Slow flowers

 “There were Lupines, Sweet Peas, Phlox, Bluebells, Day and Tiger Lilies, Monkshood, Peonies, Columbine, Daffodils, single and double, a Bleeding-heart bush in the front yard, and vines at each corner, which at times nearly covered the house. And always there was Golden-glow by the kitchen door.”   An Old-Time Gardener

Lilies

Grace’s Garden lilies

 

In The Language of Flowers, the main character, Victoria Jones, is a floral designer with a knack for choosing just the right foliage and blossoms for her customers, based on Victorian-inspired flower dictionaries that she’s studied. Having grown up in an Ohio floral shop, I was intrigued by the contemporary, upscale San Francisco flower scene depicted in Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s story.

In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, our shop carried the standard blooms – roses, carnations, gladiolas and the like – which were shipped from California and South America – and laden with pesticides, though at the time we didn’t give that much thought. Nowadays, floral designers are artisans who use seasonal, locally grown, pesticide-free cultivated and wild flowers, in artful, natural-looking bouquets and arrangements.

Slow Flowers book coverWriter and horticulture expert Debra Prinzing coined the term slow flowers, which has caught on in the floral industry. I’ve been enjoying two of her books, The 50 Mile Bouquet, and Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm.  They were a timely discovery for me, as this summer we sold the building where my parents had their floral shop for nearly fifty years.

In both books, Debra highlights American flower farmers who are passionate about sustainable methods and land stewardship. Slow Flowers is a colorful, lush, small-sized, book with flower arrangements for every week of the year. As in a cookbook, Debra lists the “ingredients” (4 stems hydrangea, 9 stems pink snowberry, 5 stems Dahlia ‘Nijinsky,’ 15 stems amaranth), provides instructions, and suggests vintage and unusual vases and containers.

In The Language of Flowers, Victoria Jones falls in love with Grant, a flower farmer. She first meets him at a flower market, where he is selling varieties of lilies: tiger, stargazer, imperial, and pure white Casablancas. Here is what Victoria has to say about Grant:

“His face had the dusty, lined look of a manual laborer. I imagined he planted, tended, and harvested his flowers himself. His body was lean and muscular as a result, and he neither flinched nor smiled as I examined him…

He withdrew a single orange tiger lily from a bucket.

‘Take one,’ he said, handing it to me.”

Lily

The language of flowers

“I wanted to spend my life choosing flowers for perfect strangers.”     The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Daylily garden

Grace Gardens, Penn Yan, NY

 

Flowers were part of my earliest days and inseparable from family life. My parents opened a flower shop in July, 1952. This month, fifty-eight years later, we sold the building that housed our shop, though the floral business closed some years ago.

To commemorate the flowers of my past and mark how flowers remain part of my life, I’m highlighting a handful of books and authors, and a Finger Lakes “secret” garden. First, a book. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m single but I don’t want to be, the woman said.

She watched me work, arranging the white lilac around the roses until the red was no longer visible. I wound sprigs of rosemary–which I had learned at the library could mean commitment as well as remembrance–around the stem like a ribbon. The rosemary was young and supple, and did not break when I tied it in a knot. I added a white ribbon for support and wrapped the whole thing in brown paper.

First emotions of love, true love, and commitment, I said, handing her the flowers.

The Language of Flowers book coverIn a review of the novel The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Paula McLain (author of The Paris Wife and herself a foster child) writes: “I feel it’s only fair to warn you, dear reader, that Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s central character, Victoria Jones, is going to break your heart three ways from Sunday.”

The character of Victoria Jones and her fate drew me to The Language of Flowers, as did the lush California landscape of flowers against which this story is set. 

Victoria has lived in more than 30 foster homes, and when she is emancipated at 18, she isn’t ready. It’s difficult to imagine any child emerging intact from our foster care system. I don’t know which was more heartbreaking, to see foster care let down Victoria time after time, or to see the ramifications of this in Victoria’s adult life.

Victoria’s talent with flowers, which may ultimately be her salvation, is another dimension of the novel that intrigued me. Her one kind and loving foster parent, Elizabeth, passed on to Victoria her floral “genius.” Victoria can not only artfully arrange flowers, she has a knack for giving people the particular flowers they need.

I loved this book and plan to read it again.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh cofounded the Camellia Network to support youth transitioning from foster care to independence. The flower camellia means my destiny is in your hands.

A Victorian Flower Dictionary coverThere is a companion volume to this novel, A Victorian Flower Dictionary, compiled by Mandy Kirkby. Neither of these books is to be confused with the classic Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers, first published in 1884.

 

A secret garden

Hidden away in the woods on a hillside overlooking Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes is a stunning collection of over 40,000 day lilies. Grace Rood planted her first lilies in 1957, and now her son oversees Grace’s Garden. We visited the garden in mid July, when the day lilies were at their peak.

In the language of flowers, lily (Lilium) stands for majesty.  A white lily stands for purity and sweetness. In Kate Greenaway’s dictionary, a day lily stands for coquetry.

A passionate bouquet could consist of bird of paradise for magnificence, bougainvillea for passion, and lily for majesty.

Doesn’t the secret language of flowers inspire you to make your own bouquet for someone you love?

 

Bright orange lilies

Some lily names: Serene Madonna; Miss Jessie; Golden Chimes; Angels Unawares; Little Dancing Dress; Little Fat Cat; Buttered Popcorn; Coyote Moon

A cottage window

Grace’s cottage

 

If you enjoy flowers, check out Rambling in the Garden, and join the “In a Vase on Monday” crowd.

 

Tablecloth with lilies

I found this lily-laden tablecloth in a Finger Lakes antique shop. Perfect for a summer picnic.

 

Standing in front of floral shop

Our flower shop opening day, July 24, 1956

More flowers to come in my next post.

 

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