This time of year my house is filled with small bouquets.
I didn’t grow up in a gardening family, so I came late to growing flowers. Flowers were things that grew in conservatories or in gardens belonging to people who lived in big houses. Flowers grew in small patches or pots, along the side of the highway, or in the half-wild, empty suburban lots I liked to explore as a kid. Really special flowers arrived in vans or trucks, and were brought to the front door by delivery men. These flowers were almost always a surprise, and we greeted them with wonder. Usually they were primly arranged in ceramic planters shaped like baby shoes or cottages or baskets or cars (if they were for my dad). But as special as they were meant to be, they were oddly unsatisfying. They were less like art than they were small memorials for the already-dead flowers they contained. The flowers themselves seemed to be captives.
Like everything else, flowers have had fads and fashions, and I suppose fussy was a sort of fashion. Most florists now seem to save their most uptight arrangements for funerals and some churches. And many floral designers are true artists, drawing inspiration from Japanese Ikebana and classic Victorian traditions. Now anyone can pick up flowers of all sorts pretty much anywhere–from grocery stores to gas stations. Some people make fun of bouquets picked up at gas stations, but I think the idea is rather charming. It’s like the anxious flowers of the past have been somehow liberated and democratized. They might be scentless or a bit limp, but they mean well and are sweet without pretensions. It takes real effort to make flowers pretentious.
I confess that I’m a fan of both achingly spare designs as well as opulent, Victorian-style bouquets. I like nothing better than armfuls of peonies, lilacs, or old-fashioned hydrangeas (which don’t last very long when cut). Their colors and shapes can be combined in ways they can’t quite be out in the garden. And the good news is that most flowering plants are good-natured about being trimmed. Recently I looked up information on trimming my coreopsis (the perky yellow flowers with yellow centers in the crystal vase in the photo), and learned that they will bloom all summer if they’re trimmed regularly. The quote said something to the effect that when the plant is trimmed before it has a chance to seed, it thinks it’s been munched by a deer and will try to flower and seed again. But in order to have many armfuls of flowers in a season, one must grow lots and lots of flowers. Soon I’ll have some tiger lilies and a few gladiolas, but the peonies (I only have two.) had a very short spring season. My irises are spent, too, but they are Japanese irises, which are compact and delicate, rather than big bearded irises. The flowers that bloom the longest in my garden are smaller ones.
It took me a while to appreciate my small bouquets: the crazy mixes of zinnias and lavender and sage, the coral bells, geraniums, roses, marigolds, and those long, red stalky flowers I can’t ever remember the name of. I have a ridiculously large collection of vases–many of them small–and for a long time I struggled to get the scale of the flowers I put in them right. Now I just let them arrange themselves. Small bouquets are rarely complicated and never pretentious. They’re like brief, happy conversations between friends. Poems or stories, rather than grand speeches or romantic novels.
Now that I think of it, I suppose I could have written only the previous paragraph, and not told you about those other sorts of flowers and arrangements and the thoughts of my younger self. So often just a few, carefully selected words will do just fine. Words that are at the ready, spoken (or written) without hesitation. Because I only meant to tell you about the small bouquets, and how I realized they are my favorites. How they delight and surprise me all over again when I return to a room and spy them on a table. How I don’t mind taking them from the garden because more flowers grow in their place. That’s all.