Flower Power: How blooms can help our minds grow
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
A bunch of white daisy flowers are held against a white-walled backdrop. Image: Ashleigh Shea on Unsplash, 2021.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, three million Australians are living with depression. Almost one in two Australians will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives – and only 35% will seek treatment.
These are shocking statistics: when I read them, I was astounded. We’ve lived through one pandemic only to be run ragged by another. How can we tend to our minds and emotions in a healthy way while we (or those we love) are suffering so acutely?
A bouquet can be mean more than a pop of colour in a jar, or a bunch of leafy greens thrown across the room at a wedding. They can transport, encourage, speak, grieve and celebrate with us. They can teach us to work mindfully and purposefully to help something grow, and to use our hands to connect with dirt so that our minds can find restful productivity.
The tradition of giving flowers as gifts was first established in the Victorian era, where bouquets were used to deliver messages that could not be spoken aloud. In a cloud of romance and aroma, a lover could propose undying love with a lively bunch, or be rejected with a wilted, sagging branch. The ribbon tied to the flowers could also deliver a subtle, secret message, as could the handedness of the person delivering the bouquet.
Just as the passing of a bouquet can convey hidden meanings and powerful subtext, flowers can also tell stories depending on their type. Basil could mean ‘good wishes’; a pink carnation meant ‘I’ll never forget you’; and camomile meant – very specifically – ‘patience in adversity’.
Flowers have always meant something to people, championing communication, excitement, drama and beauty in a time of uncertainty or sadness.
In the wake of a prolonged lockdown and periods of complete isolation and hopelessness, human connection is difficult to come by. I often have trouble interacting normally with other people, monitoring my actions and speech with a critical eye and a fluttering heartbeat. Normal conversations can cause my palms to sweat and my knees to shake. A whirlwind of insecurity, anxiety and exhaustion can often follow, making meaningful connection feel like a thing of the past.
The study found that being presented with flowers or giving them as a gift to a loved one results in an immediate positive effect. A bouquet or collection of blooms quite often caused participants to smile, react excitedly, and experience feelings of grateful shock or thoughtful appreciation. Jones says: ‘It seems that we all express extraordinary delight and increase our social behaviour’ in response to a simple gift from nature.
Sian Crowe from Gums and Roses, a thriving independent florist from Melbourne, says: ‘I got to experience something really beautiful recently – during the first lockdown of last year, I had to deliver all my flowers for Valentine’s Day early. Everyone I gave flowers to cried with joy because it had been a hard day for people. The thought that someone was out there thinking of them and wanting to show them love was so beautiful.’
In a video essay by the About Flowers blog, a group of flower enthusiasts stood in the middle of a flood of early-morning commuters in New York City. They would present passers-by with bouquets, free of charge, encouraging a few sceptics to take them for themselves or to pass them along as a gift to another. My eyes welled as I watched the video because the joyful surprise was palpable. So infrequently do people have their days made better by a simple gesture – and flowers were the source of that happiness.
Flower enthusiasts in NYC pass along bouquets of flowers to strangers on the street. Video: Petal It Forward, 2016, from SAFaboutflowers.
Tending before trending
Arranging flowers or planting a garden (even if it’s just a few pot plants in an apartment) can provide us with an incentive to encourage growth and to track the development of a living organism. The act of weeding, planting, watering and watching can also cause growth in us. We can learn to find mindfulness in these tasks, discovering purpose in new buds and colour combinations.
There is currently a pressure to be constantly productive. As creative or professional people, we are expected to always be achieving and in a state of perpetual motion. My down time is plagued by feelings of inadequacy as I move from one useful activity to another, trying to ‘spend’ my time as wisely as I can instead of using the allocated time ‘off’ to rest and recharge.
Gardening, flower arranging, or even just purchasing blooms at a market and putting them in a vase: these are all activities that have a tangible effect on our living spaces and our moods. While planting, tending and weeding, we feel our knees press into grass, dirt and concrete. We brush our hands in the soil, sensing the tiny granules of earth under our fingernails. Snapping the scissors over the stalks of fresh flowers before arranging them in a vase consumes our hands, minds and bodies so that we clear away the busyness and focus on a task.
‘I don’t stop and smell the flowers, but everyone I give them to – it’s the first thing they do’, Sian says. ‘It’s a reminder to stop and be present.’ Sian’s passion for floristry is exacerbated by the richness that comes with having nature be present in a space. ‘It allows us to appreciate what we have, and the beauty of it, in quite a short time.’
The flowers that we tend, grow or place in a jar only live for a season, but the reminder of beauty, natural goodness and connection will stay with us forever.
Pride in plant life
Creating and fostering plant life is no small thing – at every leaf that rolls out gradually towards the sun, at each bud that grows and blooms, we can find a sense of achievement. No matter what losses or wins, pains or triumphs you may experience during the week, everyone can help a plant to grow, or a flower to thrive in a living space.
A very special thank you to Sian Crowe for her beautiful insights and the happiness she brings to people through her work. You can find her at @gumsandroses_ on Instagram, Gums & Roses on Facebook or on her website.
As always, thanks a bunch for learning with me. Mads