A personal reflection of what flowers meant to a young working lady
Having me write this article might appear ironic — because I haven’t always had this much interest in flowers.
Unfortunately, growing up as the young unknowing girl that I was, I used to think flowers were for the frivolous and pretentious damsel. While I did acknowledge that flowers were easy on the eyes, my ‘interactions’ with florals and blooms were solely limited to basic sunflower Tumblr phone wallpapers and floral accessories. In my narrow worldview, sending flowers or flower delivery were simply economically unsustainable and its perceived benefits didn’t quite outweigh its costs enough for me to purchase them out of my own will.
From a romanticism point of view, it just didn’t quite make sense to cut these flowers off their stems prematurely (and effectively remove nature from nature) for the human benefit (our eyes??!!).
In fact looking back, my indifference towards flowers was probably fuelled by spite, envy and bitterness every time the Valentines’ Day period draws around the corner. Somehow, as a teenage girl influenced by popular culture and mass media romanticising perfect confessions with a car boot filled with 100 red roses in massive flower bouquets and a dashing hunk behind it all — I was resentful for not being one of those popular girls who somehow always managed to snag all the hot guys (and their flowers). Perhaps my grudge was what pushed me to convince myself that flowers were completely unnecessary, as pitiful as it sounds.
At this point, I’m starting to sound like a walking contradiction, but I admit.
Of course, this point of view was formed when I was just a teenager (and obviously have never received a stalk of rose in my short life ever).
The importance of flowers
Someone once said ‘without flowers, plants would merely be green. And the world, a duller place.’
This was eloquently expressed in part by virtue of the significance that flowers possess in our natural ecosystem. Flowers daintily bear themselves for insects and birds and provide natural remedies for humans, all while enabling the parent plant’s reproduction in what we call the cycle of life.
Notwithstanding its purpose in nature and the environment, flowers also carry symbolic meanings tied to emotions and feelings.
Just recall the last time you received flowers.
What type of flowers were they?
Why did you receive them?
How did you feel?
What did those flowers mean to you?
Different variations of flowers typically carry different sets of meanings in relation to their purpose for different occasions (like how roses are usually gifted during romantic events, although even then different shades of roses embody different connotations — but I digress).
Broadly, the gifting or receiving of flowers embody deeper meanings of one’s intention. Whether as a symbol of love, friendship, or even condolences, flowers are manifestations of emotions through a gift of nature. The simple act of carefully selecting, curating and presenting a bunch of flowers to someone, is in itself a display of baring one’s raw emotions to another someone. We can all think of the cliché confession of a high school boy sheepishly thrusting a lone rose to the supposed girl of his dreams from behind his back. Beyond the assumption that flowers are a girl’s thing, they represent his mishmashed jumble of emotions of affection, endearment, warmth (and awkwardness).
Essentially, flowers are a beautiful way of expressing one’s emotions which can have profound effects in drawing connections between people and bridging relationships. After all, emotions and feelings lie at the very heart of the essence of true human life, and what better way to convey these intangible softies than to have them shown through alluring florals?
My first ever flower
Previously an objectively meaningless entity, one symbolically compelling moment made me rethink completely what flowers meant to me.
This was the first time ever that I’ve received flowers from anyone. It wasn’t a whole bouquet of a hundred sweet-smelling scarlet red roses, nor was it a bunch of fresh-cut golden sunflowers. I didn’t receive it in the car boot along with a horde of balloons, nor did I get it as part of an elaborate confession proposal.
In fact, it was a single stalk of rose that looked as if it was stashed away for a couple of days before seeing the light of the world. The ends of the petals even looked a tad frayed and brownish, as if it was mustering up the last bit of life it had in it for me before it died. Wrapped in flimsy plastic fastened with a thin lilac fabric as ribbon, a small note dangled meekly from the ribbon. The note read ‘Happy Valentines’ Day! From: XXX’.
I was in college then, and every Valentines’ Day, the student union group would organise those ‘anonymous’ gifting services that sold flowers, chocolates and cards and offered to ‘anonymously’ send them to your valentine. I didn’t care much about it, for I didn’t consider myself to have much appeal to boys and I for one, didn’t care about boys. So receiving that single stalk of rose from a random student councillor who hurriedly stuffed it in my hands before shooting me a knowing and sly look, left me pretty stunned. Needless to say, I was quite embarrassed as the ‘low-key’ person that I was, amidst all the teasing and chaff thrown at me by my friends.
So basically that was how I got my first flower ever.
It wasn’t extravagant or luxurious, as one would have imagined. But as I stared at the lone bloom, I realised that flowers weren’t just simply flowers. They meant something from someone. In that moment, it represented his heart, his pure and naive desire to offer himself as a suitor and to pique my interest. I realised that it didn’t quite matter how the flower looked, with its frayed and brown edges and all. What mattered was that the flower had intrinsic value, it was an end in itself and in this entire world of 7 billion odd people, only him and I knew what that flower meant.
My second encounter with flowers
By then, my perception towards flowers had shifted in some sense. I no longer thought of flowers as frivolous and useless things, although I still considered them way too expensive for their purpose as I was still a (broke) student. Nonetheless, I began to appreciate flowers a little more beyond seeing them for their aesthetic purposes as my phone wallpaper. They started to remind me of love, and not to be reductionist with the notion of love and what it entails, but the simple correlation of gifting flowers and feelings of love seemed somewhat acceptable.
And so my second encounter with flowers was shared with my first boyfriend (sorry to burst your bubble, but he’s not the guy from college, haha).
For background context, after my sudden revelation with the value of flowers, my appreciation for them grew leaps and bounds and I started to explore. I somehow decided that my favourite type of flowers would be daisies and baby’s-breath, just because. Clearly I wasn’t a ‘big-flower’ kind of person, rather I seemed to prefer dainty smaller flowers that nestled in a bush of green foliage. Throughout my relationship with my then-boyfriend, I made it a point to make it very clear to him the specific kinds of florals that I fancied, and often got frustrated when he would forget that I only liked white daisies and white baby’s-breath.
I still vividly recall the series of events that happened that day. I remember being quite upset at him that day for a trivial reason, and went home feeling rather distressed.
That same night, he dropped me a text to come downstairs (and I think we can see where this is going).
He stood right there, with a massive bouquet of flowers, looking quite uncomfortable with all the stares my neighbours shot at him as they passed him by. But there he was, with a bunch of white daisies and white baby’s-breath all bundled together in one bouquet and wrapped in brown kraft paper, fastened with the same shade of white glossy ribbon.
So this was what love looked like, manifested in an exploding mass of florals that eagerly stuck their faces out at me. It was his expression of an apology, mixed with endearment, and a pure desire to make me happy once again.
This was what flowers meant to me, and it was love.
Flowers from a best friend
In the entire article I seemed to have leaned towards flowers as an expression of romantic love, so it seems appropriate that I should give credit to my best friend, who had also shown me a different kind of meaning of flowers.
This particular best friend of mine had practically grown up with me. We’ve been together for about 8 years now and we’ve seen the most atrocious sides of each other.
So when he had to invite a girl to be his companion as part of the Officer Cadet School Social Night event, he asked me (unfortunately he didn’t have a girlfriend then). I still recall teasing him tremendously that me going for the event itself would be a steal for me, as I would be able to eat a free 8-course meal on his wallet. On top of all that, he had to buy me flowers, whether he genuinely wanted to or just out of courtesy, although I highly suspect the latter.
Now I was quite sure he wouldn’t give too much thought about the flowers, as we were practically ‘bros’ so to speak, and having ‘ugly’ flowers wouldn’t ruin our friendship for anything. But in the weeks leading up to the night, he had repeatedly asked me questions regarding the colour of dress I was going to wear, even after I persistently replied that I hadn’t decided yet. It was only much later after speaking to another close friend of ours that I realised he has pestered her to help him decide on what kind of flowers to buy, and whether the colour of the flowers were going to match the dress I was going to wear.
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised at his gesture and elaborate planning.
On the day itself, we met up earlier to hang out before heading to the event together. He sheepishly and quite awkwardly handed me the bouquet of flowers, as flowers were presumably gifted as an act of romantic gesture. Cringeworthy feelings aside, the flowers were perfect. It was a bundle of pure white roses, peppered with fillers of myrtles and honey bracelets and wrapped carefully in brown kraft paper. The entire bouquet gave off a vintage look, and matched perfectly with my wine red dress.
It then occurred to me, that those flowers portrayed his genuine feelings of love for me as a friend and as a companion.
In that bouquet of pure white roses peppered with fillers of myrtles and honey bracelets and wrapped carefully in brown kraft paper, tied our emotions, our friendship and with it, all our 8 years of shared memories and experiences together.
This is what flowers mean to me
In the course of my short life, I grappled with trying to understand the significance and worth of a $80 bouquet of flowers that would perish and be recalled to the dustbin within the week.
What I gained out of it?
Flowers are now not meaningless flimsy plants, but they serve as timely reminders of our deepest emotions to people whom we care about. It represents our innate feelings and are perfect forms of manifestations for those who find it difficult to express our feelings otherwise (s/o to most Asians, and I too, am guilty of this).
In this unprecedented time of uncertainty and volatility, perhaps for those who wish to send a care package to our friends and families staying away from us, consider sending flower deliveries instead of your usual cup of Starbucks. It could just be a simple bouquet of flowers to remind them that you care, or a table flower to congratulate someone who had to miss their graduation ceremony.
A simple gift of nature, and the world would be a tad less dull.
Writter: Arissa Goh, 24, working adult