Daisy Fung reached out to me last year as she prepared to return to Canada from Scotland. The gracious Rachel of Hedgerow and Paula at Millpond Flower Farm had guessed we might hit it off. I was curious: Who was this beautiful Daisy, a flower lover, and an anthropologist? With a trip to Vancouver in the offing, I asked Daisy if I could interview her. We met at the Vancouver Art Gallery where Daisy charmed me with her intelligence, sensitivity and wit for over two hours. Thank you Rachel and Paula for a grand arrangement! Here follows the highlights of our discussion.
You describe yourself as an anthropologist. Dare I ask how you see your interest in flowers aligning with that discipline? I did my PhD on something quite different from flowers and gardening—I did a project on citizenship through the eyes of migrant women living with HIV in London, looking at their bodily and social practices of integration and resilience. My doctorate was a phenomenal fieldwork and writing adventure that I will always be grateful for, and which taught me a great deal about thinking sensitively about the everyday grind.
It was always a bit awkward explaining to growers (and people in general) why I’m interested in flowers after having earned a PhD. But the more I do it, the more I realize that it’s a process of conversion rather than diversion—anthropologists are forever fascinated by what matters to people, how, why, when, where… and flowers are cultural objects as much as natural ones, there is a sentience and thoughtfulness to flower growing and handling. I love their tangibility. Floral design is different to what I did before, but it also has had a way of bringing me back to Anthropology, and is providing another entry point for grasping how people might build social community around particular sets of values and ideals.
Wonderfully said. I love how you talk about a flower career as a process of conversion rather diversion. There are so many different ways to build a flower business: retail, home-based, farmer-florist...that I sometimes feel young people who want to get into flowers don't know which direction go. What considerations do you think people should take into account when deciding how to build a career? One thing I have learned, and continue to learn, is that it isn’t just about the flowers. Lusting after a certain design or aesthetic can only take you so far, and it’s important to look beyond the social media filters and branding.
It’s also important for me to find people I can connect with–intellectually, in spirit, in good faith, as well as in flowers, and that probably plays a huge role in making flower work pleasurable and productive.
I wanted to meet you because you've been over in the United Kingdom working with some great designers and growers: Rachel at Hedgerow in Edinburgh, Paula at Mill Pond Flower Farm in the Scottish Borders and Sarah at Simply by Arrangement in Yorkshire, not to mention the folks at Electric Daisy Flower Farm. How did you come to meet them? I was in Edinburgh for my doctorate and met Paula first through the ‘Flowers from the Farm’ network. Having an initial point of reference really helped in reaching out to others. Fiona has a wondrous heart and was very kind to respond to an Instagram post I put out, as was Sarah at Simply by Arrangement.
Any trend predictions from the UK flower scene? Or do you not think the UK is leading floral design trends? I think it’s safe to say Canada is not. The British look to American designers as we do as Canadians. Americans are still seen as innovators, as risk takers. This is a long-standing thing between Europeans and Americans and goes back to their history, of course. If you consider the images American flower farmers post of ‘the bounty’ I’d have to say the farmer-florists of the UK are more moderate and constrained.
You’re right! The huge armfuls of flowers, held like Horns of Plenty. Exactly. Total excess.
What’s your take on the Brooklyn style? At first I thought it was a recreation of the still life, that loose romantic style, but the look is going a touch darker. What does such design say about our culture? The Brooklyn babes? In the beginning it seemed like people were appreciating flowers for their natural movement…following a curve or a shape, say, suggesting you don’t need to contort the flower into weird positions to create beauty, which I loved.
Now I get the impression now that designs need to be more stylized. People are using more unusual colours. Maybe that just happens when you are looking to do something new, so again you innovate. But the downside is, it makes people desire things that they can’t have.
Like brown irises? Right. To get access to these ingredients you have to live in a major city or grow your own which is unrealistic for many. It seems to have distorted the practical elements of arranging and sourcing. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
I feel there’s an element of decay looming in the work of Saipua or Nicamille, a decay that goes beyond nostalgia. On the one hand, I’m grateful because it means faded beauty has a place, so the ephemeral nature of flowers is honoured…Stylistically, the moodiness has always been there, but yes. It’s almost dreamy. Fantastical.
Yet there’s something also very indulgent about the colours. Sometimes it’s like eating too many sweets. I mean: Rose, plum, caramel? I can’t swallow it all. I’m full.
Maybe it’s Instagram. I pitched a class on Flowers in Art and History to the university and I’ll die if they approve it (because I’ll have to learn everything!), but the final lecture I wanted to call ‘Flowers in the Instagram Age’ because the app has become an abstracted but important means of appreciating nature. Many of the flowers depicted on Instagram are designed to be represented photographically, in another medium, not always directly. Flowers are expensive and not everyone has a garden. So yes, social media has changed how we relate to flowers.
Any flowers you think might be coming into fashion? Dock weed. It will be the new cow parsley!
What's the 'ritual' part of Ritual Bloom (Daisy's IG handle)? Initially, I simply wanted to make flowers an every day or weekly ritual for myself – whether it was inspecting a single blossom, assembling a few leaves, making an arrangement with neon chrysanths from the supermarket…I wanted to find something to mark my time with, help me get out of my head as a student.
I also believe in the significance of flowers and nature’s presence in all the various rites of passage, festivities, and events that are so integral to our lives—all the celebration, grief, and mourning that make up life.
I noticed on your Instagram feed you have a number of images of paintings from various periods in history. Who are some of your favourite flower painters and why? If that's too specific, what do you gain from looking at art? There are so many, it’s hard to name favourites. I have a book called European Flower Painters edited by Peter Mitchell that I adore, every time I open it I notice another painting or image; also Martin Rix’s Golden Age of Botanical Art.
Recently came across the work of German still life painter Adelheid Dietrich (1827-1891). I would never try to replicate her images in flowers, but her use of colour is incredible—the flowers sparkle. I like that her images look a touch commercial.
For me, art is a window, a page from someone else’s book, you can’t know directly what they were thinking or feeling. It’s better that way—you look, reflect on what pleases or unsettles you, fill in the blanks. I love the give and take, the idea that something is taken from you, altered and replaced.
Can you recommend three books that inspired you to learn more about flowers, or helped you to learn? These books have pushed me to think differently: First, The Homing Instinct: The Story and Science of Migration by Bernd Heinrich for opening my eyes to the diversity of ways of finding and making home in the natural world. Part memoir, part essay, part natural history, with eloquent writing and enquiry into mysteries and wonders of animal migration. I’m still thinking about my place in the world, where I come from, where I belong…
Catherine Ziegler’s Favored Flowers: Culture and Economy in Global System explores the commodity chain that has developed through and for flowers. It made me think about how people cut into the chain, work on a small scale, and what might be gained from that.
Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. This book is not about flowers or design, but a wonderfully encouraging essay on creativity and not getting in one’s own way.
What's next for you? I’ve been thinking about all these community gardens in Vancouver and how flowers could be a part of them. I might do community floristry and outreach – workshops, encourage incorporation of flowers into program offerings. I’d like to team up/partner up with someone, prepare flowers for local craftspeople, designers, gardeners and horticultural societies. And have fun!
And Scotland? I left my boots there.