At this time of the year, our convent yard here in Chardon is graced with many flowers. In spring we said, “Hello again!” to our purple lilacs and white lilies-of-the-valley. Then we welcomed our azeleas, roses, and wachmacallits. (I use that term affectionately for flowers I cannot name.) Right now as I write this the peonies in our backyard are spreading their scent everywhere. If I lean out my third floor window I can catch their sweet aroma. Hmmmm! They smell so good! And Sister Sandy (our resident gardener) has decorated our side porch with yellow and orange begonias and multicolored pansies. Beautiful!
What a drab world it would be without flowers, don’t you think? But sometimes flowers are so plentiful and unassuming, we can miss noticing them or we can take them for granted. So today I’d like to say a few words about flowers—so you (and I!) can remember to appreciate them. First, flowers are simply the reproductive structure of plants. They serve an important function (propagation), but they do it in a highly imaginative and gorgeous way. From time immemorial we humans have used flowers to beautify our environment. I love the old proverb: If you have two pennies left, spend one on bread and the other on a lily. We humans have also used flowers as objects of romance, religion, medicine, and even food. (Edible flowers include carnations, roses, honeysuckle, sunflowers, pansies, and many more.)
Over the centuries, humans began associating flowers with certain words or emotions. This language of flowers is called floriography and was especially popular in Victorian England when people used to send “talking bouquets” to one another. For example, azaleas say, “Take care of yourself.” A purple hyacinth says, “I’m sorry.” The lily-of-the-valley says, “You’ve made my life complete.” And the chrysanthemum says, “You’re a wonderful friend.”
Sometimes flowers give a more general but deeply appreciated message. When my brother John died a few years ago, one of my SND friends appeared on my doorstep the following morning holding a small potted blue primrose for me. It was a simple gesture that spoke eloquently of her love and concern for me. When I celebrated my 70th birthday last year, my cousin, Sister Ellenann Mach, decorated my cake with real daisies, my favorite flower. (Why do I like daisies? They are simple, ordinary, cheerful, and open-faced. These are qualities I like in people too.)
In my book, When the Rain Speaks, I devote a chapter to flowers. I conclude the chapter with a list, a litany if you will, of the names of fifty flowers. I asked the reader (as I’m asking you here) to read the names slowly and reverently—aloud, if possible. If the name conjures up an image for you, sit with that image for a moment or two. If it doesn’t, then simply take delight in the colorful name. Here we go:
Rose, daisy, calla lily, baby’s breath, gardenia, creeping phlox, petunia, heather, forsythia, pussy willow, star of Bethlehem, foxglove, iris, sagebrush, aster, columbine, myrtle, clematis, geranium, impatiens, hibiscus, violet, shamrock, sunflower, bougainvillea, Queen Anne’s lace, Rose of Sharon, black-eyed Susan, primrose, hosta, spotted nettle, bird of paradise, kangaroo paw, orchid, candytuft, variegated sedum, larkspur, amaryllis, trumpet vine, oriental poppy, delphinium, sweet William, snapdragon, zinnia, morning glory, chocolate cosmos, magnolia, love-in-a-mist, ostrich fern, and forget-me-not.
To conclude, I have a real treat for you: a video by David de los Santos Gil. Using time-lapse photography and lovely music, this video captures the opening of dozens of flowers. It is my hope that this video may nourish our sense of wonder and our gratitude to God for the gift of flowers.
What role do flowers play in your life? Do you have a favorite flower? If so, why is it your favorite?