Flowers kept alive
February 25, 2007
Two flower shows give the lie to the winter whiteness in our city at present; Elva, Carol and I visited one last weekend and another yesterday.
The first was the annual spring flower display at Algonquin College created by a team of aspirant “horticulture technicians” and florists in the Horticulture and Floral Design department, this being an indoor garden set up in one of their plant propagation labs or greenhouse, full of forced bulbs and premature primulas, azaleas, hibiscus bushes, overhung with wisteria and trailing plants; it even has a little goldfish pool. I think the best part of the experience is when you arrive at the door and catch the scent of the hyacinths and narcissi, so evocative of spring, at the end of the corridor.
We saw the second lot of flowers yesterday on the third floor of Ottawa’s Museum of Nature: the Ikebana show recommended by a Japanese friend of mine, Mayumi, who was one of the guides and organisers. Ikebana, which literally means “flowers kept alive”, is a highly disciplined art, full of rules concerning the depth, density and structure of the arrangements, but just as in the composition of a string quartet or a sonnet the very strictness of those rules seems to inspire the practitioners of this art form.
Unexpected elements were incorporated into some of the flower arrangements: wire mesh sprayed with silver paint, shallow bowls of water, bamboo stakes, pieces of fencing, enormous pieces of driftwood, dried hydrangeas, sphagnum moss, willow branches and clumps of ground pine (Lycopodium obscurum) and what appeared to be a complete magnolia tree, its buds just beginning to open. Dramatic, tropical blooms—bird of paradise flowers and flowering bananas—caught everyone’s attention. Again, however, it was the colour and fragrance of the fresh, spring flowers that made the most impression on me and I was not the only one. A guest book lay on a table at the exit for all visitors to sign and as I looked over the shoulder of a little girl who had just signed her name with great care and enthusiasm, she added in the comments column: “they are real. they smel good.”
Another precursor of spring in Ottawa is when ice-breaking operations begin on the local rivers. The blasting began today and at sunset this evening the liberated floodwater was carrying hefty blocks of river ice over the Rideau Falls.