I’m a city girl and so my knowledge of flora is limited by growing up amidst concrete. I did live (and still do) in a wonderful neighborhood bordered on both sides by huge parks, so the greening and flowering of trees and plants are familiar harbingers of warm weather for me. Still, I often forget how powerful the attraction of blooming things is. I remember once having no luck separating my cat from a vase of sunset orange tiger lilies; a usually fastidious creature, he kept at them until his face was covered in pollen that made him look like a child who had smeared jam across his face. I marveled at the call of nature as I lifted him away time and again.
A voracious learner, I am always disappointed in myself for not knowing more about the natural world, or not feeling confident enough in identifying plants, animals, etc. The truth is that I know many flowers from their use in perfumery, a long-time love. Poppy, carnation (my first floral fragrance favorite and still the most sentimental), rose, jasmine, magnolia, mimosa, iris, lily, violet, tuberose, gardenia, geranium, orange flower… all are well-known to me in distilled or created form. Separating the scent from the other sensory indicators of flowers is an odd thing to contemplate at the brink of summer, which is to me so much about color and light. But the perfumer’s art gives us the illusion that flowers, or at least their silage, are with us at all times, not just in season, and that is a luxury that keeps some of spring’s hope at the ready.
When I was in college I was the flower child or flower girl for the Kosher Kitchen – the titles were my own private joke, but my task for four years was to visit the florist on Friday afternoon and pick the flowers for the Sabbath dinner tables. I also brought them to the dining hall and arranged them in vases. This private perk allowed me to welcome in the Sabbath and the weekend with a few moments of communing with flowers, albeit separate from their natural habitat.
A few weeks ago I toured the city with friends and we walked the High Line, admiring the wildflower landscape and the backdrop views of the Hudson. Later, as we waited for their express bus home on a quiet stretch of midtown, one friend pointed out that the hyacinths arranged primly in a large planter were wafting scent our way. We moved close to bury our noses in the crisp, cool purple floral fragrance that broke the careful line-up. Spring had come. The other day at the farmer’s market with another friend we picked up a huge bouquet of lilacs for her Sabbath table. They were almost over-run in their lushness and their perfume overpowered an Indian dinner.
So I wonder what it is about flowers that most attracts you – scent, color, shape, their audacious or delicate existence, their ephemeral quality? What most signals spring, in all of its call to life and lushness? Which flowers most represent spring and the advent of summer? What do they tell you when they appear, out of season, in the midst of your daily activities?
©2010 Leah Strigler