Thrills of Frills
One may wonder why I carry carnations at my store, when it’s clear that generally the purchasing public in our fashionable town is quite disdainful of them, even though many designers have in recent years done extravagant and stylish things with them.
It’s like this: When you’ve been going to the flower market for years, you can get a little blasé about even the more exotic sorts of flora. I see a lot of flowers that for one reason or another don’t interest me on a given day….I picture them behaving badly, as they might have in the past; I imagine them dead; they look listless and bored and couldn’t care less about whether or not I covet them.
But then I espy a block of dianthus caryophyllus, a chunk of saturated color that when you look down on it is uninterrupted by foliage. (You may think the carnations are on the floor because they are thought not to rise to the level of a table, but the wise wholesalers know that to look at this field from above is a revelation.) Now as I take in all that richness I know I have at last found something I can purchase with sincerity; it’s just a matter of choosing the palette, and selecting some finer points of texture. Carnations are sold in bunches of 20 stems, which means I’ll be buying at least 60 stems because, as it is when making a painting, the colors are calling out their preferences of association.
Once back at the shop, they are lovingly cleaned and processed, and then we all –the flock of carnations and I– wait together to see how many people might be susceptible to meditating on them.
Here is what to observe:
1. The color is nothing short of gorgeous.
2. The color saturation, for a flower, is peculiarly intense.
3. The edge of each petal is a ruffle, or at the very least, a flounce.
4. There are 5 gagillion petals on each flower.
5. If the flower opens all the way (and with a little warmth it will), it will reveal its darling curlicues.
6. Look from below: the calyx is a fairy bustier of the most beautiful green, or green blushed with rose madder.
7. The stem offers a convenient breaking point every few inches, in case you want to spontaneously put it in your hair or buttonhole and you have no knife or secateurs handy.
8. The blade-like leaves stand upright and patient at each joint. They wouldn’t presume to ask for too much water, but sacrifice it to the bloom without showing so much as a wrinkle.
9. The smell is spicy. If you were among those who have blamed the carnation for how a few bland captains of the floral industry misused and abused this poor flower during the anti-beauty madness of mid-century, perhaps after this meditation you will really see the lovely and wondrous thing before you.
To care for the cut carnation, prepare a vase-ful of clean water and a teaspoon of sugar or flower food. (If you have purchased them from my shop I have already conditioned them with hot water, so cool water is fine.) Cut each stem at an angle with a sharp knife or clippers. Put the stem in the water immediately after cutting. Provide a little natural light to encourage opening, but avoid hot direct sun, especially through glass. Change the water when it begins to cloud, and re-cut the stems whenever you change the water. For maximum wow factor, buy at least 12, cut them short and arrange them snugly. Enjoy them for about 2 weeks, during which time you must expound upon their virtues should you hear someone say, as you inevitably will: “I don’t like carnations”.