“Why?” she sneered at the quivering bouquet in my hands, “would I want a bunch of slaughtered lifeforms, brutally severed, doomed to wilt and drop dead within a few days? And why are you obligating me to bathe and feed them and try to keep them alive as I watch them painfully expire leaving a reeking mess behind? Is that really symbolic of our relationship?”
I paraphrase; it was a long time ago. But I remember her shoving the flowers straight back in my face. As I plucked petals from my teeth, I wondered where I’d gone wrong. Was it the pollen? The time of the month? My halitosis? I didn’t wonder if it was because she was shagging a bloke called Darren. I had two more weeks of crippling emotional anxiety to suffer before I worked that out. But she was right: flowers are a terrible metaphor for love. How did they become so powerful?
Nowadays I mistrust flowers; the annual Chelsea Flower Show brings a feeling of unease. Maybe I should blame the florist who had winked, assuring me that flowers guaranteed a bit of the “old birds and bees” when I was too horny to realise that he meant it literally.
But then, isn’t there something disturbing about an organism which uses other species to procreate? If we even attempt that, were straight on the register with a stiff warning from the RSPCA. What I find even more sinister is that it’s not just birds and bees in flowers thrall, humanity itself seems harnessed to their will. Flowers have inveigled themselves into all our rituals, rites and celebrations. They even pretend to be willing conspirators in our delusion that we have some control over nature in our gardens. They flatter and blossom and, quite frankly, probably laugh at us as we do their bidding: spreading their seeds far further than their natural means, pumping water from distant reservoirs through unbanned hosepipes just to anoint them on dry days and evolving new strains for those flowers too lazy to do it themselves.
Are we really the master in this relationship? Aliens might conclude that humans are slaves to flowers; even some of our monarchy are holding talks with them.
And oh yes, they talk; just not to the likes of you and me. Last year, peer-reviewed research at Ben-Gurion University revealed that a stressed pea plant communicated its anxiety to other pea plants. It sent biochemical messages through its roots about the onset of a drought, prompting others to react as though they, too, were water starved.
It’s a war we’re losing. In their usual passive-aggressive way, flowers are winning the battle for our hearts and minds. The very scent of the person you love is not their own; that’s distilled petals you’ve taken to your heart, and how many human minds are lost in the grip of the poppy’s opium derivatives? Unlike utilitarian crops like wheat providing staples for our survival, flowers are relatively superfluous, an indulgence and yet, including the drugs trade, more money is spent on flowers than any other agricultural crop.
So flowers may lose a few root soldiers in the battle? Their short lifecycle means they can afford to lose a billion and still keep winning the war. My defaced bouquet was just one of their daily sacrifices; a few rose martyrs to keeping a roothold in our human economic systems and ensuring fields will be devoted to their species.
We think we’re so smart, but then why have we been doing all the hard work for a bunch of stamen and petals? We’re bulb burying slaves and, as long as flowers appeal to our delusions of control, we are at their mercy. Gardeners of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chrysanthemums.
Marius Brill’s hilarious novel How To Forget Black Swan £7.99 is out in paperback now.