“I buy myself flowers.”
This was a law school classmate of mine – I don’t remember her name, but I do recall that she was a tall, slender, pretty blonde woman, in her late 30s or early 40s, had a son named London, was single, a very “put together” person whom I liked and admired, and she bought herself flowers. I learned this when we were setting up for a special event, and she provided the flowers that would sit on the tables. I asked what would happen to them when the event was over – we can’t just leave them here. She said, “Oh, I bought these with my own money, and I’ll take them home with me. Aren’t they lovely?” I agreed with her that they were, but I was still stuck on the “I bought myself flowers” aspect of the conversation. I had questions.
I grew up in a much different time, so please try to suspend your disbelief when I say that at age 21 it was astonishing to me that a woman would buy flowers for herself. I had been taught from the time I could make dandelion chains and pick petals off of daisies to see whether my crush loved me that women got “real” (meaning bought from a florist) flowers from men. There seemed no other way to get them. I’m embarrassed to say that at the time I was amazed that such a thing could be taking place – I didn’t even know how to go about buying flowers from a florist (I don’t think they had arrived in grocery stores or gas stations yet) that weren’t for a funeral, wedding, or some sort of event such as the one we were preparing. I believed you had to “deserve” flowers, and someone who loved you would give them to you if you did. Like a Valentine card or jewelry, or perfume, or a personalized sonnet or something.
I probed a little further. “So… you just bought these yourself? For yourself?”
“Oh, yes,” she answered, with a bemused and puzzled look on her face. “I buy flowers for my home at least once a week. I feel like it just isn’t complete without them.”
I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open, and I probably flushed at my ignorance. She smiled, and said, “I love having fresh flowers on my table. They make me feel good.” I struggled to close my mouth and regain my cool.
“You should try it!” She smiled.
I stammered a bit before simply saying, “I never really thought about it before.” My mind was awash with thoughts. This was a revelation – I could buy myself flowers whenever I wanted to. Holy cow. I watched with envy at the end of our event as she packed up her flowers to take home. I vowed to try to save money (I was a poor student living off loans) to buy the occasional bouquet for myself, and I have kept that promise, even to this day. And much of the reason that I grow flowers in my garden is so that I may have a ready supply in the temperate months to see and smell their beauty in my home. I can still see my classmate’s radiant face, despite not remembering her name, and I thank her silently in my head when I buy a bunch at the local grocery store when there aren’t any in my garden. What a gift she gave me that day.
Flowers are a wonder. I think there are some things in this world that have an incidental effect of being pleasurable to human beings – the smell of grass when it’s cut or the air after a spring rain; the sound of the ocean, or the songs of the birds or spring peepers as they work to attract a mate; the feel of the warm ground on the soles of our feet; the beautiful colors of a sunrise or sunset, and so many other daily sensual pleasures around us. And, yes, I know that the primary reason for flowers to be colorful, soft to the touch and oh-so-fragrant is to attract pollinators, but there are plenty of other plants that manage to do so without the joyful effect on their human planetary companions. Flowers are in a class by themselves.
Studies have shown that there’s a reason why I and folks like me bring flowers into our living spaces. In addition to taking in the carbon dioxide that we exhale and providing a source of oxygen, flowers and ornamental plants help memory, learning and concentration, decrease depression symptoms (partly by releasing our pleasure hormones), enhance and hasten our physical and mental health healing processes, and improve relationships and increase compassion toward others. A ten-month study has shown that “the presence of flowers triggers happy emotions, heightens feelings of life satisfaction and affects social behavior in a positive manner far beyond what is normally believed.” The colors of flowers specifically have been shown to have a role to play in elevating mood levels. Flowers affect our lives for the better, sometimes without us even knowing it. For example, just the act of going outside, especially in a garden, to read or just sit in nature helps calm our bodies and minds. Flowers and plants play a crucial role in our happiness and well-being.
I’ve always loved flowers, and they always had a place and significance in my life. In childhood, I spent hours in my backyard making clover flower necklaces (saving a few to suck the sweet nectar from their petals) and laughing with my sister, dabbing buttercup pollen on my chin to “see if I like butter.” I was taught only to pick wildflowers, never the flowers from someone’s garden. Mr. and Mrs. Diehl were a very sweet elderly couple who lived at the end of our block, who had the most beautiful garden I’d ever seen, lining three of the borders of their property. It was like something out of a fairy tale, with so many varieties of flowers placed just so, so that they maximized the small space and enhanced one anothers’ colors and fragrance. I loved that garden very much, and dreamed of the day that I would have one of my own (I actually still dream of that garden now and then). Once in a while I would bring Mrs. Diehl a frog or toad (it was common for me to keep frogs and toads in my pockets – for emergencies. It would always freak my aunt out if she ever had occasion to wash my clothes) for her garden, “to eat the bugs that may harm the plants.” She would thank me profusely, and often reward me with a shiny nickel, telling me she would gladly welcome any more I happen to find, since they were very beneficial to her garden. Every now and then I would pluck up the courage to ask for a flower of some sort, which she would happily provide. I remember specifically asking for a few branches of forsythia (I had asked her the names of all my favorite plants and memorized them), so I could give them to my little sister – “Forsythia for Cynthia.” I remember the sadness I felt when the Diehls passed away and their house was sold to someone who removed the garden and planted grass. My beautiful fantasy world had been reduced to ordinary, same old lawn, just like all the other yards on the street. What a terrible shame.
Another sad flower-related memory involved one of my cherished play spaces. One of my favorite things to do was to take a walk to the property behind ours and bring home bouquets of wilty but still perfectly fine (in my 7-year-old estimation) flowers to my mother. She was likely unaware where they came from at first (perhaps assuming they came from the Diehls’ garden – if she asked, I didn’t lie, I would just say “somebody was throwing them away”), until the day I excitedly and proudly brought a ribbon with the word “Mother” on it along with the bouquet. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding it! What are the odds? I guess more likely when you become aware that the property behind us was a cemetery, and the flower dump was just beyond some concealing hedgerow demarcating the boundary line. Tragically, after that day I wasn’t allowed to go back to my free flower treasure trove anymore.
Flowers played an important role for me growing up, but I somehow learned in my teen years that one had to “deserve” flowers, and that having them gifted to you was the only legitimate avenue to their acquisition. If not for my law school classmate, I might still be waiting – to see whether anyone would give me the flowers I was hoping somehow to deserve. Now I know that we all deserve flowers, which are a gift from the Universe. And gifting them to ourselves counts just as well. Buy the flowers. May your life be full of color, fragrance and softness – you deserve it.