Orchids are strange exotic creatures—my mother always mistrusted them, much preferring the less suggestive bloom of the English rose. ‘Besides,’ she used to say, misquoting Alice, ‘What’s the use of a flower without any scent?’ Prophetic words, for when she lost her sight, the flowers that gave her the most pleasure were inevitably the scented ones: the sweet fragrance of freesias, the fresh, green scent of lily of the valley—and roses, of course.
I am not so sure. Last week, after six months in residence, the flowers on my orchid said farewell, withered and died. How can the same blossom last six months? I was bereft. Every morning those perfect, erotic shapes had greeted me, as pristine and poised as Japanese geishas. Few flowers endure so faultlessly—poinsettas take one look at me, shudder and drop their leaves, and my roses feed five thousand greenfly.
To my mind, only the lily rivals the orchid in exotic—and erotic—elegance, with its creamy voluptuous flowers tinged with pink, and that rich, heavy scent that you either love or loathe. I delight in a room filled with the fragrance of fresh lilies, but understand why this flower is too often associated with death —after all,
‘The sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds,
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.’
The potential corruption of something that is good is one of the themes in my novel, Tainted Innocence, and also runs through the delicately traced The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, published last year. I related to Diffenbaugh’s novel as it focuses on the complexities of mother—daughter relationships and their shared love of flowers. I loved the way the story was put together like a bouquet, with unusual foliage and some sharp thorns, as well as clever insights into the forgotten language of flowers that the Victorians so delighted in.
So no, it’s not February 14 but in my book, flowers are for every day, not just for Valentine’s. And can be sent to men, as well as women. But the next time you give flowers—especially roses—you would be well advised to check on their meaning.
After all, yellow roses could be fatal.
Joss Alexander, brickbats, bouquets and comments welcomed! Which flower would you most like to receive and why?