Conversations with my mom about flowers

Almost 4 weeks ago today my mom died, unexpecedly, peacefully. That probably sounds abrupt but it was.  It’s too sore to describe how I’ve felt from the instant I heard to now. I’m still on sabbatical so I have the ‘luxury’ of grieving uninterrupted with the support of my sister and loved ones, who are also hurting. I often think about how my mom would’ve handled losing people she loved. She survived many personal tragedies and emerged with a positive outlook on life. ‘Time is a healer’ she says said, but I try to imagine how she felt in the thick of it all, like we are now, and I know she too would’ve been hurting.

The thing that makes me feel closest to her now is nature, plants specifically. Most other things seem pointless or too draining to think about but seeing her garden flourish, doing flowers for her funeral or thinking about the flowers for my wedding make me feel happy.

Mom's Magical Garden

Mom’s Magical Garden

A typical Magical Garden arrangement

About a year ago I conducted this ‘interview’ with my mom about her life with flowers. I have so many more questions but I’m happy to be able to share these words of hers:

Me: What role have plants played in your life?

Mom: A very important role in my life. I was brought up with my mother teaching me about plants. My mother was my greatest influence. I couldn’t live somewhere where things couldn’t grow. When I cam to Plett there was no work and there wasn’t a florist here so then I went to CT on a course with a famous last called Joan Pear who used to do the flower arrangements for the ships that came from London to Cape Town. She started a school of floristry in CT. She was very good with bridal work. When I came back I opened blossoms…coming back from Joburg in the car we drove passed a valley full of beautiful blossoms. We collected branches from fruit trees and made pink paper blossoms on the ceiling. Opened in 77. It was very successful with weddings and Interflora. The people in Plett were old and their families would send them flowers. It was difficult to get flowers. Proteas were local but the locals don’t like Proteas. The other flowers came on the bus from PE. I sold the shop at a good profit when I had my first baby. With that money I built my house. Then I started doing the flowers for the Beacon Island Hotel, which I did for a very long time as well as weddings. Sometimes I’d have to drive out to try to find the bus. Sometimes the bus just threw the flowers off the bus on the street in the Crags when they were late. Weddings are very nerve-wracking things.

Me: Do you have any wedding disaster stories? 

Mom: I once delivered the wedding bouquet and the bride was in such a state.  Someone ended up putting the flowers in the deep freeze – they were frangipani and of course turned brown… Brides would often walk down the aisle without their bouquets.

Weddings were so rewarding but the mothers were always the worst. They thought they were getting married again. They wanted to choose the bouquets for the brides. You had to subtly tell them to shut up. I always had lots of pictures they could choose from. 

I learnt a lot about flowers – what flowers lasted. Agapanthus florets make the best bouquets, so do frangipane and orchids. Everyone wants roses but you have to be careful in the sun. In England they used to use Lilley of the Valley. And Tubor Roses but they only come in Spring. They last so well and have a fabulous perfume.

In the last 20 years or so the most popular colours are antique – antique roses etc, not white. People seldom used colours other than white. I once did a bouquet of red roses with ivy hanging down and it was a real flop.

Me: What plant moment are you most proud of?

Mom: I always used to grow plants to sell to buy things for my children. I once sold hydrangea plants at Christmas time to buy roller blades for you

Me: Is there a plant that cheers you up when you are down?

Mom: I love primulus. You don’t get them in bunches but they’re so pretty in the garden in Winter. Roses are the most amazing.

Me: If you had to choose between a pet animal or a pet plant what would you choose?

Mom: A plant definitely. You have to clean up after the animal and give them to someone when you go away.

Me: Do you talk to your plants?

Mom: Sometimes. Actually just this very morning, I said to my African violet: ‘you’re so beautiful! When did you have so many flowers?’ I don’t often talk to them…OH wait I do! When my white bouganvillae was dying I put my arms around it and said, ‘Don’t die, please don’t die’ and it didn’t it cheered up. It was sulking because its pot had been moved.

Me: Do you use flowers for eating/medicinal purposes?

Mom: No, definitely not. I know some people say you can eat nusturtum leaves but I’m not a salad person.

Me: Which do you think are the hardest plants to grow?

Mom: I’ve given up growing vegetables. I’m not very good at it. I have too much shade.

Me: Which are the most rewarding plants to grow?

Mom: Inca lilies are so rewarding, such marvelous cut flowers. There’s every colour under the sun. And sweet peas-I love the perfume. I love growing herbs and using them in my kitchen.

Me: What unconventional tips do you have for growing things?

Mom: Comfry is a wonderful thing. You can cut the leaves up and put them in the soil around the plant. The nutrients help the plant. People also make hand cream out of it.

Fynbos from up the hill in Keurbooms, where my mom’s ashes will lie in peace