Keep it wild, flower child

For a family gathering a good few years back, pre floral obsession days, Mum brought a branch into the house and hung it on the wall with some twigs. I couldn’t get over how it changed the space, it was so simple, instant joy!

Floristry had never crossed my mind as something I would be into, but bringing branches inside was something I was all of a sudden hooked on. What Mum did with twigs was something of an epiphany for me and would soon see me quit the corporate gig.

Mum’s twigs on the wall was around the time of very young kids, actually I think the family gathering was my daughter’s christening.

As anyone reading this knows, nature and children have super powers to put you squarely in the present. I was getting a double dose of this, along with it a deeper connection to the environment ( ironic because I worked for the Department of Environment…..) And so began my life’s new focus..

Along with Mum and Bec (big sis), my two littlies and Bec’s two, we would forage, construct, workshop and arrange, almost always with the kids around us.  They keep it real. Messy, destructive, wild and free, but their connection is real.

So when I saw the title of Annabelle Hickson’s book, ‘A Tree in the House’, I sent a pic to Mum – such a brilliant title! Sure enough she had bought it already, adding it to her substantial library of the floral coffee-table variety.

Annabelle’s book is a joy – a refreshing, accessible approach to bringing the natural world inside. Read more on the book..

Annabelle has written something just for The Flower Press about the deep satisfaction of being connected to the natural world, and how kids already know this.   Get comfy, make a cuppa, it’s a ripper!

Words by Annabelle Hickson

Children don’t forage. Only adults do. Kids have no idea it’s a thing. If they see a flower they want, they pick it. They lie on the grass and make wishes while they blow the hairy fronds off dandelions. They snap the long dry stalks off lavender bushes to scatter over their mud cakes. Not because they are consciously foraging, but rather because they are enjoying what’s out there. As such, my children think it is entirely natural that I pull over on the side of the road on the way to town and fill the boot with wild fennel.  If they were behind the wheel that is what they’d do too.

I don’t know when I stopped picking flowers – probably when I was a teenager. And I only really started again when I moved to an isolated pecan farm, broke and shattered after a renovation project that had ended up costing more money than we had.

We took refuge in the tiny cottage on the hill, overlooking the young pecan farm, and started to put the pieces back together. My husband and I slept on the gauzed-in verandah, while the kids were snuggled in together inside. Straight away this felt like home.

And because I felt good, I started to look outwards rather than always in, in, in. I saw things I hadn’t noticed before. Growing things. Pale green gum leaves, purple poppies and blackberries on the side of the road. Majestic stands of wild fennel. 

I started bringing the wild flowers into the house to spruce up the drab rooms with their tobacco-yellow walls. And sprigs of eucalyptus to hang off the shower head. And then I got into gardening, if you could call chucking a few cosmos seeds into some holes gardening. But you can because before too long those seeds morphed into towers of pink and white flower heads waving in the wind in front of the kitchen window. It felt very empowering. With very little expense I could dig a hole, plant the seeds and lo and behold be surrounded by beauty.

Soon enough my little house, that I could vacuum in its entirety from the one power plug, was dripping with natural beauty. Luxurious, affordable, compostable splendour. I could use what was growing around me to create, to use author Donna Tartt’s words “a tableau vivant of the daily”. More by default than by design, the things filling the vases in my kitchen were a microcosmic reflection of what was happening in the macro world outside. And without any conscious effort I began to experience a deep and steady sense of connection to the environment around me.

Luxurious, affordable, compostable splendour.

Kitchen with Cotton tree branches hanging
Image credit: Pip Williams

This is why I love flowers. Or more broadly, things that grow.

And they grow everywhere. At home there is a prickly pear growing in the crook of an enormous gum tree, where a branch meets the trunk at least 15m up in the air. There is a laneway next to the butcher shop in town where a vigorous clump of nasturtiums happily lives. The butcher lets me pick as many as I want. I then make a nasturtium butter using the leaves and the flowers, and drop him in a rounded, green-flecked butter pat as thanks. A friend who lives in a city terrace grows her annuals in wheelbarrows, which every morning she wheels out onto the verge to harvest the sun.  

But beyond what we intentionally grow, there is so much out there that just grows, naturally. There is such abundance in the natural world. 

Norwegian writer Karl Ove speaks so beautifully about this force in his book Autumn, recounting how he stood back to look at an apple tree he had pruned with a heavy hand.

“Maimed was the word that came to mind. But the branches have grown back, densely covered with leaves, and the tree is loaded with apples. That’s the experience I’ve had with working in the garden: there’s no reason to be anxious or cautious about anything, life is so robust, it seems to come cascading, blind and green, and at times it is frightening, because we too are alive, but we live in what amounts to a controlled environment, which makes us fear what is blind, wild, chaotic, stretching towards the sun, but most often also beautiful, in a deeper way than purely visual, for the soil smells of rot and darkness, teems with scuttling beetles and convulsing worms, the flower stalks are juicy, their petals brim with scents, and the air, cold and sharp, warm and humid, filled with sunrays or rain, lies against the skin, accustomed to the indoors, like a soothing compress of hereness.”

A soothing compress of hereness. This is what flowers are to me. And this is why I want them to be wild and thorny and richly scented – themselves. I want them to speak of the rotting dark soil from which they come. The harsh sun which they grown under. I want them to drop their crunchy leaves on my floor. I am not interested in perfectly thornless and scentless hot-house grown flowers flown in from the other side of the world. I want to feel them coming at me, cascading, blind and green. Wild and chaotic and sure. This is beauty to me.

I want them to speak of the rotting dark soil from which they come.

Annabelle Hickson
Mother and three children
Image credit: Pip Williams from The Real Deal Photography

And this was why I loved playing with flowers as a child – why all children do – even though I didn’t have the words for it then.  But as a child you don’t need words to describe your feelings about being immersed in nature. You just want to be up a tree whenever you can. You don’t worry about making a mess with leaves on the floor, or being too rough with plants. You don’t need to know the names of plants. You don’t worry about whether your flower arrangements are good enough. 

I’m starting to remember these feelings again. And my children remind me every day. Instead of me teaching them about flowers and flower arranging, they teach me. It’s not the words we use or even the arrangements we make that matter. It’s just simply being part of the natural world around us and enjoying what it has to offer – that is where the satisfaction lies.

Annabelle Hickson in kitchen with kids
Image credit: Pip Williams from The Real Deal Photograhy

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