Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Language of Flowers: Status-Signaling, Virtue-Signaling, Etc

 
Tulip by Quartl, Wikimedia Commons, Cropped

Anyone imagining that just any sort of flowers can be presented in the front of a house without status jeopardy would be wrong. Upper-middle-class flowers are rhododendrons, tiger lilies, amaryllis, columbine, clematis, and roses, except for bright-red ones. One way to learn which flowers are vulgar is to notice the varieties favored on Sunday-morning TV religious programs like Rex Humbard’s or Robert Schuller’s. There you will see primarily geraniums (red are lower than pink), poinsettias, and chrysanthemums, and you will know instantly, without even attending to the quality of the discourse, that you are looking at a high-prole setup. Other prole flowers include anything too vividly red, like red tulips. Declassed also are phlox, zinnias, salvia, gladioli, begonias, dahlias, fuchsias, and petunias. Members of the middle class will sometimes hope to mitigate the vulgarity of bright-red flowers by planting them in a rotting wheelbarrow or rowboat displayed on the front lawn, but seldom with success.

Thus do I discover that I grew up in a high-prole setup without even realizing it. Mums, poinsettias, and Play-Doh-red geraniums were staples among our potted plants and (except for poinsettias) outside garden. I’ve always been fond of flowers too vividly red, especially tulips – it was a great sadness to me in my childhood that we had rabbits who’d eat any tulip, no matter how prole, before it could bloom. I admit to hating zinnias while loving columbines and tiger lilies, so perhaps I’m not hopelessly déclassée. It’s also true the work containing this stunning classification-by-blossom was published in 1983 and fashions change. Still, this paragraph lives on in people’s online essays, even though the work containing it is no longer available online (it once was).

But is any of it true? Was any of it true? I was born in the 80s. If it was true back then, I should have noticed. Not because I could discern class distinctions well as a child, but because I noticed flowers, which were plentiful in our neighborhood. I drew them and painted them, as girls do, especially those splashy red tulips with fiery black-and-gold hearts. I tried to garden without killing them (mixed success there). And I was the child to scold if our neon-red geraniums wilted, since keeping them watered and deadheaded was my simple, undemanding chore.

Now it’s true we grew up middlebrow in what was supposedly a highbrow town (supposedly) and my parents nursed a rebellious streak. My mom could take perverse pride in preferring the cheerful and showy to the allegedly “elegant”, especially since her own mother cultivated an astringent “good taste” in home décor (while nonetheless growing Play-Doh-red geraniums, come to think of it). But I had never thought to judge flower preferences beyond, you like what you like. I recognize that signaling status is a thing, and that it’s bound up with signaling “virtue” of one kind or another (perhaps simply the “virtue” of not being “prole”), but I ask you, is the language of flowers really this fraught?

If so, how do we tell?

If not, what else might be less fraught than is commonly supposed?

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  1. Titus Techera Contributor

    No, it can’t be as simple as you like what you like. But what is? Is musical taste in any meaningful sense individual in a world of mass phenomena?

    No, they’re not right about the chrysanthemum. Means golden flower! Was the imperial flower in China. Talk about absurd status.

    • #1
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:07 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    No, they’re not right about the chrysanthemum. Means golden flower!

    Makes me wonder what else they’re not right about. I wonder where the author lived to be able to make this observation:

    Members of the middle class will sometimes hope to mitigate the vulgarity of bright-red flowers by planting them in a rotting wheelbarrow or rowboat displayed on the front lawn, but seldom with success.

    Avid gardeners often do turn found objects into follies or unusual containers, but in what neighborhood do you live where rowboat container gardens are so commonplace you can distinguish the meaning behind red-flowered rowboat gardens and non-red-flowered rowboat gardens? Plonking an entire flippin’ rowboat in your front yard is rather different from potting plants in a wheelbarrow, no matter how rotted. (Although, rotted or not, I’d be worried about my wheelbarrow container garden tipping over, personally.)

    • #2
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. MLH Inactive
    MLH

    I’ve got roses and (volunteer) penstemons. What’s that make me?

    Poinsettias did well for the Eckes.

    • #3
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. MarciN Member

    I think we grow whatever rabbits, deer, and bugs don’t like to eat. :)

    • #4
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:36 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  5. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Those rougephobes.

    • #5
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:36 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Paul Erickson Inactive

    My dad was an avid gardener, but favored veggies to blooms. We had no sidewalk, so in front of the retaining wall and out to the street, he planted peppers, beans, cukes, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, even corn one year. An odd sight in suburban NJ.

    I fear to ask where that places us in the social hierarchy.

    • #6
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:39 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. Titus Techera Contributor

    I find it hard to believe that a people that segregate among economic lines will not cultivate affectations that emphasize the separation. Including concerning flowers. Of course, that cannot be a caste separation, but it’ll do.

    I also find no difficulty believing that taste will separate social classes–issuing not merely by chance or market forces or social segregation, but from intuitions that come with very different experiences… What I find very difficult to believe is that this would matter in America.

    • #7
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:40 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    No, they’re not right about the chrysanthemum. Means golden flower! Was the imperial flower in China. Talk about absurd status.

    The Japanese Royal Family’s crest contains the chrysanthemum.

    Image result for chrysanthemum japan

    • #8
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:48 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I also find no difficulty believing that taste will separate social classes–issuing not merely by chance or market forces or social segregation, but from intuitions that come with very different experiences… What I find very difficult to believe is that this would matter in America.

    The easiest example where it seems to matter in America is lawn-mowing. Among the elites in regions of America where prairies and oak savannas are indigenous, landscaping your property with prairie plants took awhile to become accepted, since it can look like an unmowed lawn, but now it’s considered a statement about valuing native terrain to those in the know. If you tried to grow a prairie in your yard in a non-elite neighborhood, the reaction is much more likely to be, “Why don’tcha mow your lawn, ya lazy slob?”

    • #9
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:48 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  10. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Most people don’t know. No one cares, except that your garden should be well taken care of. Grow whatever you like, just take care to weed and prune.

    • #10
    • August 25, 2017, at 11:57 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. Profile Photo Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    No, it can’t be as simple as you like what you like.

    Of course it can. That’s what I plant – fruit, flowers, etc. starfruit,

    Llychee,

    lemons, limes, oranges. I used to have guava, avocado, dragon fruit, mango and papaya, but a hard frost killed them all off.

    Red Hawaiian Flowers - Musa acuminata – BananaI have bananas and nothing kills them, but it seems to take about $30 dollars of fertilizer to produce $20 dollars worth of bananas – and then they all ripen at once. Have you ever tried to eat $20 dollars worth of bananas in a few days? But banana flowers are too cool.

    Our driveway used to be lined with red hibiscus – hard to get gaudier than that. Hibiscus Pictures, Photo of Red Hibiscus Tree Flowers

    They died when we had a problem with the irrigation system during the dry season while we were out of town. We’re replacing them with bougainvillea, red, purple, pink, yellow, all jumbled together. bougainvillea varieties

    I’m sure some would think we’re low class for our various gaudy flowers and fruiting trees.

    But I don’t care.

    As I say, I was deplorable before it was cool.

    • #11
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  12. Profile Photo Member

    My parents’ working class home in a working class town was surrounded by tiger lilies, and we also had a not-red rose bush! We were actually upper class, and our flowers prove it! I can’t wait to tell them :)

    • #12
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:05 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  13. DrewInWisconsin, Unhelpful Com… Coolidge

    Thing is, flower garden trends change over time, so those high-class perennials you had a few years ago, are now suddenly popping up in even the trailer court gardens. You’d better find something sufficiently exotic yet still hardy to your zone to impress the local garden club.

    • #13
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:07 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    Most people don’t know. No one cares, except that your garden should be well taken care of. Grow whatever you like, just take care to weed and prune.

    I have a funny story about that.

    Buckthorn is an ornamental thicket-forming tree or shrub whose putative ornamental value is in fact quite dubious. Moreover, especially in the American midwest, buckthorn is an extremely invasive grower, easily escaping captivity and spoiling our forests – that is, it’s a weed species. The previous owners of my childhood homestead had, for some reason, planted buckthorn as an ornamental screen, and we, upon moving in, didn’t realize the danger and failed to take the extremely aggressive steps needed to keep it in its place – honestly, the most effective step is outright removal of every last bit of buckthorn on your property, planted intentionally or not. Dad, a great (and apparently indiscriminate) lover of trees, considered the buckthorns “trees” once they got big enough, and got angry if he noticed one was cut down. No, he said, they just need pruning to bring out their beauty.

    Bless him. We pruned them as well as we could, and surreptitiously removed them when we thought he wouldn’t notice. Sometimes he noticed and all hell broke loose. I finally managed to make one buckthorn Dad noticed too much to remove ornamental during summer visits home from college, by lopping off so many leafy portions any other tree would have died. It turns out barely-alive buckthorn is nearly the best kind of buckthorn (the best buckthorn is still a dead buckthorn).

    • #14
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:08 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. DrewInWisconsin, Unhelpful Com… Coolidge

    I notice my garden tends to be mostly yellows and purples. With Rudbeckia and Liatris being the most prominent. But that’s because they’re nearly fool-proof.

    • #15
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ve got a strong desire to track down the original author and shoot out his porch light.

    Is that déclassé? 

    Don’t care.

    • #16
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:14 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Isaac Smith (View Comment):
    …lychee…

    Well, now I’m envious.

    And yes, banana flowers are awesomely weird, though I’ve not much fondness for bananas as a fruit.

    • #17
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. PHenry Member

    So where do my lovely yellow dandelions put me on the class ladder? They do look so nice alongside the white and purple clover flowers!

    • #18
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:22 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  19. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Who has time for gardening these days?

    • #19
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:25 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    MLH (View Comment):
    I’ve got roses and (volunteer) penstemons.

    Penstemons? I love bright-red penstemons! The blue ones are nice, too. Other colors… eh, OK…

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Rudbeckia and Liatris

    We love rudbeckia. I wanted to pick some for my wedding bouquet, but on the advice of a florist, settled for lookalikes (asters?) which apparently last longer when cut.

    From BC Comics:

    “Whatcha eatin’?”
    “Oranges. Whatcha eatin’?”
    (Looking at his grapes) “Purples.”

    Wish I could find that cartoon.

    • #20
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Isaac Smith (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    No, it can’t be as simple as you like what you like.

    Of course it can. That’s what I plant – fruit, flowers, etc. starfruit,

    Llychee,

    lemons, limes, oranges. I used to have guava, avocado, dragon fruit, mango and papaya, but a hard frost killed them all off.

    Red Hawaiian Flowers - Musa acuminata – BananaI have bananas and nothing kills them, but it seems to take about $30 dollars of fertilizer to produce $20 dollars worth of bananas – and then they all ripen at once. Have you ever tried to eat $20 dollars worth of bananas in a few days? But banana flowers are too cool.

    Our driveway used to be lined with red hibiscus – hard to get gaudier than that. Hibiscus Pictures, Photo of Red Hibiscus Tree Flowers

    They died when we had a problem with the irrigation system during the dry season while we were out of town. We’re replacing them with bougainvillea, red, purple, pink, yellow, all jumbled together. bougainvillea varieties

    I’m sure some would think we’re low class for our various gaudy flowers and fruiting trees.

    But I don’t care.

    As I say, I was deplorable before it was cool.

    Where do you live? I’m envious!

    On bananas – when I lived in Africa, on trips between towns I would stop at local markets for the fruits and local produce. Bananas were always sold in huge stalks – 30 to 40 lbs. And they were about $5. No way you could eat all of them, so you gave them away. But tree-ripened bananas are incredibly sweet and not like the grocery store stuff.

    As for fertilizer, you need some cows.

    • #21
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:33 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. MLH Inactive
    MLH

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake Post author

    MLH (View Comment):
    I’ve got roses and (volunteer) penstemons.

    Penstemons? I love bright-red penstemons! The blue ones are nice, too. Other colors… eh, OK…

    I planted 3 red ones (one of which was slightly different). One made it and gave me the volunteers. Found some blue and purple ones out on a hike. I think it is a purple one waiting to be planted. I hope to get some California poppies in. After the rains we’ve had, I’m playing a little of the “let’s not pull all the weeds until we know what type of wild flower it it” game.

    • #22
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    MLH (View Comment):
    After the rains we’ve had, I’m playing a little of the “let’s not pull all the weeds until we know what type of wild flower it it” game.

    We once got a beautiful mexican shellflower growing in our garden through this game. So pretty! So… vulgar??? Who cares?!

    • #23
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:46 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. MLH Inactive
    MLH

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    We once got a beautiful mexican shellflower growing in our garden through this game. So pretty! So… vulgar??? Who cares?!

    They look like some sort of iris/rhizome?

    • #24
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:53 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    MLH (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    We once got a beautiful mexican shellflower growing in our garden through this game. So pretty! So… vulgar??? Who cares?!

    They look like some sort of iris/rhizome?

    Yes, they’re in Iridaceae.

    • #25
    • August 25, 2017, at 12:59 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Profile Photo Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Thing is, flower garden trends change over time, so those high-class perennials you had a few years ago, are now suddenly popping up in even the trailer court gardens. You’d better find something sufficiently exotic yet still hardy to your zone to impress the local garden club.

    Even better if it’s not hardy. Unless it dies.

    • #26
    • August 25, 2017, at 1:09 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Profile Photo Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Isaac Smith (View Comment):
    …lychee…

    Well, now I’m envious.

    And yes, banana flowers are awesomely weird, though I’ve not much fondness for bananas as a fruit.

    The lychee is also a magnificent tree. Easily my favorite in the yard.

    • #27
    • August 25, 2017, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Profile Photo Member

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Isaac Smith (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    No, it can’t be as simple as you like what you like.

    Of course it can. That’s what I plant – fruit, flowers, etc. starfruit,

    Llychee,

    lemons, limes, oranges. I used to have guava, avocado, dragon fruit, mango and papaya, but a hard frost killed them all off.

    Red Hawaiian Flowers - Musa acuminata – BananaI have bananas and nothing kills them, but it seems to take about $30 dollars of fertilizer to produce $20 dollars worth of bananas – and then they all ripen at once. Have you ever tried to eat $20 dollars worth of bananas in a few days? But banana flowers are too cool.

    Our driveway used to be lined with red hibiscus – hard to get gaudier than that. Hibiscus Pictures, Photo of Red Hibiscus Tree Flowers

    They died when we had a problem with the irrigation system during the dry season while we were out of town. We’re replacing them with bougainvillea, red, purple, pink, yellow, all jumbled together. bougainvillea varieties

    I’m sure some would think we’re low class for our various gaudy flowers and fruiting trees.

    But I don’t care.

    As I say, I was deplorable before it was cool.

    Where do you live? I’m envious!

    On bananas – when I lived in Africa, on trips between towns I would stop at local markets for the fruits and local produce. Bananas were always sold in huge stalks – 30 to 40 lbs. And they were about $5. No way you could eat all of them, so you gave them away. But tree-ripened bananas are incredibly sweet and not like the grocery store stuff.

    As for fertilizer, you need some cows.

    South Florida part of the year – that’s where the fruit and flowers are. It might be the varieties, rather than tree ripening. I’ve never had any luck with that – we’ve learned to cut them off as they are getting close, then hanging them in the summer kitchen to finish ripening, then separating them as much as possible to slow the ripening process when the first ones ripen. The grocery stuff is a hybrid that can survive the transport required to get them to market, but tend to taste like paste. As you say, native varieties have delicious flavor and are very sweet.

    How high in potassium is cow manure? I think that’s the critical nutrient. I blend my own fertilizer with a high potassium content. With a normal fertilizer they grow and flower, but don’t set fruit. Without that they grow nicely for a year or two, then exhaust our soil and sort of grow, but look pretty scraggly.

    • #28
    • August 25, 2017, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • Like
  29. DrewInWisconsin, Unhelpful Com… Coolidge

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    MLH (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    We once got a beautiful mexican shellflower growing in our garden through this game. So pretty! So… vulgar??? Who cares?!

    They look like some sort of iris/rhizome?

    Yes, they’re in Iridaceae.

    Tigridia?

    • #29
    • August 25, 2017, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Tigridia?

    Yep. And good point – “Mexican shellflower” might be racist.

    • #30
    • August 25, 2017, at 1:47 PM PDT
    • Like

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