In ancient times much of the world paused from their work to celebrate flowers. The Roman Goddess Flora was celebrated in the spring. A Maypole was erected,with ribbons streaming down, hands reached up and the dancing began. Young women wore crowns of flowers in their hair. The beauty of life, flowers and fertility was thoroughly celebrated with the hope of a great harvest in the Fall. The celebration lasted several days with games, performances, feasting and drinking.
Flowers represent the promise of food, the symbol of life. What began as a celebration of a Roman Goddess spread across Europe to the Celts, the French, the Scandinavians, all reveled in the joy of spring and flowers. The immigrants arriving in the Americas brought the celebration with them and the dancing began here. Then the Puritans got down on dancing and the partying ended. Even the May Baskets, a sweet token of joy left anonymously at friends & neighbors door faded away, and May Day came to represent a labor movement and the communist party.
Loren Eiseley, wrote “Flowers changed the face of the planet, without them the world we know would never have existed.” (How Flowers Changed the World.) Flowers proceed the fruit, the nut, the grain, our very existence depends on the flower. So where are today’s great celebrations of Flora?
Floriade a festival of flowers occurs in the Netherlands every 10 years. This six month exposition spread over 163 acres highlights the contributions of growers and all related workers in the horticultural field from all around the world. This a celebration of flowers, fruits, nuts, vegetables, feasting, dancing and theatrical performances.
The Netherlands is a small country but it holds a significant place in the world of horticulture. Since the 1500’s when their explorers circled the world to find unique plants and flowers bringing them home to the first botanical garden in Leiden, horticulture has been revered. Today the Netherlands leads the world in floral development. There is computerized grading and x-ray evaluation for sorting of blooms, detailing the age and quality of the bloom, a world market auction and transport for delivery of fresh flowers.
The Floriade exposition features five themed worlds: Relax & Heal, Educate & Innovate, Green Engine, Environment and World Show Stage.
The Relax & Heal world highlights the ability of nature to soothe our stresses, nurture our spirit and moderate the ups and downs of life. Zen, Spa, Chi, and green illustrate the value of having a bit of nature in the workplace, the home and the community.
Education and Innovation feature new and improved products from forests, to sprouts, to packaging and distribution of fresh vegetables. Greenhouse innovations, hydroponic growing and fewer pesticides are all part of the highlights in this area. Growers claim improved taste and provide samples of tomatoes, beet sprouts and cheese.
Here, I discovered the Bulgarian production of rose oil, brandy, cream, and jam. Exquisite wood flooring and siding from Estonia are showcased. Spanish olives, oil, and wine are featured. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ceylon and many more countries share their gardens styles, their crops and their culture.
The Green Engine highlights the beauty of flowers, their variety, the contribution to the special moments of our lives. Floral design, orchids, and a spectacle of flowers surprises you at every turn.
The Environment features a lane of garden cultures, highlighting model garden styles and inspiration. A walk through here makes a gardener want to start over and create an entirely new garden outside their back door.
The World stage emphasizes theatre and the arts on its outdoor stage. Performances from around the world are showcased. In addition there are performances throughout the park like the stilt walkers gracefully dancing among the flowers. Stilt walkers were used to harvest the hops crop in years past. Fanciful dancers dressed to imitate stalks of white asparagus celebrate the new crop.
If you are a gardener this celebration is worth the trip. If you aren’t headed to Europe a Floriade festival is celebrated in Australia every year during the Southern Hemisphere spring of September and October.
If you aren’t out the door to a Floriade, then travel to the door of a dear friend or neighbor and leave a May Day Basket in celebration of flowers. btw, I can’t be certain the opening photo of the sculpture of the female form is actually Flora, however it is in the city hall of Funchal, Madeira, the island of flowers. Who else could it be?
Originally published in Roots and Shoots http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/mgcentral/uploads/May2012.pdf