The Magical Power of Flowers
This afternoon, my friend Ray told me about the magical power of giving flowers as gifts. He and his wife Estelle volunteer at a women’s prison and regularly bring flowers as gifts for the women.
He said that the women treat the flowers differently from other gifts they receive. They keep them. Other gifts become commodities, good for trading for other items, but not the flowers. They hold onto the flowers. They wear them in their hair, they dry them, they press them and keep them.
We debated why this might be. Because they’re impermanent? Because they’re beautiful? Because they are a piece of nature in an otherwise stark place? We couldn’t quite nail down why this might be. We decided that it might be a mysterious combination of all three things.
Later, I remembered some research I’d seen from Rutgers University here in New Jersey. This research shows that there is some science behind this.
Experiments Prove That Receiving Flowers Lifts our Spirits
In a scientifically-designed experiment, women were given one of the following gifts:
1) A mixed-flower bouquet of roses and lilies
2) A fruit and sweets basket
3) A large multi-wicked candle on a stand
The Results – Flowers Have Effects on Brain Chemistry
The study showed that women who received the flowers responded 100% of the time with what’s called the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is a particular kind of smile that has links to changes in brain chemistry. The results of the experiment showed that the simple presentation of flowers, even a single flower, releases a strong and immediate positive affect. They concluded that it is possible that flowers have effects on brain chemistry.
In addition, the only gift that elicited a long-term lift in mood was the flowers. The experimenters went on to do other research that further reiterated the puzzling strength of the effect of receiving flowers. Those results showed that giving flowers was almost as powerful for men. They also showed that the increase in positive emotion is substantial and that this mood lift could be sustained by additional gifts of flowers.
What’s the magical ingredient? Fragrance, color, symmetry?
Theories suggested that we have learned associations with flowers, or that there might be some sort of evolutionary food association. Another theory postulated that the sensory combination of fragrance, color, phermones and symmetry combined to give flowers super powers – a quadruple whammy of pleasure.
Pleasure is the Only Rule
They offer us something that, until recently, wasn’t considered necessary for survival: pleasure.
Or maybe the flowers are way smarter than we think. This is the idea behind co-evolution. They need us to survive, so they’ve evolve to please us so we’ll take care of them, distribute them, plant them, pass on their seeds. If that’s the case, I think their plan is working!
As a flower photographer, if you really wanted to, you could just focus on orchids. There are so many types — shapes, colors, sizes, history, meaning. I haven’t researched orchids in particular, but I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind every single variety. That’s what I’ve come to learn about flowers … there’s always a story.
The Story Behind These Photographs
Today’s blog is a quick story about this series of orchids that I photographed. These were taken a couple of winters ago at Longwood Gardens. Longwood usually has their Orchid Extravaganza this time of year, so the place is lousy with orchids.
That particular year, these orchids weren’t center stage, but down a hallway. The light in that hallway made them interesting to photograph. If you’ve heard me take about light, you’ll know that I think we’re always just photographing light reflecting off surfaces. I choose flowers as my reflective surface because. well, they’re gorgeous.
Backgrounds Are Always Important
These orchids were silhouetted against the window. Outside, the deserted water lily pond created an interesting backdrop. Closed down for winter, gray and cold, it created a contrast for the steamy, green hallway. Screens on the windows created texture and a tangible barrier between inside and outside. They diffused the hard, white, winter light.
I didn’t want the background to appear in the photograph, so I planned for it to be completely blurry. Backgrounds are so important when it comes to flower photography. You really need to pay attention to them. In this case, the end result is a feeling of warmth and icy blue cold mixed together.
Start With What You Have
I really liked these photographs because the orchids are wild and rangy, unlike the composed and gathered orchids in the main room. These ones are reveling in the light, reaching for it, needing it. They’re a little wild, a little dangerous.
They’re not really that pretty. For that reason, I couldn’t really figure out what to do with the final result. I didn’t think anyone would want to hang these awkward orchids in their living room, so I left them alone, every once in awhile returning to them because they called to me.
I Can Make It Better
Last night, I noticed some blue in the background of one and I thought about how the blue offset the yellow and pink. It created some contrast and softened the wildness. With that as my inspiration, I found a digital blue background and digitally inserted it into the photo. (If you want to know how to do this, let me know. I can do a flower photography tutorial on this. It’s pretty easy.) I have to say, I liked the effect. It changed the feel by softening it, without taking away the wildness of the flower.
The Moral of the Story
Sometimes you have to let the story gestate. You have to let it tell itself. That means that sometimes you need to wait a couple of years for the happy ending.
In the buying and giving frenzy that accompanies the Holiday Season, many of us end up with one or two Pointsettias around the house. Here are some tips on caring for them.
Enjoy a photo with each tip!
Caring for Pointsettias:
1. Place your Pointsettia in indirect light
2. Wait until the soil is dry before you water it again.
3. Punch holes in the foil so that water can drain and empty the saucer of water. Too much water can make the leaves droop.
4. Don’t let the plant touch cold windows.
5. If you’re really into and don’t mind moving your Pointsettia around, the ideal amount of daylight is six hours.
6. They like lower temperatures at night, so if you lower the temperature in your home at night, your Pointsettias will be happy (down to 55 degrees F/15 degrees C)
7. The ideal temperature: 60 to 70 degrees F / 16 to 20 degrees C. High temperatures shorten the life of the Pointsetttia.
Poinsettias are not poisonous. Many studies have been done over the years to confirm their non-poisonous status. That said, it’s always safer to keep kids and pets away from house plants.
If you want to keep your Pointsettia around after the Christmas season, add fertilizer once per month. Don’t fertilize it when it’s in bloom.
Let it go.
My final tip is to let it go. If you really want to, you can keep your plant going until next year, but don’t feel the pressure to do so. When it’s done, it might just be done. It’s okay to let it go. I won’t tell if you don’t.
For more information about Pointsettias:
Pointsettias have come a long way in the past few years. Not long ago, they appeared for a couple of weeks around Christmas and then quickly lost their luster. With advances in different types of this plant, they appear earlier in the season and last longer than ever.
It’s the official flower of Christmas.
It never really feels like the Holiday Season until the Pointsettias come out. Their red and green colours make them a natural fit for Christmas, though their red ‘petals’ are not actually flowers, but ‘bracts’s or leaves. Nonetheless, their vibrancy make them popular at this time of year.
Once only available in red, there are no over 100 varieties of Poinsettias available and they come in a wide variety of colours.
- It’s almost impossible, but try to avoid buying plants that are displayed in sleeves or in a really crowded manner. These plants don’t last as long.
- Take note of the buds in the center of the bloom – the tighter they are, they younger the plant. If there is a yellow pollen in the center, then the plant is already mature and won’t last as long.
- They don’t like temperatures that are less than 50F/10C, so if it’s cold out when you’re buying them, make sure you don’t leave them in the car
- It should look full and balanced from all sides
- Watch for yellowed or wilting leaves, even if the flowers are bright.
- If the soil is wet and the plant is still wilted, it might have root rot.
Interesting Facts About Pointsettias
- They are the best-selling potted plant in Canada and the United States
- The most common question is how to keep them and get them to bloom again
- Pointsettias contribute over $250 million to the economy
- Red Pointsettias used to comprise 80% of the Pointsettia market, but with addition of various novelty colors, they now only make up 65% of the market
- They make great gifts. No one every says, “Oh, I already have one.” That’s because they look great in groups or can brighten any room.
Still Not Sold?
There are so many other beautiful plants at this time of year:
- Christmas Cactus.
If none of these interest you, of course, there’s always the trusty Christmas Tree to provide a blast of nature in your home during the Holiday Season.
I finally made them!
People always tell me I should make calendars and greeting cards with my flower photography. So, I’m finally doing it! There are three different styles right now.
This photograph is one of my favorites. Radiant Zinnias bursting forth with color and life. The message inside is, “The more we open and awaken, the more radiant we become.”
(Note: for technical reasons that our webmaster (me!) can’t yet figure out, the text on these appears blurry. The cards themselves will not be blurry!
A field of Muscari is surely a sign of Spring, renewal, freshness. This card is blank inside.
Bright red poppies stretch up, their delicate papery petals unfolding as they drink in the sunlight. I added some texture to the background to give this photo some depth. This is a simple ‘Thank you!’ card.
The cards are $20 for a pack of ten. They are 5.5″ x 4″ and include white envelopes. Shipping is free. Enter the code free shipping when you check out. If you’d prefer to just email your order to me, you can do that as well. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Along with my calendar, these can be found in the Stationery section of my store.
At first we walk right on by.
During one of my Longwood Gardens outings last Spring, I came upon garden beds filled with blue Anemone. There’s nothing like coming out of a long winter and feasting your eyes upon a sea of deep blue, almost purple, Anemone. But, they’re not huge, dazzling flowers, and I was on my way to an incredible tulip display, so I snapped a couple of photos and moved on.
On the way back, maybe we slow down, wondering if we missed something.
On my way back, I bent to see if there was something to be made of this sea of blue. At first, it wasn’t the individual flowers that captured my interest, but the artful manner in which the gardeners at Longwood had displayed them. There were literally hundreds of them, maybe even thousands.
Things suddenly come into focus.
As I took my time to really look at them, they truly came into focus. Like most flowers, these beauties were worth slowing down for. They’re an elegant flower with round buds sitting atop long slender stems. With the slightest breeze they wave back and forth, earning their nickname, Windflower. While they look a little like poppies, they’re actually from the buttercup family. They grow in clumps and stretch tall to the light, with a little outshooting of green providing a collar-like framing effect.
Our hearts start pounding.
My biggest challenge when I’m photographing flowers is that I get way too excited when I find a great shot in my viewfinder. As my heart pounds, my mind tells me to slow down; it tells me I should get my tripod. While I know I ‘should’ do these things, I don’t. I scramble around, somewhat frantic, shooting away. During this phase I sometimes get great shots; I always get a bunch of blurry ones.
We zero in.
I used to fight this and try to force myself to ‘get a grip’. That doesn’t work. What I’ve learned is that I need to follow the energy and go with the flow. I need to snap away. It’s somehow during this process that I begin to zero in on the one or two or several blooms that really warrant attention, so I’ve come to learn that the frenzy is part of the process. It’s the sign that I’m in the exact right place.
The shots I find most interesting are the ones I take when I am at the same level as the flowers. They become different beings than they are from above. As I get down on my hands and knees, or on my stomach, people give quizzical looks because they don’t see what I see. They look at me; they look at where my camera is pointed; then they look at me; then they look again. This is where I get self-conscious sometimes. If I’m lucky, I don’t notice them shrugging their shoulders as they walk away.
We’re not sure what it is.
Often, other photographers think I’ve found some magical flower and they wait behind me, wanting to get in on the action. I always find this curious because there are literally thousands of flowers all around us, but maybe they assume I know something they don’t. I’ve thought a lot about this and have come to realize that we all do this in some form or another. We become interested in what others are interested in; we follow the crowd; we do what the experts tell us to do.
Then suddenly … there it is.
We can walk right by a thousand beautiful objects on our way to finding something we think is better. Or, we let others tell us what is worthwhile or what is beautiful. Or, we can check inside and notice what lights us up. If we can get quiet, the beauty that is all around us can find us.
What if we followed our own intuition and took our own journey? What if we decided what is most beautiful to us? Maybe we’d have a better chance of finding what we’re looking for.
If you’re looking for a simple way to add color to your home next year, here’s a wall calendar full of flowery goodness. I’ve hand-picked photographs that are special to me, and I tried to match the right photo to what’s needed each month.
Images included in the calendar
Winter: If you remember last winter (something we we’d rather forget!), we all needed some bright colors to get us through, so I chose bright vibrant Zinnias, deep blue Anomone, and beautiful pink Tulips.
Spring: I chose flowers that represent the blossoming of a new, warm season: Muscari, Snow Drops, and Poppies.
Summer: For summer, I chose Cone Flowers, a single orange Gladiola, and a bright red Zinnia.
Fall: Enjoy a pretty pink Lysianthus, a macro shot of a textured blue Hydrangea, and some unusual pink Poinsettias.
Month-by-Month View of the Calendar
Printed on premium glossy card stock. The photo is 8.5 x 11″.
They steal the show.
It isn’t hard to understand why Dahlias are called the Divas of the flower world. They’re vibrant, astonishingly beautiful blooms.
They don’t hold back.
Today, I invite you to take a moment to look into the face of a Dahlia. Once a wound up ball, it unapologetically opens when it’s time to open. It doesn’t hold back. It unfurls with flair, revealing its vibrancy and rareness.
What if all the Dahlias refused to open?
What if all the Dahlias decided to remain in their tightly wound balls? What if they decided blooming was too risky? What if they worried they wouldn’t be perfect?
I know I could take a lesson from the Dahlia.
We could all take a lesson from the Dahlia. When we’re most tempted to stay tightly wound, maybe it’s really time to let go and unapologetically open up and let the world revel in our gorgeous uniquity.
Be a diva today.
Be your own unique self. Don’t worry about being perfect. Don’t deprive us of your beauty. Be inspired by a Dahlia and open up and let us see your beauty.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
—-from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.
If you like the paragraph, you’ll love the book…! (AMAZON.COM)
I’m feeling the call to do … something
I was sensing that I needed to fulfill a deeper potential for my life, but what exactly was it? I could feel something calling to me, but it remained in my peripheral vision, elusively dancing out of my direct line of sight.
It’s been hard to articulate what it’s all about, but I have definitely been feeling … something. Maybe you have felt it too.
Living in a deeper, more authentic way.
Many of us want to live in deeper, more authentic ways so that our lives contribute to making the world a better place. We have deep yearnings about flourishing and thriving and contributing. But we often don’t know what to do about it.
Plus, there’s so much change and the pace of seems to get faster and faster, and we’re all looking for something to hang on to.
Flowers waved me down.
What I do know is that, in all this rushing and confusion, I have found great comfort and solace in nature and particularly in flowers. With my camera, I really see the flowers. I’m drawn to them. And when I say drawn to them, I mean … really drawn to them! Don’t get between me and a flower when I have my camera in my hand! LOL!
Can a flower change the world? Hmmm.
Flowers? Isn’t there something more important things to do – like save the world! That’s what I keep asking myself. But, what I keep hearing in response is that the way you save the world is that you save and heal yourself, and then it extends from there. Do what entices you, captures you, calls to you. Do that first.
A five year plan would be nice …
So, that’s why I’m here, doing this, sharing this with you. The control freak in me would really like to see a five-year plan, but what I really see are next steps. And my next steps include tracking down the most beautiful and interesting flowers I can find and sharing them with you. I also plan to branch out into other types of floral art, other aspects of nature, but my mind travels fast, and my hand-crafting hands travel in real time. That’s to say that I have a lot of dreams, but it’s one step at a time.
Even though I don’t fully understand it, what I do know for sure is that I want to connect us to the healing power of nature through the beauty of flowers.
Is there something calling you, an invitation you’ve been ignoring or questioning? Maybe it’s time for you too.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.
I’m so happy you’re here. Everything is more fun and more meaningful when you have company.
P.S. If you’d like to receive occasional (weekly-ish) emails from me, where you get first dibs on the latest work, fill in the box to the right. I promise to keep you email safe and to not bombard you with emails!
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