One way that people all around the world express joy, sorrow, repentance, forgiveness, celebration and remembrance is through the giving and receiving of flowers. Researchers on h2g2 have been sharing their tips and experiences on this worldwide phenomenon.
Many people buy flowers for their friends and loved ones to mark special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries or birth of a child, and sometimes if someone is ill. Here are some of the occasions marked with flowers. One Researcher stated:
I have trained my husband to give me flowers at certain times of the year. I have trained him to spend a certain amount of money on them, but if I want flowers for myself, I grow them. On the balcony. Not inside.
Another simply said:
Any type of flower of any size with or without roots will always be welcome in this house especially if there's any birthday or illness associated.
I love flowers. When my oldest child was born, I received so many that I ran out of vases and had to stick them in buckets all over the house. It was great. And when my other child was born at sweet-pea time - I had a big bunch of them next to me as we got to know each other.
I did appreciate big bouquets for childbirth and after a major operation, although probably I enjoyed an apple cake, chocolates and toiletries more.
We had a lot of white spider chrysanthemums in my wife's bouquet at our wedding – almost the ultimate daisy chain.
Sometimes it is not only the bride who wears flowers, although possibly not in Germany.
I don't think it's customary for men at weddings in Germany to wear buttonholes either. It's certainly not a big thing, and may just be an afterthought or a side order when organising the bridal flowers, church, car and table decorations - so that the groom and the couple's fathers/brothers/uncles have matching flowers on their lapels.
The most long-lasting flowers I ever had were pink carnations. My mum sent me a basket of 21 of them for my 21st birthday and they lasted for six weeks. The basket did somewhat better. I'm now 47 and every year it comes out filled with pine cones and Christmassy potpourri to decorate my hall table.
Mothering Sunday/Mothers' Day
My mum's birthday was around Mothers' Day, so when I left home I used to send her some around that time. My then-boyfriend used to work in his uncle's florist shop and so would pick out a nice bunch and send them to her.
Some of the online flower companies are quite good, and you usually get a small box of chocolates for free with them. I use these to send them to my mother, who loves flowers.
Teenagers in America might well face the terror of the dreaded Prom Corsage.
If your date wears a proper gown with straps it is easy to pin it high up on the strap and let her push it down into position. If she is well endowed and insists on a strapless dress the poor teenage boy is faced with the dilemma that you should place your fingers between the pin and your date's flesh, but there are certain things you're not supposed to touch, especially while her parents are watching. Cowards just go for a wrist corsage.
Red roses are very romantic. I like giving flowers to my partner, and I like receiving flowers from my partner as I know the intention is purely romantic (plus my partner knows what to choose in accordance with my taste).
I rarely receive cut flowers and never had them as given as a romantic gesture. The last bouquet was from colleagues when I 'left' a workplace last year.
Some Researchers have bought small Christmas trees as Christmas presents before, in little pots, so that they can then be planted in the garden and grow, year after year, into a full-size tree. It's a great way to keep the spirit of Christmas around. They have driven past Christmas tree farms and felt that those different-sized little Christmas trees look cute.
When I visit a church, I photograph the flowers. They are often very nicely arranged and, in a church, you have to do big, simple arrangements, as they are admired from quite far away. Not what you'd do at home. The statues and organ pipes will always be there and photos are available on postcards, but the flowers will be gone next week.
Memorials and Gardens of Remembrance
Sadly flowers are also used as a way of remembrance when those we care about have passed on, and to comfort their loved ones. Some Researchers noted that it is perhaps a custom that is observed less and less, and that these days it's more common to ask for money towards a good cause, which is perhaps a better use of money. One Researcher said:
I have family members who regularly leave flowers on the gravesites of departed kin. Maybe someday I'll be designated with this task. Most of the people I know who have passed on have requested gifts to charitable organisations instead of flowers. That's all for the best, in my opinion. I have nothing against florists' shops, but helping the needy seems more important to me.
Alternatives include baking a cake for the family as a gesture of sympathy. Yet for some, flowers might hold a more personal meaning and closely reflect the interests and personality of their absent loved one.
I visited my mother's tomb last Easter holidays (it's about 400km from where I live). My sister can visit it more often than me. We both prefer living plants instead of plastic ones. I went with my daughter, changed the old dried soil from some pots and planted a few pots of a kind of small carnations. They are very resilient, so even if my sister can't go often they will survive. I left a big bottle of water in the empty niche next to hers with a written note asking people to water my mum's plants. It's a village and my mother was well known for her love for plants and for her knowledge about them. I used to go with her to pick medicinal plants. People would go to my house and ask my mother for some of those plants. She died in summer, we left some plants in her tomb, most of them taken from her house. By the end of summer there was a full grown plant of tomatoes inside a pot of white petunias. It wasn't planted by us, the seed was there1. It made me smile to see a tomato in such an unusual place.
My dad bought my mum flowers every week (unless he was away, which was a lot at the beginning). They always had cut flowers in the house and I think that's one thing she really misses now he's not there. I send some now and again but I think that in some ways it makes her sad. And I also think it's expensive and not very environmentally friendly.
When buying flowers, what types are likely to be well received? Researchers mentioned some of their favourites. Tulips were described as having 'a nice shaped flower head' with one Researcher saying:
I buy flowers every week when I do my grocery shopping - at the moment it's tulips, I like the way they go a bit droopy.
Other interesting points mentioned was the impact of age in which flowers are and aren't popular, as well as other reasons for personal preference:
By the way, talking of which flowers you like and don't. My mother loves getting carnations. Probably a generation thing, I don't think younger people like carnations that much. She also loves irises, because her name's Iris. Personally I don't like gerbera, but I love freesias.
And perhaps proof that there is no such thing as a weed, only a plant or flower somewhere it isn't appreciated:
There are flowers like daisies and buttercups that you can't get seeds for. I finally snatched some buttercups that had gone to seed, and planted them next to my porch last Spring. One came up, and is blooming now. I tried to do the same with daisies, but it didn't work. But the buttercups were worth it.
It is surely an established, scientific fact that buttercups can decisively prove whether or not a person likes butter. There's no better way to relax on a summer's day than to lie on the grass and make a daisy chain.
It was not just William Wordsworth who was fond of hosts of golden daffodils, flowers that remain one of the most loved flowers to this day. Researchers commented:
Daffs are such happy flowers, I love them but I've never had them inside as cut flowers.
OO... daffodils are great aren't they?
My absolute favourite flower is the humble daffodil. They shout 'Spring is here' and are the floral equivalent of 'yay!' I buy a bunch every week during their season as I love to see them on the hall table when I come home in the evening. I always use a stein - I like the rustic look with daffs. But recently I was bought a shabby-chic style jug (just a cheap £3.49 one from a bargain store, I know 'cos I asked for it!) and now I have to buy double the daffodils every week during their season as both receptacles look fab. And this year I discovered a large jam jar in a cupboard at work, so now I feel I have to fill that with daffs too. Everywhere I spend time I can see those big spring grins and it makes me very happy.
Another Researcher, while not disagreeing with the flower's splendid appearance, wished it enjoyed more longevity:
Daffodils are nice, but they bloom briefly and then do nothing the rest of the season.
Lilies: Wheezes and Sneezes
The most infamous type of flower seems to be the humble lily. Researchers stated comments such as:
- Some types of lilies make me sneeze.
- I don't mind what type but lilies do make a mess when they start dropping pollen.
- At least day lilies would keep producing new blooms. If they make me sneeze, I would put them at some distant corner where I could see them but not smell them.
Perennial favourites roses were also mentioned:
I must admit I like roses too, but only if they've got a proper scent. My father's got an absolutely ancient rose growing up the front of the house, must be some ancient variety, has the most densely packed, tight flower heads, in a gorgeous pink and hell of a lot of scent. Mind, if you wanted to know why they're not a commercially grown variety, just pick one off, and turn it up, bug paradise.
Deep red roses would be great, though I hear they need a little of attention if I want them to keep blooming. I wouldn't want potted lilacs, as I am allergic to them sometimes. Lily bulbs might be okay. Day lilies keep blooming throughout the growing season, and the bulbs are tough enough to persevere through years of neglect.
Absolute favourites at the moment are pot-grown roses that can be released to the garden when they have finished flowering.
Bloomin' Petrol Stations
When buying someone flowers, does the rule 'it's the thought that counts' get thrown out the window? Is it really the location the flowers are bought from that counts? Many Researchers have expressed a view that flowers purchased from petrol stations are undesirable, with comments such as:
- Flowers are nice though - just so long as they're not bought from a petrol station forecourt.
- My husband doesn't understand the giving of flowers; he worries about getting it wrong - he knows that garage flowers are a Bad Thing.
A similar experience was had by the Researcher who said:
Long ago I once said to my husband that it would be nice to be given flowers occasionally. He's never forgotten that and I can tell if he goes to a certain local destination, he'll bring back flowers. Sadly, often a meagre bunch of not-very-appealing ones... I've never had the heart to tell him not to bother any more, that I'd rather have some other sort of treat.
Other Researchers have challenged this dismissal, asking:
Quite a few people have said that flowers bought from newsagents and petrol stations are unacceptable – but the only places that sell flowers within walking distance from my house are the local newsagent and the petrol station. I don't drive and flowers don't really travel well on a bicycle's pannier rack, so the only other conceivable option to buy my wife flowers would be for me to walk to the station, catch a train to a different town or city that has a florist near the station and catch a train back – which would take half a day and to be honest I'd rather just spend the time with my family.
A practical view on the phenomenon was expressed by a Researcher who said:
If my husband bought me garage flowers on our wedding anniversary I'd be a bit peeved, because he has ample opportunity to arrange to buy much nicer flowers (he works in a town centre and there are at least two further florists between there and home). So garage flowers show a lack of thought, because if he genuinely cared about our wedding anniversary he would have brought home something better than a grubby bunch of fading carnations slightly tainted with the aroma of diesel.
On the other hand, when he was basically stranded in the village all day and only had access to the flowers at the village newsagent, well then it is the thought that counts. Similarly if you have to grab some flowers quickly on the way to visit somebody and it's all a bit last-minute. It's complicated. I suppose basically if the flowers demonstrate there was thought, then yes, it's the thought that counts.
I should just clarify that our 20th wedding anniversary this year did not actually include diesel-smelling carnations.
Suggestions on how to get around the problem of wanting to purchase a nice bunch of flowers, but being limited to the availability in the area, include:
I think that some people are way too fussy for their own good. If you don't tell the recipient where you got the flowers, the recipient won't know, so you'll be all right. But do remove the price tag.
You could always spot petrol station forecourt-style flowers by the, well, quite naff wrapping. Maybe keep a supply of decent stuff to re-wrap them in and maybe a nice ribbon to go round them, then, maybe, they'd look better?
It's also possible, given the absence of local flower shops, that your newsagent/garage flowers will be reasonably fresh and bright. Often such flowers are tired and unloved, sitting out in all weathers picking up grime, and that's what makes them unwelcome - unless they were a genuine, spur of the moment thing, in which case yes, it is the thought that counts.
One Researcher went into detail about the debate:
I have no problem with flowers bought from a petrol station. Flarze is flarze, in my book. They should then, however, be separated and made into an individual arrangement, with the addition of some leaves or sprigs from the garden. Strictly for your own use, though. I'm definitely of the same opinion as everyone else on not giving them to someone else.
So we turn our noses up at garage flowers, but why? They don't really smell of petrol, any more than the inside of the petrol station, which may be more like a small supermarket or a café than an oily garage workshop. So it's not that.
It's basically because these ready-made bouquets are usually of a corny choice of flowers - in at least five colours, all different kinds, gaudy, cheap and unimaginative. The bouquets are not tailored to your taste or the taste of the receiver, nor do they take into consideration the environment in which they will be placed. The wrapping will pronounce that they come from somewhere generic and not from a florists where the flowers are treated with care and kept fresh. Garage attendants are not usually trained to take care of flowers.
Stopping at a garage to get flowers means that you only thought of it at the last minute. If you're invited to someone's house on a week night and you have to go straight from work, there must be some way you can organise 'proper' flowers. Have them delivered to the office, have them delivered to your host. Choose and pay in advance and drop in at the florists on your way. Take pleasure in choosing something personally and ask for the florist's advice. Watch him/her arrange the flowers. Or just take a bottle of wine or another present instead. Something that can stand in the car all day and won't wilt.
One point that was discussed is whether or not the giving and receiving of flowers is sexist, a gift reserved almost exclusively for women. Does society condition us into believing that it is a man's role to buy flowers, and only women can be the recipients? Are fathers given as many flowers on Fathers' Day as mothers are on Mothers' Day? The discussion arose when a Researcher remembered:
Last year when my wife had a hernia operation, we had so many bouquets we could have opened a florist. This year when I had a hernia operation? Not a sausage.
This short comment gained a rapid response:
I'm definitely not keen on the sexist overtones, such as in your situation where your wife received flowers but you didn't. Such sexism crops up in various places - I remember my mum once received a bunch of flowers when she bought a car; I suspected that a man wouldn't have received flowers when he bought a car... As a result, if I am given flowers I generally feel as though I'm implicitly being defined as feminine whether I like it or not, even though I do like flowers and enjoy arranging them.
Of course, a question that arises is to what extent do men appreciate flowers?
[I only buy flowers for] women, sorry, I'm obviously guilty of sexism. Most men I know wouldn't welcome them.
As in all things, everyone is an individual, with their own tastes, thoughts, likes and dislikes. Even in the same family, two men can have different attitudes towards flowers, as one Researcher remembered:
My husband doesn't understand the giving of flowers; he worries about getting it wrong and he knows there is a Language of Flowers and thinks it's possible to cause offence by, for example, giving yellow roses or pink lilies. We talked about it after our child was born and I explained how happy flowers make me feel. I'll never forget his complete bafflement: 'But you have a purse - if you want flowers, buy flowers.' He was right, of course - I'd been conditioned into 'man buy flowers' by my family upbringing, as my dad is very good at buying my mum flowers.
Flowers in the Workplace
One curious recurring theme that two Researchers have experienced is where all-women teams in the workplace have been bought flowers by their bosses, only for this practice to stop or be replaced with food alternatives when male colleagues joined them:
I like getting cut flowers. I used to get them a lot when I was doing training courses and my other colleagues were women (and also got flowers). Really nice ones. Then a male colleague joined us and we stopped getting flowers and started getting chocolates. I realise this will seem ungrateful, but this was a great shame in my opinion.
My boss used to give flowers every month to his female subordinates to thank them for their good work. I was very conflicted because my natural reaction was to demand that he desist before I sued him, but the other women on the team liked it. We were paid for our work as were the men. The weirdness was increased as the women on the team (barring myself) were admin staff and the men were qualified accountants. Eventually I asked him to buy flowers for the men too claiming that a certain man looked left out. Equal pay and equal flowers I say... The story has a happy ending because the following month he bought everybody ice cream.
Baskets, Bouquets and Bunches
A bouquet of flowers is the ultimate gift – or is it? Curiously, most of our Researchers were indifferent to the idea or preferred other presents:
Basically, cutting off flowers and giving them to people or putting them in your house is a silly idea. Who was it said 'I like children, too, but I don't go round cutting their heads off and putting them in vases'?
I have a female friend who often drops it into the conversation that she doesn't like cut flowers as they just die, so her friends know that that wouldn't be a suitable gift for her on any occasion (she has a vase of artificial flowers that is useful as a topic starter).
I don't really appreciate bouquets of flowers myself, I would rather have simple bunches - daffodils, tulips, freesias, nothing too expensive or exotic.
I do not want my husband to give me flowers. Mainly because he doesn't seem to have any idea how to go about it. A tasteful bouquet consists, in my honest opinion, a maximum of two colours. Including white. Anyway, we don't really have anywhere to stand a vase of flowers.
This naturally leads to the subject of vases:
Everyone agrees that a vase is a decorative device for putting flowers in, and a fundamental part of the giving and receiving of these floral gifts. This is about the only thing agreed about vases, which appear to be among the most controversial household items imaginable. Should the humble word 'vase' be pronounced in a manner that rhymes with 'cars', 'days' or 'face'? Should they be given as gifts at occasions such as weddings? What should a vase be made out of? Surprisingly, these objects raised numerous strong, differing opinions and advice as to their suitability. For instance, one Researcher said:
If I buy flowers for people (generally for birthdays, anniversaries or birth of a child, sometimes if someone's ill) I make sure I only send those which come in a vase or basket. I think if there's a danger of them receiving several bouquets they're going to be tied to finding vases, arranging the flowers, etc, when maybe their time could be better spent.
While another said:
I have given vases as wedding presents to people I know well enough to go to their wedding ceremony but not well enough to be invited to the reception. I make sure I choose a very neutral design and a decent size (not too narrow at the top) and I give them a voucher for flowers to fill it with when they get back from their honeymoon.
This advice of giving flowers to people you know vaguely was contradicted by another Researcher, who advised:
Never give somebody a vase for a present, unless you also intend buying them flowers to put in it every week of the rest of their lives.
Even the material that vases are made from raised disagreement:
Why do people think glass vases are cool? There's no attraction in looking at the stems of the flowers decomposing in water!
I prefer glass vases in general, and I don't really notice the stems. Just personal preference, I suppose, because from a practical point of view you're quite right.
Perhaps with all these contradictions and disagreements, it is unsurprising that not everyone uses vases regularly, with two Researchers agreeing:
- I have a few vases, most of them small. They don't get any use, though; I enjoy flowers more when they're attached to their plants. They get a chance to spread their seeds outside, fulfilling some mysterious cosmic plan.
- On the whole I prefer my flowers outdoors in the garden rather than in a vase. Although I quite like pot plants.
There are admirers of cut flowers left in the world:
If I do have cut flowers in the house, and they are wilting a little because they have been around for a couple of weeks, I enjoy cutting them back and making a smaller decoration with them, perhaps bolstered by some green leaves from the garden, or combining two fading bouquets. Arranging flowers is a zen thing to do.
Cut flowers are good because when they have finished looking wonderful, you just compost them. You don't have to dust them and you don't have to water or re-pot them.
Plant Pot Luck
Pot plants are another divisive area:
I keep pots of flowers hanging from my porch railings - I have pansies now, and will likely add petunias or superbells when it gets warmer - and I have wildflowers growing in my lawn, which I cherish. Coneflowers, violas, coreopsis, and black-eyed susans come up around the edge of my lawn every year. So, I already have plenty of flowers, and will likely add more from time to time. I like it that the plants stay alive and help feed the local bee species throughout the season.
I still like to have pots of flowering plants hanging from my front porch railings where I can see them just by going to the front door. They bloom for months with little or no care - just a little water every day or two, from a watering can that sits on the porch. The bright colours and silkiness of the blossoms and leaves does me a world of good. No need to cut flowers or find vases for them.
Yesterday, I planted a wildflower seed mix in two pots, and viola seeds in two others. These will get daily watering except on rainy days. I plan to buy some pots of petunias or calibrachoa or lobelia as the season progresses. The pansies are glorious right now, but the really hot weather in July and August will almost certainly kill them. By then, though, the coneflowers and coreopsis will be blooming. Looking ahead, I'm happy to contemplate the blooms from the wildflower seeds I just planted.
On the whole it was decided that while pot plants brighten your own home, they may not be suitable gifts for others:
Give flowers, not pot plants. Give flowers, you give joy; give pot plants, and you give a lifetime of extra housework.
What if the recipient likes pot plants? I'm accustomed to hanging pots on the railings of my porch and watering them from April through early October. One more pot to water daily isn't going to hurt.
You have to buy them yourself. What if somebody gives you one and it's the wrong size or not suitable for that position? Then you have to do even more housework rearranging furniture to accommodate it. Trust me, the risks are too high.
Okay, you've got me there. The wrong size or type would be a problem. But I don't keep plants inside anyway. They all go out on the porch or around the perimeters of the house, to survive at the mercy of the weather. I once tried to keep a philodendron alive. Everyone assured me that it was a plant that couldn't be killed. It died. I didn't even keep it dusted.
I am not a grateful receiver of pot plants, although I have some which other people have given me and which have me in a perpetual state of crisis. Either they are dying or the things are having to be repotted and are taking over the house with their cuttings-bred children. Every now and again I give one away to someone I don't like much. Or my mother.
Though some people disagreed, saying:
- I'd take a bunch of flowers to a dinner host but am more likely to give a pot plant.
- More often I'm given plants or bulbs etc and I'm probably the same with giving.
Say It With Flowers
There's an old expression that you can say it with flowers, but who actually knows what a flower is saying? Does a dozen daffodils differ from two tulips, or maybe mean more?
By pure chance [I was] reading an article last night [that seemed] USA centric... that mentioned a few 'rules regarding flowers' I'd not come across before. Mainly to do with the colour of roses, and when is and when not 'appropriate' to give roses of a certain colour to a person one is courting. Seriously oops, if on the few occasions I've given roses (to females), then, oops, if they knew this, then I was apparently saying something with the roses that I hadn't realised. But all that 'meaning' of flowers, in this case just roses, the different meanings in the colour, number, etc, does rather rely on the recipient as much as it does on the giver of the flowers knowing the same. I can't imagine there is much universality to this, and I guess it'll vary a lot from country to country.
Yet just as flowers have a language with different meanings, one Researcher remembered that a humble vase, too, can communicate:
My wife used to drop subtle hints that she'd like some flowers by leaving empty vases in the middle of the table.
Although a love of flowers is universal, different countries in the world do have slightly different customs:
One Researcher who moved to Germany had the following experience:
When I first moved to Germany and was invited to dinner, I went into a flower shop and bought a bunch of flowers to take. To make them look nice, I thought I'd ask her to put a ribbon round them. The florist huffed and puffed and went through a whole rigmarole of unwrapping them again and putting a bow on a wire and inserting that into the arrangement.
It wasn't until about 30 years later on a TV quiz programme on international customs and protocols did I learn that in the UK you give flowers in their wrapping (which is what I was expecting to do), and in Germany you always remove the wrapping first.
Nowadays, you are asked if you want the flowers wrapped in paper or in transparent foil. The transparent foil is arranged artistically and has ribbons and things stuck to it, so that it can be left on when you hand over the flowers, but the paper is peremptorily wrapped round it, just to protect the flowers until you get to where you're going to hand them over, when you rip it off and present the bouquet in all its glory.
While in Portugal:
My husband (-to-be at the time) once phoned up my local florist in Portugal from the UK to ask for an arrangement to be sent. He asked for 'something not too flowery and a bit exotic'. I got a huge display which basically had one Bird of Paradise stem, a baby pineapple on its stalk and lots of green leaves! It cost around 60 quid!
I don't send flowers to British funerals unless I know they will be appreciated. Flowers are quite a big thing at Russian ones or for visiting graves, but they wouldn't be expensive, just a few simple unarranged carnations or whatever. They must come in even numbers. It's important that at other times you don't give Russians even numbered flowers - it's bad luck.
Actually, Russians give flowers rather than presents at weddings, and here they do go to town. I really enjoyed that bit of our wedding. Hello, congratulations, here are more (odd numbered) roses than you can eat in a year! Hello, congratulations, here are more (odd numbered) lilies than you can eat in a decade!
Not Giving Flowers
Actually, when I'm invited to a friend's house for dinner, I bake a luscious dessert beforehand, and it gets all eaten up when I get it there. I rarely think of bringing flowers anyway. Flowers belong in beds around the edges of my house, or in pots that hang from my porch railing, or growing wild by the roadside or in a meadow. Cutting them from their roots seems cruel, though this is anthropomorphic of me.
Advice on how to Get Flowers
Has reading this made you long to be given flowers, and are wondering what the best way to casually drop hints to a 'special someone' that you would like to receive flowers?
Actually that is fairly easy, just tell them that someone else received flowers while you were with them and it made them very happy! If your partner is particularly dense you might add that you wish somebody would do that for you.
Put an empty vase on the sideboard and say remarks like 'It would look better with some flowers in it' to embellish the hint. That should do the trick.