Love, Death, and Lonely Bouquets

A conversation between Elisheva Heit, flower artist, and Tali Himmel, author

Elisheva Heit grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her mother used to forage for edible and medicinal plants “deep into the country and on the edge of forests.” Medicine was hard to get, and her mother treated their childhood illnesses with teas she steeped from dried plants and flowers. To this day, dry flowers remind Elisheva of medicine. Fresh flowers are a whole other story.

“When you were invited over for dinner in Russia, you always brought a bouquet of flowers with you.  It was the appropriate thing to do.” Elisheva explains, as she works on her day’s creations at Flamenco Flowers and Sweets. “There was no flower delivery, you went to a specialty flower store or to one of the little stands that dotted the streets of St. Petersburg. Flower choice depended on what was in season.”

Photo Credit: Shev Green – Used with permission

“Were there other customs you remember?”

“On the first day of school, each child would bring flowers for the teacher.”

“A single flower?”

“Oh no!” Elisheva laughs. “Every child brought a bouquet.”

“What would the teacher do with all those bouquets?”

“You know, I never thought about it. What I remember is that most of the kids would bring Gladiolas, but my Mother hated Gladiolas, so I brought Asters.”

It’s interesting to me, what we associate with flowers, and what social norms are at play whether we are aware of them or not.

“People use flowers to commemorate the big events: Birth, Marriage, Death.”

“What do people usually order flowers for?”

“Love, marriage, birth, death: the big occasions. What other big occasions does a person have? What else is there?”

“Are there certain flowers that are associated with specific events?”

“For funerals, you’d need a big display, vivid, big pieces – so you’d use cheaper flowers. Carnations for example, are very popular for funeral arrangements. And so I get a lot of people who tell me not to put carnations in their bouquets – it reminds them of death and loss. Although I think carnations are lovely. Look,” she opens her cold storage, “see how many colors they come in: the purples, the reds. Those are not painted, those are all naturally colors.” Continue reading