People throw their bouquets away too soon. It’s as if they can’t bear to see the withering away of life--not realizing that life fled the moment the stem was severed from its root. From then on, it’s all stages of death. Which is to say, the vase sitting on your desk is a fascinating paradox of generous cheer, flash, or elegance, masking a sad message of sacrifice.
And so what? Flowers, like food, are part of our great chain of being. Gardens are places of awesome brutality. We sow, we tend, we nurture, we encourage life, and then we kill, we eat, we admire. We have dominion over the lilies of the field. We revel in their color, their voluptuous form, their discreet convolutions, their suggestive organs. When they are freshly cut, flowers are bouncing with charm. But that doesn’t last long, no matter how many sugar cubes you dissolve in the water. It is just a matter of days before the intransigence of death asserts itself.
Quickly, too quickly, the flowers gyrate, droop, snap or flop. This is when things get interesting. I move my aging bouquets closer to wherever I am working, so that I can gaze at the rapid transformations.
I’m particularly fascinated by peonies, which hold onto their petals past exhaustion. The colors soften and fade, the tissue creases, thins and becomes transparent. The petals begin to curl gently in on themselves, as though trying to return to bud. One buttery blonde with a stray petal drooping across her face made me think of a kittenish Marilyn Monroe.
The crown of golden filaments loses its elasticity; it hangs limp, slipping down the flower’s forehead, as though the weight of the tiny golden stamens were too much to bear. The mammillate carpels, with their downy sheathes, swell, nipples pink and crusty. Gravity takes the day. Petals fall out in clumps that plop heavily onto the table, filaments and stamens drizzle over the pile.
Aging bouquets are mesmerizing. The calla lilies have petals that look like the expensive peau de soie of the finest wedding gowns before they wrinkle and darken. The tissue of old flower petals resembles the loose, milky, mottled skin of withering Southerners, those beautiful old ladies who know to rub calendula into the backs of their hands at night, and wear white gloves in the day.
The stamens of a tulip look charred, but stand erect in the burnt forest, reaching for sunlight. The corolla of the poppy flattens, thrusting forward the whorl of stamens. One last chance? Those remain springy, guarding the treasure of the poppy pod, a superior ovary if ever there was one, with its fuzzily receptive lobed stigma. The grains of pollen, male sex dust, explode from the anthers at the tip the stamens; the pollen is rich and plentiful and stains my fingers. Opium comes from the milky exudation--what a lovely term--from unripe fruits. But no one these days is sending opium poppy bouquets.
Even in death, every flower has a distinct personality, a signature style of leave taking. Decay is stunningly beautiful. You have to let go of what might be a natural aversion to watching death steal across beauty.