A man once left a red rose on my pillow. He and the flower are both gone, but the pleasure of the gesture has stayed with me for over thirty years. Flowers embody our passions. On Valentine’s Day florists will satiate a billion dollars worth of ardor.
Lovers have been sending flowers on this day since the 15th century. At winter’s half-way point, it is not surprising that we might seek reminders of summer’s warmth. Last weekend Nemo spread almost two feet of snow across the withered winter landscape, turning the view from my office window into a muted still life in shades of white, grey, and black. Even the bits of green bore more hint of brown than yellow or blue. A gauzy fog made any hard edge - roof line, wall, or tree limb - soft. Life seemed ready to dissolve. Deep purple, blazing orange, and full-bodied red petals bring us back from the brink.
Yet the life cut flowers symbolize is a complicated one. Writer Virginia Woolf epitomizes the early twentieth century bucolic view when her character Clarissa Dalloway's thoughts float to images of "girls in muslin frocks" coming "out to pick sweet peas and roses after a superb summer’s day.” The twentyfirst century buds gracing our tables are typically flown from greenhouses in Ecuador, Columbia, and Costa Rica where the women who tend them suffer from reduced fertility rates due to pesticide exposure to chemicals “so toxic that they're either restricted or outright banned in the U.S. and Europe.” When you add the carbon footprint of all those flower miles in airplanes and refrigerated trucks, poverty wages, 16-18 hour work days, insufficient protection from pesticides, sexual harassment and child labor, a flower on a pillow turns tawdry.
For those of us who revel in the beauty and language of flowers, there is hope. Here in the Pioneer Valley, Lasalle Florist in Whately grows their own freesia, lillies, and dahlias. Across the country, in the Bay Area, Farm Girl inspires their customers with local blooms delivered by pedal power. During New England's warmer months farmer’s markets offer a feast of flowers. At the supermarket, look for Veriflora certification, and if you need to send some long distance cheer, check California Organic Flowers or Organic Bouquet.