The Spring of Flowers

One of the most unexpected, most salutary developments of our era has been the triumphant resurgence of vegetables. No longer regarded as a side dish of life or anodyne adjunct, vegetables have arrived!

We are in the midst of a vegetable Renaissance. The Dark Ages, when vegetables were boiled into colorless, textureless, flavorless pap are well behind us. At faddish restaurants legumes are now rendered into fanciful, exotic forms, with effects falling between origami and three-dimensional chess. Sometimes I almost sense our vegetable friends feel silly and out of place in these culinary contrivances. Between bites, I hear their cries. “George,” they mew, “free us from these motley habiliments.  We are not made or designed by people. Let vegetables be vegetables. If you humans love us, love us for ourselves.” Now you know.

If I failed to foresee the dawning of the Age of the Vegetable, I still less anticipated the corresponding Waning of the Flower. The poet Gertrude Stein wrote, “Before the flowers of friendship faded, fading friendship faded.” Where have all the flowers gone?

Not so long ago, our towns and cities were blooming with florist shops. Restaurant and dining room tables flared with flora. Women wore nosegays. Men’s buttonholes clutched flowers. Guests arrived bearing bouquets. Maidens wore flowers in their hair.

Where flowers are not, romance is not. Does this sound simplistic? It is simplistic, and true. Romance evaporates in the neutral, scentless, colorless, lifeless air of our digital life. Flowers provide the perfect antidote to our too-modern civilization: the ultimate melding of color, form, texture and scent.

For millennia, flowers have engaged our senses and subconscious. Floral images live in paintings, fabrics, vases, shrines, ceremonies, avowals of love, songs, and poetic odes, evoking remembrance, nobility, beauty, peace, glory and salvation. Little wonder the flower was the cherished symbol of the Romantic Movement: flowers evoke nature at its most exalted, sublime and phantasmagoric.

Painter Monet wondered, if it were not for flowers, would he have become a painter Transcendentalist Emerson observed, “The earth laughs in flowers.” Meanwhile Dr. Freud astutely noted, “Flowers are restful to look at. They have not emotions or conflicts.” Flowers dispel depression and soothe wounded bodies and souls. They engage and inspire our senses in multiple ways.

Seasonally, flowers long precede vegetables, heralding spring to wan, weary beings etiolated by winter’s shallow light. They are the glittering jewels of the garden. Humankind has happily gardened flowers for 8,000 years; it is one of the original earthly joys. It’s time to cultivate our flower garden.

The space once given flowers in the garden increasingly is allocated to vegetables. Patios now feature tomato, pepper and basil plants: no flowers to be seen or sniffed. More likely, the flowers, wherever they might be, are sniffing back tears, brought on by their increasing neglect.

My hope is that our cities’ community gardeners will extend their love of horticulture to cut flowers as well as “urban vegetables”. The last 15 years have reduced the number of American florists by 40%; the ranks of America’s commercial flower growers are in steep decline.

The narrow selection of ornamental flowers in your groceries are raised by workers in poor conditions, then flown in from South America, Africa, and the Middle East: not exactly locavore. After their travels and travails by jet and truck, the plastic-wrapped, freshly gassed blooms are often in bleak condition, billowing pollutants. The flowers we see in our florists and groceries scarcely hint at the spectrum of flower color, blooms, patterns and scents. It’s as if we limited ourselves to playing just a dozen notes or so on our floral piano.

Vegetables feed your body; flowers feed your soul. See how a single flower can transform a room. Bask in the brilliance of a newly opened flower, as your eyes drink the saturated colors. Marvel at radiance of a meadow awash in color. Let a thousand urban gardens bloom.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 at 4:28 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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16 Responses to “The Spring of Flowers”

  1. Lois Duncan said:

    We are so very lucky here in Seattle, Washington. We have Pike Place Market with buckets and buckets of flowers that are grown within a short distance of the city. The growers bring them in their trucks and set up stalls. Walking through the market is thrilling because of the masses of flowers everywhere.

  2. Nancy Jones said:

    I would have written this myself if I had your talent. I believe in what you said. I grow every flower I can on my five acres. After a busy day, I almost always walk through the garden to see what is new today; loving the colors, scents and forms. I have grown flowers for 60 years and share their joy with my two grandsons on Orcas Island as well as all of garden clients. I have actually been accused, “Aren’t you the one who grows so many flowers!” Since we look to be about the same generation I imagine we are becoming dinosaurs at the same time. Nancy

  3. Pam said:

    I would not be so quick to declare the death of flower planting. At my heirloom plant sale (Princeton NJ) people come year after year because they want the fragrant nicotianas, the tall gomphrenas, the unusual cat’s whiskers and lion’s tails. For some time now, breeders have been catering to the landscapers, who like “neat.” “Tidy.” Give gardeners a taste of wild, of unusual, of butterflies at their windows, and they want more — not more of the same but more and different. This year, I will have a foxglove party. Next year, people will want to grow foxgloves. It’s a given.

  4. Marti Olsen said:

    I grow a very nice vegetable garden, but I also grow many annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. I have 220 roses and other cut flowers and I love sharing them with family and friends. Even the smallest bouquet of pansies brings smiles on faces. Flowers absolutely bring joy to everyone.

  5. Mary Walczyk said:

    Thanks so much for your words about flowers. The fact that my garden is flowers (all flowers) has actually resulted in derision! We have a farmstand nearby with locally grown produce, and a weekly farmer’s market for our bounty. We support them, and meanwhile can appreciate the loveliness of blossoms. Really appreciated your comments!

  6. Mary Stegemiller said:

    Mr. Ball, that was beautiful. Thank you.

  7. Chuck said:

    I know the horticulturalist (not me) in the family would agree with you. Back in the 70’s you could go to a nursery raising mums and there would be 40 or 50 different varieties with colors all over the place and varieties of different flower types. Now all the flower types are the same and you see about 5 or 6 colors. Going to another nursery (assuming it is still in business and not run by a corporation) will not add any more variety.

    The same is true of alpines, conifers and shrubs. The only exception might be perennials but even that is a bit rough these days.

    It’s hard for small operations to compete against 1 dollar perennials and 5 dollar orchids at the big places. . . oh well.

    Oh for the King Sisters in Lancaster County.

  8. Elizabeth said:

    Even the vegetable plants affirm this, when they smuggle their own contribution of blooms into our modern, efficient, and functional rows.

  9. Kathy said:

    Wonderful column, I thoroughly enjoyed every word.

  10. Elspeth Bobbs said:

    Bravo! This is something that needed to be said, and is beautifully said. I had not realized how much has changed. Apposite and well chosen quotes too. Thank you very much for this timely message

  11. Nann White said:

    I too have felt that the craze over vegetables, driven it seems by the need to feel healthy and more in control over our food source, has left me feeling emptier somehow. I have tried to grow a few vegetables but the only thing I really want to grow does not do well in my cold summer San Francisco weather. So I can always go to a farmers market as there is one everyday of the week here. But to watch my lenten rose bloom, my roses start to bud, my magnolia bloom repeatedly this year, that is what feeds my soul… here

  12. Wendy said:

    If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,

    And from thy slendor store two loaves alone

    to thee are left,

    Sell one, and with the dole

    Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

  13. I agree that we need to nourish the soul as that is what gets us out of bed in the morning. There is never a moment in our house that we do not have a blooming plant or container. So I will raise my cocktail tonight to flowers.

  14. Steve Fowler said:

    Great article, George!
    I can honestly say that everything essential that I needed to know in life I learned from watching my flower gardens and then watching/listening to my parents as they gardened. Every religion can be reduced to one single flower. It’s all there in that one flower – the meaning of life and love. Everything else is cluttering details.
    Thanks again for a great article.

  15. Yvonne said:

    What a pleasure to read well written language together with well thought out content. I’ve started with the first article and will enjoy the rest with my coffee and breakfast and maybe even lunch! Thank you very much!

  16. Eleni Nicolelis said:

    I live on Long Island, NY where it gets harder and harder to grow flowers since we are overrun with deer. Our veggie garden has an 8 ft fence around it so we plant flowers in amongst the vegetables and on our deck. So sad that there is now a deer dilemma. I agree with you that flowers lift our spirits.

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