Flower Talk



Lani Woodruff


We’re all familiar with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “The earth laughs in flowers.”  I for

one could stand to hear some of her laughter in these gray winter days.  The Polar Vortex

provided a bit of drama earlier this month, but it sounded more like eerie howling made

more poignant by the 30 below temperatures.  Pining away here in St. Joe, Michigan

watching the snow, fall outside my window holds it’s own romance.  But it is flowers that

speak in my thoughts today.  I miss their conversation.  

I am reading a quirky book handed down to me from my mother-in-law.  In “the Language

of Flowers”, Vanessa Diffenbaugh brings back to life the Victorian practice of sending

messages through flowers.  It seems fitting, yet somewhat ironic in my mind that in an era

defined by formality and manners and all things ‘proper’ that such an intimate language

was exchanged.  Some things just must be said….and this forbidden vocabulary could be

expressed through flowers.  By way of sending a pink Camellia for example, a lover could

say he was ‘longing for you’.  Too afraid to turn that suitor away, just send a bouquet of

withered flowers (rejected love) and that’ll send the message!  But how to decipher

receiving a petunia:  Resentment; Anger; Your presence soothes me?


Thoughts and emotions are difficult to express.  And in such times reaching for symbols

helps to take away some of the tension involved.  Like the Victorians, we struggle to

converse, to convey, to touch.  Flowers somehow pull this off.  I work a few hours a week at

a local florist shop just blocks from my house.  We take orders for every occasion you could

imagine – birthdays, anniversaries, get well, new baby, congratulations, lovers, sympathy,

dances, apologies.  The list goes on and on.  To place an order we enter data into the

demanding computer screen until we arrive at the place for the card message.  Until we

reach this point, the customer dictates all the necessary information quicker than I can

often type and enter it.  But when we get to the message there is more often than not a

pause.  And then some kind of flustered response like,  “Oh that’s the hard part isn’t it?” 

Or, “I didn’t think about that yet.”  Some even ask what I would recommend, while some

simply leave the message blank.  Surely, some of the awkwardness stems from the fact that

it’s personal.  I am a stranger on the other line recording words and emotions meant for

someone else.  That aside though, the struggle to express ourselves makes, us vulnerable

and this discomfort presents itself often in the florist shop.  I wonder though, perhaps we

make it harder than it needs to be.  Just maybe, the flowers can speak for themselves.  And

do the individuals that leave their card blank understand this?  Maybe what the flowers

have to say is just what the recipient needs to hear.  No more, no less.  

But what do flowers say?  For me, it has nothing to do with an unspoken language of an

era now gone by.  Like a grandparent who knowingly smiles with no commentary or that

mentor who guides, but doesn’t state, flowers nod and sway.  Flowers speak to me about

innocence, simplicity and unapologetic joy.  I ‘hear’ these expressions when I look at their

petals so dainty and delicate like toes and fingers of a newborn baby.  Flowers seem to

most always be smiling too.  Gather meadows, borders and hillsides of them and I do

believe Emerson’s words ring true –-peals of laughter indeed!   But the topic I love most

flowers to talk about is beauty.  They speak volumes.  They tell me that beauty exists in the

eye of the beholder and I smile remembering the fistfuls of flowering weeds the boys

brought me as toddlers.  Beauty is not a ‘box’ to fit in, they gently say, something to

possess if conformed to the right shape.  Zinnias chatter about beauty in color.  Peony in

full, round spheres.  Iris, boast in posture and ruffles and lavender in fragrance.  All

beautiful just being.  Flowers remind me that beauty lives, even thrives in the harshest of

environments when I see volunteer petunias and impatiens sprout up in the cracks and

crevices of concrete, asphalt and stone.  Beauty unfolds, retreats, stretches toward warmth

and light and even dies.  


Flowers converse with me about all the beautiful dimensions of life.  And that is why I miss

their conversation these winter months.  I need to talk about it and be reminded when the

sun doesn’t seem to shine for days and weeks that turn into months.  I guess the fact that

for this season they are gone, it is not meant for talking so much.  Quiet.  Less chatter. 

We’ll catch-up come spring.