I’ve long been a gardener, but now I grow and design with organic flowers. And because of that word ‘design’, in my mid-forties, I want to learn more about art.
The other night I watched a documentary that spoke to my current state-of-mind. The doc is called ‘Why Beauty Matters’, narrated by the philosopher Roger Scruton. You can watch it on Vimeo and you should. It’s challenging. He’s opinionated. Despite the man’s conservatism, on many points I agreed.
Beauty is too often subjected to the tyranny of the useful. How useful are flowers? I’ve felt a certain poopooing of what I’ve been doing (self-critique included) and I think it comes down to this question. Why indeed flowers? Why not grow food? Do a doctorate? Write more, grow less? Yet flowers are very useful to me and my happiness, and most likely to you too. There’s the ecological ‘slow flowers’ argument as well—buy local. Do good in the world. But if flogging bouquets has taught me anything this past season, it’s that beauty alone is a very good reason to do something. “Beholding beauty with the eye of the mind,” Plato said, “you will nourish virtue and become the mind of God.”
I’m not religious (in a traditional sense), but our Western culture did view beauty as religious for two thousand years. Looking, contemplating, seeing, was once a form of worship, a way of experiencing the divine.
Where Scruton took his argument next resonated for me too: post-Enlightenment, post-Newton, Scruton claimed that “beauty filled the God-shaped hole created by science.”
I need to learn more about this history, this art. And while I know I could not be growing the diversity of plants that I do (let alone name them properly) without the insights of the Enlightenment and science, it’s not science that ultimately spurs me on, not science that hounds me as I try to balance colour, fretting over an arrangement’s textures, design. It’s beauty I love most about plants—not in abstraction, but in creation.
Thanks be to flowers.
I’m muddy today as I edit this in my parka, having snuck in the house to avoid the rain. I have a mountain of bulbs to plant in the garden and I’m behind.
In closing, in a kind of self-affirmation that I’m hoping might resonate for you too, I’m going to take a quote from the obstreperous Scruton and fit his words into the current revival of romanticism in contemporary floral design. “This is not nostalgia, but knowledge passed down from age to age.”
For now, I'm happy carrying on.