As one who practices Kado, or The Way of Flowers, I believe in slow—as in Slow down and grow your own flowers. More importantly, notice them (really notice them), create with them, meditate on them, become like them. I call this shift in nature consciousness The Beyond Slow Flower Movement, a style of living that disappeared somewhere back in antiquity, before we started buying imported roses at Fred Meyer for $9.99 a dozen.
Much like the Slow Food Movement, which emphasizes growing your own food, sustainably and organically, cooking it without microwaves—or not cooking it at all, as “raw” foodists do—and taking the time to create beautiful, healthy and delicious meals, The Slow Flower Movement calls us to plant and tend to flowers in an organic, sustainable, and life-affirming manner. In “Beyond Slow” we not only grow our own—or buy local—we create a flower “meal” using the art of ikebana (Japanese Flower Arranging) to honor the ingredients of flowers, leaves, and branches. We simultaneously contemplate how flowers mirror our own unique and life-affirming essence, and teach us the great lessons of patience, humility, and the beauty inherent in impermanence: cycles of beginning, maturing, ending, transforming.
Although growing your own plants maximizes the Beyond Slow flower benefits, not everyone has the space for a garden. The corner florist or big box store may be your only option for acquiring certain gems of nature. But there are other options. Consider community garden sites, patio planters, and curbside strips, not to mention urban and rural garden exchanges where those with soil and land trade for those with time and expertise. Who says you have to grow flowers in your backyard?
Of course even the most ardent “grow-your-own aficionado” will succumb at times to the allure of the ten dollar dozen. But to live and consume in this way is not my ideal, not what I aspire to keep doing, or promoting. Why? It is not in harmony with a “do no harm” principle, and I don’t learn anything about the environment, the seasons, the soil or myself when I rely on factory flower farms in Colombia, Ecuador or Southern California to provide me with my flower ingredients. I’d much rather plant, say, a red-flowering currant, which is native to my region and will thrive without chemicals or extra watering. This species will also provide joy when its perfect tubular flowers emerge in early summer. The hummingbirds will be joyful too.
I’m still learning about the importance of including indigenous plants into the garden landscape. When I moved from the city to a remote mountain top on a small island in the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know about the native plant movement, or even about gardening. I tried growing traditional plants used in ikebana. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t. Many succumbed to Arctic blasts that swooped down through Canada. Three years later, I’m still waiting for the ones that survived to mature. I’ve had to slow down, a lot. Even if I felt the urge to go out and buy a dozen roses for $9.99, I couldn’t.
Over time I met local botanists who taught me about northwest native plants, endangered plants, and native plant societies. I began to observe the growth patterns of native trees—shore pine and western hemlock—and fell in love with pine “candles” and lichen covered branches that have been “slowly” developing for decades.
In Beyond Slow the Kado practitioner’s first choice is to use a fallen limb, one blown down by a strong wind—as monks did in ancient Japan. At the slightly less slow level, we might acquire branches from the annual pruning of the neighbor’s fruit orchard, or selectively and honorably take one or two branches from a tree in the forest while preserving its beauty and integrity—the tenet of viewing everything as sacred, a principle set forth in many spiritual traditions.
When planting and cultivating your own flower arranging materials, the rewards are multiplied. Like a friend, I’ll get to know the plant’s personality and learn to appreciate its creative potential. I’ll feel sad if it runs into trouble with disease, drought or the elements; and if it dies, I’ll mourn its loss. I wouldn’t feel that way about a flower or branch or leaf I bought at a store; I’d have nothing of myself invested in its life. This is the beauty of slowing down, of waiting for a tree or bush to mature, or planting a packet of annual seeds or a bag of bulbs and reaping the bounty from July to the end of October.
When I can’t wait for maturing shrubs, I count on my annuals. All summer long, I share with birds, bees and unknown bugs, sunflowers, dahlias, gladioli, zinnias and cosmos; then I carry buckets of these jewels into my ikebana classes for creative fun. These flowers are easy and rewarding. They are not fussy or “special,” but simple and humble. And what humility we can learn from a flower we’ve watched grow from a tiny seed to a tall stately flower, to the prime of its life, through a short season of glory, without even a peep of self-congratulations before it hangs its head in readiness for its final demise without one complaint or regret. This is why I ask my students to silently contemplate their flowers before arranging.
When I can grow my own flowers in an organic and sustainable way, I feel that I’m participating in the harmony of nature’s cycles. I’m not wounding the eco-system or exploiting others. Of course, if all of us grew and arranged our own flowers, we could potentially put hundreds of flower growers, florists, and importers out of work. Is there any way to get it right in our complex world of economic interdependency?
Probably not. But I maintain that slowing down is better than speeding up; and that creating with ‘Ivory Prince’ hellebore blooms from your snow-covered garden is more deeply rewarding than buying a bundle of out of season tulips just flown in from Mexico.
Joan D. Stamm is the author of the award-winning book, Heaven and Earth are Flowers: Reflections on Ikebana and Buddhism, Wisdom Publications (2010). She lives on Orcas Island where she teaches ikebana as a contemplative art. Her website is www.JoanDStamm.com.