so much it’s fair to say that some of the flowers we see in contemporary arrangements do not look like flowers at all. They have been dyed, sprayed, reflexed, stripped naked of their foliage and sometimes even some petals depending on the ‘look’.
I’d like to point out that this is not a criticism of artistic expression here and by no means of anybody's creations. Some of the most impressive work I’ve seen over the years uses some if not all of the above ingredients. I have also used all of the aforementioned materials or techniques in the past; I was amazed by the ingenuity of floral foam way before I understood its toxicity. Therein lies the conundrum I face - a constant see-saw of perception and emotion: can we draw a line between sustainability and creativity? Where do freedom of expression and ethical practice meet? Can they be friends, partnered for life? I believe they definitely can. Furthermore, we all need to make a living. However the reality is that there will much less living to do if we do not make a conscious effort to regenerate (not only sustain) our planet.
I often wonder if I might be in the wrong line of work as I spend at least the same amount of time discouraging people to buy flowers as I do encouraging them to do so. I feel just as much, dare I say it, perhaps even more joy walking past beds of hollyhocks bursting out of cracks in the pavement and bowing through and over garden gates than I do when I have a vase of sweetpeas freshly cut from the fields in my face.
Flowers are, when left to just be, enough. A single stem or three can be just as impactful as a grandiose vase; flowers are a luxury but quantity does not equal quality even if it does come at an extravagance.
The luxury lies in their individualism and detail - velvety touch, shimmering tones, minute detail and patterns, changing shapes - like precious gemstones, the only difference being that they wilt and disappear. Uncut, untamed, un-fiddled with, will always out-do any installation, hand-tied creation or hanging revelation in my eyes. This, I realise, is the crux of the aforementioned conundrum - as florists, many of us are doing just that - imitating nature, recreating what’s already happened, to bring a space ‘to life’ with flowers.
Much of these reinventions and interpretations of nature are based on personal memories and experiences of intense seasonal beauty (think bluebell carpets, the snowdrops as above, wild foxgloves in the woods) or scenes conjured up from our imaginations, the incredible worlds we see in our dreams. A ‘deconstruction’ of what’s natural one might say? With these creations come opinions, judgement, popularity, polarisation of views and sadly but truly, a sense of ‘ownership’. I contribute to this conversation too. I have likes and dislikes I decide to make known, or not, deciding whether I like what I see or am repelled by it for not being ‘good enough’ for the current standard I set myself on that particular day.
But when has nature ever been ‘not good enough?’ Has anybody ever looked at a mountain and rejected it on the basis of it not being a good enough mountain?
It struck me a few days ago that women have been so often likened to flowers in literature and poetry. Why must the ‘english rose’ be so pure and delicate to the touch? If I were a rose perhaps I’d be thorny? Some smell soapy, some smell fresh (those these smells differ depending on who is smelling them). Again, we’re faced with the realisation that there is no constant in perfection, only people’s personal preferences.
Over the past few weeks there’s been a surge of female voices and discussion around how all those who identify as a women are treated by the media, the police, and the opposite sex. I’ve delved into the archives of the 2000’s celeb-mania when size 0 was aspirational and make-up free was unforgivable. Remember then, a little later on, the craze of the ‘no-makeup selfie?’. Confusing to say the least, absurd to be frank. It feels empowering to be a witness and advocator of the momentum and positivity female voices carry now versus 15 years ago. Let us be, as we intend to be: Good enough, individual, unique - by default . We don’t need modifying, changing, analysing or updating, ‘put in our place’ - like the plants that grow best and support their environments when left to their own devices, in natural habitats, leave us be. We are all part of this intense period of socio-economic transition set to last at least a few more years. It’s going to be a struggle, but as so many of us have noticed this past year, nature's course has it’s ‘silver linings’.
Let us break free of Pinterest fallacy. Let us be honest about the short vase-life of certain varieties. Seek to understand why the water turns murky after a day or two (perhaps it hasn’t been refreshed?) Don’t believe what you see in that editorial shoot is a reflection of what truly was, they have photoshop for a reason. Don’t ask us for something seasonal but then demand an entirely different flower that can only be sourced imported at the very last minute. Accept that we’re trained to work as efficiently as possible, but good work does not come cheap. Accept imperfection. Accept changeable weather and traffic jams. Accept that nature always wins.