The Door, written by Magda Szabó, is a post-war story about a woman’s relationship with her housekeeper, of whom the narrator says, “One can tell instinctively what sort of flower a person would be if born a plant, and her genus certainly wasn’t the rose, with its shameless carmine unfolding – the rose is no innocent.” An echo of that line came to me yesterday as I was out walking and stopped to look at the clusters of snowdrops growing in London Road Gardens, and I wondered, what sort of person would a snowdrop be? Most definitely, I decided, the snowdrop would be an innocent. Look at it, head held low in shyness, the downward cast of its teardrop flower, a whisper rising from the tilt of its petalled chin to say, ‘please, don’t look at me too closely.’ If you have a secret to tell, tell it to the snowdrop and your secret will be kept.
The year is turning. Spring is undoing the buttons of its overcoat and underneath, many plants besides the snowdrop are pushing through, a multitude of floral personalities are vying for attention. Are you a bashful little snowdrop or are you one of those crocuses growing nearby, charging out from the earth in confident clumps, delighted to rupture the late winter drab of trampled mud with an enthusiastic burst of colour? In my sister’s front garden, the primrose has woken early. Pale, untainted yellow, and an open countenance, it might be prim by name, but I think a tuft of primrose has a relaxed informality. If you are a primrose, you are happy with your lot, you look on the bright side. This time of year, the hyacinths too are having their turn. There is a stocky determination to the muscular hyacinth and their borderline-aggressive, heady scent. I think the hyacinth, were it a person, would want to take charge – it’s a stomper, follow me! Unlike the small witch hazel that I spotted blooming in the grounds of the Modern Art Gallery: lady-like, delicate, refined, yet spare. Her branches were studded with small jewels of fizzing stars. If she were a person, she’d be genteel, impeccable manners.
Now that I’ve explained it, what sort of flower are you? Perhaps you’re not even in bud yet because you’re a summer bloom. You are a July dahlia, colourful and showy and a little bit loud. You’re a bursting with life delphinium who likes to make an entrance, sail into a room with a ‘ta-da’, a clap-hands, an ‘I’m here!’ Or are you an over-the-top, petalicious ranunculus – the buttercup on steroids – in which case you would be a feather boa type person. What about its less rambunctious cousin, the anemone, who dials it down with the petals, who is under-stated glamour. Or, might you be a relaxed daisy? The daisy is dreamy and simple and pretty; she is boho, wears long skirts and sandals; can’t ever commit, even though everyone is in love with her – “Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do, I’m half-crazy all the love of you.” Do you have a despondent streak like the gladioli? An emotional flower, not just because it comes at the end of the summer when everything is draining away, but because of what Morrissey (he of The Smiths) did to the gladioli in the eighties: swaying and clutching and swinging a bunch of peach coloured gladioli above his head and singing, “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stich to wear.” Could you be a thistle? (No one wants to be a thistle.) Or an ambitious sunflower? A social-climbing wisteria? A nurturer, like bee-feeding clover?
But back to today, to the spring flowers. The tulips are pushing through in the gardens bloomless as yet, though I have a bought bunch on my kitchen table, right here in front of me as I type. Red dipped in yellow. They are ten days old, and all the more majestic for their ageing. They bow nobly towards their expiration, arched elegantly as flying buttresses. The edges of their petals have become frayed, etched with lines like those growing around my eyes. They are fading in colour, the last moments of sunset. Tulips know how to decline with grace. To my eye, they become distinguished in their demise. Not so the perky daffodil. The indefatigable daffodil. The ubiquitous daffodil in the park, the field, the verges. They dance and stand to attention and never falter. Outdoors, they are valiant, can withstand the fickle turns of spring, but inside, constrained in a vase, the daffodil loses its determination and gives way quickly to ruin. My last bunch of daffodils, a few weeks ago, became sludgy, sticky and wet, not like these tulips dying with the grace of Odette in Swan Lake. Perhaps the daffodil is the person who suffers mood-swings and the tulip the stoic.
Hello Petal, is what I’ve decided to call this rather ridiculous but good fun game. Have a go. I’m a chrysanthemum. Work it out.
Afternoon on a Hill, Edna St. Vincent Millay I will be the gladdest thing Under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers And not pick one. I will look at cliffs and clouds With quiet eyes, Watch the wind bow down the grass, And the grass rise. And when lights begin to show Up from the town, I will mark which must be mine, And then start down!