As a botanist working in a botanic garden I’m fortunate to have access to flowers year round with, as an example close to my office, the outrageous displays of aloes in Adelaide Botanic Garden beginning in mid-winter. Nevertheless Spring’s a time for celebration, not simply for the promise of warmer weather, but for the abundance of Spring flowers.
Early Spring flowers are a particular delight – with moisture remaining in the soil, shorter days and mild weather the most delicate flowers are able to show off. The profusion of spider and greenhood orchids, early nancy, milkmaids, stackhousias, sundews and chocolate, vanilla and fringe lilies describe Spring in the Adelaide Hills and beyond. A rich diversity of flowers remains despite the impacts of urbanisation, weed invasions, altered fire regimes and the depredations of introduced animals. In gardens, flower shops and florists a riotous garden flora of early flowering bulbs such as daffodils, jonquils, freesias, hyacinths, lachenalias, anenomes and ranunculi characterise Spring. Indeed, for most city dwellers, these garden plants are the flowers that define Spring.
The remarkable diversity of Spring flowers we have access to illustrates the legacy of colonialism that saw both the greatest diaspora of people and of plants that the world has yet seen. Such diversity and choice is perhaps overwhelming. For most the locally native flowers are ‘flowers without a name’ while the extravagant Spring garden flora might sometimes be viewed as much a ‘brand’ as a named flower. The beauty in all of these flowers requires and rewards our close attention – time to look closely and appreciate these gifts. A labour of love is evident in the works of artists, and, in equal measure, in the catalogues and collections of local native plant seed collectors and growers, and of specialist garden flora nurseries.
During the eighteenth-century the selection of flowers on offer was more limited. In the rarified atmosphere of Britain’s florists’ flowers only eight types were considered worth cultivating – hyacinths, pinks, tulips, ranunculi, anemones, auriculas, narcissi and carnations. Florists were those who bred and showed these flowers rather than flower sellers. Florist’s flowers were clearly circumscribed – the hollyhock was derided as ‘… not and never can be a florist’s flower, any more than a horse can be a lap-dog. It is essentially an outdoor plant . . . A lady would as soon think of having a pig in a parlour as a ramping spike of Hollyhock in a bouquet; and even a coachman, who on state days is expected to wear a nosegay as large as a cauliflower, would look awkward, with six feet of Hollyhock stuck in his buttonhole.’ The best pinks and auriculas were grown by the weavers of Spitalfields, Manchester and Paisley although a fabled auricula carrying 123 flowers was the achievement of two millers. Florist societies often met in pubs or taverns where the innkeeper commonly charged an admission fee allowing florists to see flowers and drink beer. Showing the flowers was highly competitive and ‘… many shows were won by small tradesmen, weavers or the like because such men had the requisite habits of industry for the laborious production of a perfect bloom.’
The manliness of florists’ societies was evident with ‘Sons of Flora’ a common name for local societies. There’s still some resonance today. With David Beckham turning 40 this year The Daily Telegraph interview is a gem, ‘One of the things that has changed over the years … when you get older, you mature, and you start liking flowers. Although I try and keep it manly.’
In Adelaide there’s plenty of opportunities to see Spring flowers. The Goyder Pavilion at the Royal Adelaide Show (from Friday 4th to Sunday 13th September) provides the best opportunity to see displays presented by horticultural and plant societies, growers and nurseries, as well as the achievements of competitive growers on the competition benches. The focus on horticulture in the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society remains a significant attraction of Adelaide’s Show. Hancock’s Daffodils remains one of my favourites – while based in the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne Hancock’s (and many others) are no longer found at the Royal Show in Melbourne where the horticultural (and even agricultural) elements of the Show have been supplanted by more commercial sales. Local gardening and horticultural societies, and plant societies all have Spring shows and most have members who are specialists with deep knowledge of a particular group of plants – not infrequently with national and international profiles. Unfortunately there’s no comprehensive location listing all of the Spring shows although the Garden Clubs of Australia website is a good starting point. However, if you keep your eyes open on the web, in the local press and listen to gardening shows you’ll find them. You might start by looking for societies that show locally – such as the Enfield Horticultural Society’s Spring Show at Klemzig Community Hall on Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th September and the Australian Native Orchid Society’s Spring Show at St Bernadette’s Hall, St Marys on 19th & 20th September. Some shows, such as Camellias South Australia, have already passed while others are later in Spring – keep an eye out for Australian Plant Society’s remarkable plant sale at the Showgrounds on 10th & 11th October, the Rose Society of South Australia’s Spring Show on 17th & 18th October, the Bromeliad Society of South Australia’s sale on the 24th & 25th October, and the Cactus & Succulent Society of South Australia’s Show and sale on the 7th & 8th of November.
‘… winter is past … The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come …’
Stephen Forbes, Director, Botanic Gardens of South Australia
Originally published in The Adelaide Review on 9 September 2015.
Australia, 1911 – 2003
oil on canvas on board
44.0 x 36.5 cm (sight)
South Australian Government Grant 1956
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide