I have received more bouquets of flowers in our last few months in Holland than I did in the last few years in the United States. Poor thing, you may think. She must not have a very romantic husband. On the contrary, my husband can be very romantic, but spontaneous bouquets of flowers have never been in his repertoire. In the past, I just accepted this as part of his character; he is the type of man who refuses to conform to the contrived dictates of society and believes in finding his own path to romantic expression. And, I also chalked it up to his being a foreigner—perhaps they do things differently over there in Holland. But now that I’ve spent a few months in this country, he has some explaining to do.
Here, flowers are as undeniable a part of life as coffee, newspapers and bicycles. They are a centerpiece on many a dining room table, they fill window boxes and line window sills. They are arranged in pots by the front door at the first hint of spring, and are given generously to others. We received a congratulatory bouquet of flowers from a friend of the family when Arie Jan was hired as a math teacher. I was given a colorful bouquet at the church from a church member when I started training for my future position. Arie Jan’s brother and sister-in-law brought a beautiful arrangement of flowers on bicycle when we invited them to dinner, and we have received other bouquets along the way. Florists exist in every neighborhood and make a brisk business of it, suggesting the florist, like a dentist, doctor or nurse, will always be in high demand throughout the cycle of life.
Arranged bouquets have been part of our human experience for centuries. Look at the still life paintings in the great museums of the world; meticulously detailed oil on canvas depicting the brilliant colors of nature, brought forward to future generations long after the flowers wilted and the artists returned to the earth.
I don’t think Arie Jan, or anyone else knows this, but I have this deeply rooted, abject guilt I associate with receiving cut bouquets of commercially grown flowers. It’s not about guilt cultivated through my Catholic upbringing and some sense of unworthiness. It goes much deeper, like a contradiction to my basic principles. I view flowers as brilliant expressions of nature that should remain in the earth in their natural environment. Cut flowers and arranged bouquets seem a contradiction to all things organic; another example of man’s desire to control and contort nature. Just like ordering a car from the factory in any color we want, we also create hybrid flowers, modifying them to meet our choice of colors.
When I see plants in Home Depot, or other large scale corporate entities, I feel like I’m visiting the CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) of plant life. I imagine those flowers all pumped up on chemical fertilizers that are so powerful, they can survive growing in rows numbering in the thousands, being re-potted, loaded on trucks, driven across the nation, unloaded, stored, placed on a shelf, and if they’re lucky, making it into someone’s home or garden where they will live some sort of compromised existence for half a season before wilting away.
Yet, I love receiving flowers. I too am deeply attracted to their beauty and take pride in having a bouquet on the table, and am always pleasantly surprised and emotional when someone gives me a bouquet. Some bouquets have even found their way into my shopping basket at a major grocery chain. I have purchased potted plants as well, but sought out small scale, organic nurseries, to assuage this strange guilt.
I think, if I look at it from a psychological perspective, I have my mom and dad to blame for this affliction. I grew up in the country srrounded by wild, open space, and I have seen plants in their natural settings—wildflowers blooming on a hillside, minor’s lettuce peeking up in the shade of oak trees, those beautiful little purple flowers that have an edible bulb at the bottom, growing not far away from California poppies, crisp bushes of sage amongst the chaparral, filling the air with their medicinal essence. This is how I first experienced flowers and plants. Growing in season, coming into their glorious peak, and fading away. My mother never bought flowers at the store. But we did have flowers in the house. We would wander into the fields and pluck beautiful wildflowers, never taking too many, and would create original organic bouquets placed in colored glass bowls on the table. For the holidays, she would trim branches from plants with bright red berries and pick pine cones from the ground beneath the pine trees soaring into the air. We were foragers and our flowers never came wrapped in plastic.
Two days ago, Ezra had a little friend over to play. After they were informed that throwing rocks was off the list, Ezra turned his attention to another aspect of the yard. He plucked purple flowers from patches of a rather prolific, but pretty weed in our garden. He proceeded into the house, got a glass from the cupboard and made a flower arrangement, which he proudly presented to me. The other little boy was delighted by the experience as well, and we put water in the glass and set our first bouquet of the house on the table. I suppose some things are passed down through the generations.