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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

by Robert-James Collingridge on July 6th


For most of my working life I have been involved in selling flowers to florists, who in turn sell them to the final consumer, the ordinary people of this world, the public. I have gone to work at unspeakable times of the day, which now only seem to exist in times of sleeplessness in the dark bowels of the night.

At the peak flower business times of the year, christmas, Valentines Day, Mother’s Day and sometimes Easter I went to work before I had been to bed, to fret and worry over the condition of the flowers, where they were (that is, NOT at my place of business, where my customers were, or about to appear) and whether they were good quality, the right colour, and enough of the right kind of flower, be it daffodil, chrysanthemum or rose or anything else really.

Most of the time I was accustomed to seeing flowers in a young, immature stage of life, at the start of its blooming, soon to take over the stem as the main show at the top, to enjoy a moment of brilliant glory of perfection. Or is that just over the top, poetical schmaltz?

I am not sure. Much is made of the flower industry “interfering” with the life of the flower, making it bloom at the “wrong” time of the year, putting it into suspended animation (a cold store) to make its life longer, and perhaps moving it around the world to reach you, the person whose life it may improve, probably emotionally, and mainly through love; of the romantic young love blossoming in your heart, of the comforting love making you fondly remember the life of another, or the reassuring love that somebody is there for you.

It is people’s perception of the flower that consumes me at the moment. My perception of flowers is always in the young stage. The bud has formed, it has colour, and in some cases has started to open. For over 40 years I have seen them like this, and it always has been a nightmare for me if the flower “ripening” process has gone much further, because it is then that my customer, the florist, will reject the bloom as it will not give him or her the time to prepare (again) the bloom to sell on to you in its best condition to give you the best value. So my daffodils must always be in bud, my freesia and tulips with enough colour to recognize the variety, the iris conforming to a pencil, and the chrysanth with a coloured bloom but still with a convex shape, and so on.

 Unfortunately for me, my enjoyment from flowers will only last a day, perhaps two at the most. Once the flower really starts to pull nature’s trick and wow you with its full splendour, my enjoyment is gone.

 The florist also, like Clare’s , only has a  brief enjoyment of the flower before its dispatch to you. They do, however, have the satisfaction of knowing who and where they are going even if they do not know you personally. They will momentarily share your joy at a celebration, a pang of sorrow if it is a loss. Flowers have this happy knack of being a salve or stimulus to an emotion.

 Spare a moment for the grower. His enjoyment is even shorter and filled with far more worry than my fleeting fears in the dawn of cold mornings. He has nursed the flower for perhaps as long as a year with bulb flowers, or maybe 3,4 or 5 in the case of rose bushes. He has tried to keep it weed free, disease free, straight, with proper leaves and foliage, and if necessary on time for the right market time. He has tried to ensure that the bloom, when it opens, will be a true rose, or daffodil, or sunflower. That it is the right shape with no holes or splits in. In fact, the only flowers that he will see will be the rejects.

 Also take some time to think about how long the flower gives you pleasure in your home. I know it does not seem long, especially if you put them in the focal point of your living room on top of the TV, the hottest, warmest driest place in your house. Thank goodness for the invention of flat screen TVs, its difficult to balance a vase leaning against the wall. But wherever you put your flowers to admire or to soothe you they will last nine times out of ten  longer thanin your garden, where the sun will blow them open in a day, the wind in perhaps half a day, or the rain beat the petals to the rain soaked ground.

 If you do not have a garden or even a window box, then you should buy more flowers to help replace this loss!

 I like to think that if flowers could think or have feelings, then they would not mind too much their cosseting, and being cared for in a flat or a house. They will have a longer life, and have given something to people. Not a bad aspiration for all of us.

 Although the flower business is a business, it is not one entirely without a heart. Wherever they are produced, sold or delivered, flowers do touch people’s lives. There are always bad stories (bad news sells newspapers) about some of the poorer countries where some flowers are produced. The flower business is something I do know about, having visited farms and markets all over the world. It horrifies me when I listen or see on TV or read in the newspapers how inaccurate the reports are about flowers. If reporters can get it wrong with such a small thing such as flowers, how wrong, or misleading, or downright lies can they tell or invent on a really big story.

I now have got more accustomed to buying and enjoying my flowers in an open and blooming condition after a lifetime of narrow (or single) mindedness. Perhaps there is a deeper lesson there for all of us.

Tags: valentines day, mother's day, easter, chrysanthemum, rose, clare's

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