Thursday, July 10, 2008

What flowers like

I read an article some years ago that stated it had been proven that plants grow better when we talk to them (nicely of course), which many gardeners knew already. Not only that (said the article) but if a plant is harmed – say, by burning a leaf - the other plants in the room can ‘feel’ it. And, believe it or not, the plants can even sense who harmed them and they can recognize that person again when he or she walks into the room. I find that pretty amazing. What will they be telling us next? That the love and care we lavish on our plants is reciprocated by them in mysterious ways that have a subtle influence on our health and well-being? Some gardeners would probably say that that is certainly true.

Be that as it may, gardening does tune us into the beauty and the cycles of nature, and implies and expresses a love and respect for living things, all of which can only do us good. And there is no room, be it ever so humble, that cannot be transformed by a plant or two; no spirit so worn that it cannot be lifted by the sight of flowers.
Having read this article about the incredible sensitivity of flowers, I was not in the least surprised to find Lin Yutang (quoting from a treatise by Yuan Chunglang) talking about ‘conditions that please flowers’ in his book ‘The Importance of Living’:

Conditions that please flowers:

A clear window
A clean room
Antique tripods
Sung ink-stones
“Pine waves” and river sounds
The owner loving hobbies and poetry
Visiting monk understands tea
A native of Chichow arrives with wine
Guests in the room are exquisite
Many flowers in bloom
A carefree friend has arrived
Copying books on flower cultivation
Kettle sings deep at night
Wife and concubines editing stories of flowers

Lin Yutang goes on to quote 24 ‘conditions humiliating to flowers’, of which I list a selection:

Conditions humiliating to flowers:

The owner constantly seeing guests
A stupid servant constantly putting in branches, upsetting the arrangement
Common monks talking zen
Dogs fighting before the window
Ugly women plucking flowers and decorating their hair with them
Discussing people’s official promotion and demotion
False expressions of love
Poems written for courtesy
Flowers in full bloom before one has paid his debts
The family asking for accounts
Writing poems by consulting rhyming dictionaries
Books in bad condition lying about
Trailing marks of slime left by snails
Servants lying about
Wine runs out after one begins to play wine games
Being neighbour to wine shops
A piece of writing with phrases like the “purple morning air” (common in imperial eulogies) on the desk

From these lists we can see that flowers are not only sensitive but have very good taste, if we will only listen to their wisdom, as the ancients listened. Of course, we may ask is it the flowers’ wisdom or is it our wisdom? Perhaps it is a bit of both?

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond