Correspondence

The Promise of Flowers

Words By sheila lam

 

Flowers can hold a special place in our lives, captivating us with their vibrant colours and sweet fragrances. They have the power to evoke emotions and convey meaningful messages that transcend cultural boundaries, making them more than just beautiful gifts or decorative elements. Flowers have a more profound sentimental value that varies across cultures and time.

 

Throughout history, flowers have been used to express a wide range of emotions, from love and grief to celebration and apology. In Japan, the cherry blossom (sakura) symbolizes life’s fleeting nature and impermanence’s beauty. During the Hanami Festival, people gather under the sakura trees to admire their delicate blossoms and reflect on the transience of life. Not all that different, our name is inspired by the Japanese concept of mono no aware – the profound appreciation of the beauty in fleeting moments.

In India, the marigold flower represents purity, love, and devotion, and the brilliant yellow and orange pompoms are often used in religious ceremonies, weddings, and festivals to honour the divine and bring good luck. The tranquil and stoic lotus flower, on the other hand, symbolizes enlightenment, spiritual growth, and rebirth in Hinduism and Buddhism.

In the Western world, flowers are often associated with romantic love and courtship. The red rose is a classic symbol of passion and affection. However, different colours and types of flowers can convey other messages. Yellow roses represent friendship, while the white lily signifies purity and innocence. Moreover, floral arrangements have their own language and cultural significance. In Victorian times, different flowers and their arrangement conveyed secret messages between lovers. A bouquet of red and white roses meant unity, while a yellow rose withered at the tip meant jealousy.

 

For Antony Burger, founder of Mahal Kita Flowers, individual blooms are just flowers. But with intention, they can mean everything. In fact, he spent the greater part of the 2020 lockdown driving around South East England, delivering bouquets and messages between loved ones who were kept apart. “I got to write the love letters, the sympathy cards, all the messages between people. It was unbelievable,” he says.

I listened as Antony recited accounts with new long-distance lovers (whom Mahal Kita Flowers eventually created the wedding arrangement for) and a wife who’d lost her husband to COVID and ordered a small bouquet to rest in her late husband’s ceramic vases – simply the most human stories connect us. “I had people crying on the doorstep with me,” he shares.

 

Three years on, Mahal Kita Flowers has continuously moved on to larger projects, but each falling closer to home for Antony. The name mahal kita comes from Tagalog, meaning “I love you,” an homage to his Filipino mother, for whom flowers have meant so much. “My life has always been surrounded by flowers,” he says. “My mum has always had a garden and arranged flowers for the church. During Christmas, I remember making wreaths. It’s always been part of my psyche.” And this year, all culminated on his largest project to date, a grand installation as part of British Flower Week at the Garden Museum in London: a bicycle burst into an explosion of flora with wooden crates, plastic woven bags, and miscellaneous objects. It’s the story of his mother moving from the Philippines to England with all her worldly possessions and carrying with her today everything she’s gained in the past 40 years. “That was very much a part of me,” he says of the piece. “That was a real kind of extension of myself.”

Looking ahead, future projects for the studio will continue to draw from Antony’s daily life, planning and pairing abstract drawings denoting moods and floral compositions with ever-changing inspiration from tropical flowers to more local grasses, seasonally available blooms and wild foraged florets native to England. When asked what flowers mean to him personally, Antony replies, “Nothing, but probably everything.”

 

Identifying as quite a sentimental person, La Bomba Floristry founder Marta Sanderson established the studio in 2018 as a creative outlet. Previously working behind the scenes in industries such as film, TV, commercials, fashion, and music videos, floristry offered her a different medium to embrace. “I had this creative fire burning within me that I just didn’t quite know what my medium was,” she says. “I was into plants, I was into the natural world, and when floristry started having a bit of a renaissance, I had this aha moment. It’s highly creative, sculptural, and artistic, and it’s working with this natural medium that I feel very akin to.”

Often starting from shape and form, arranging is an intuitive practice for Marta. “I feel like a lot of emotion is tied up in flowers,” she says. “I feel out what will suit the space and the scale, how people will view it. Is it going to be high? Is it going to be on the table? But most of all, what feeling do I want to evoke in people as they walk into the room?”

With a style that’s constantly evolving, La Bomba’s main calling card is its contemporary nature. Combining elements from fashion and art, Marta brings a unique style with diverse features like fresh fruit and vegetables, pearls, woollen tufts, and more. “I like to see elements and recontextualize them into a new purpose. I want to take what it does naturally in nature and move it into a new space,” she says. “It’s been nice to break the mould of a traditional florist and think outside the square a little bit. And ultimately, I just want everyone to have a unique experience.”

 

From hanging installations that look like floating clouds of flora and fabrics to playful sculptural in-store fittings, there’s always a sense of whimsy and awe with La Bomba. An apt expression as the name translates to “the bomb” in Spanish. But not just a fiery utterance; listening to Marta speak about floristry, there is an undeniable feeling of excitement, passion, and a keen sense of understanding.

“I recently just got accepted into the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, for which I’ve been on the waitlist for three years,” Marta explains. “It’s the first experience with flowers where I’m not working for a client or for running the business. I’m just doing this for me, and it’s given me a whole new appreciation of nature and how I view it, really making me reconnect with flowers and look at them differently: the structure, the form, the line. When I walk through my neighbourhood, I’m looking at branches and it’s grounding me a lot. I have a newfound appreciation for flowers and their beauty. I’m not seeing them as material in a recipe or in a flower market spending budget. I’m viewing them differently, and it’s making quite an impact on me in terms of the true sentiment of flowers.”

It’s clear that flowers have sentimental value that spans across cultures and time. They have the power to evoke emotions and convey meaningful messages, making them a special part of our lives. For florists like Antony and Marta, arranging flowers is not just a job but a passion that allows them to connect with people and evoke emotions through their creations. ■

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