Before writing The Memories of Us, my relationship with flowers was probably not dissimilar to that of most people—I considered them beautiful, loved receiving them and enjoyed buying them for loved ones on special occasions. However, I had given very little thought to where our fresh blooms come from or how people from all over the globe are drawn to flowers for varying reasons. As a symbol of love and affection, for prayer, for celebration, for simple enjoyment, flowers give us a way to communicate our feelings.
The early stages of my novel research took me on road trips to a number of flower farms where I spent time talking to growers as I wandered through fields of peonies, dahlias, roses and tulips, learning about things like planting windows and harvesting time frames. It was at this time that I stumbled upon a growing international floral movement, referred to as ‘Slow Flower’, comprised of a collective of small-scale, local flower farmers committed to producing low-tox, sustainable blooms with a ‘grown-not-flown’ philosophy.
There was something magical about my visits to my local flower farms, but I wanted to take the research one step further. Whenever I’m working on a novel, I like to experience my character’s world as closely as possible. Before I knew it, I’d started creating my own cut flower garden in my suburban backyard, beginning with a selection of roses (mainly David Austins) and peonies, before trying my hand at growing flamboyant parrot tulips, ranunculi and showy dahlias. At one point, I even dug up the vegetable patch and planted flowers in it instead. Then there was the anticipation of waiting for spring and the pop of colour it would bring to my garden.
Once I started working with the flowers, I would be able to get to know Gracie, the main character of my story, much more intimately, something really important to me as a novelist. I like to try to experience the world as my character does, and immersing myself into a botanical world seemed like a perfect opportunity to get to know Gracie better.
The Memories of Us follows Gracie’s journey, after she is involved in an accident which leaves her unable to recall most of the elements of her past including her late mother and her fiancé Blake who she is supposed to be marrying in three months. She attempts to revive an abandoned flower farm in an effort to reconnect with the forgotten memories of her late mother and discover her true self.
It was the after-effects of creating my own cut flower garden that gave me extra insight into the beauty of flowers and the special role they can play in our lives. When my first flush of David Austins arrived, I had more flowers available for cutting than I knew what to do with. So I started giving them away to family and friends. And as I proffered clutches of flowers to family, friends and acquaintances, I started to witness the way a mixed bunch had the power to elicit a smile for both the giver and receiver. It wasn’t only in the effusive thanks I received from those around me that made me realise how special flowers were, but the way I was able to witness people’s feelings. Some would hold the armfuls of flowers close to their chests, their eyes alight, smiles of appreciation on their faces. Others would take them home and share photos of them displayed in prime position. It was evident to me that handing over these bouquets were making people feel not only grateful, but special.
My feelings about the power of flowers eliciting positive emotion was confirmed when I came across Jeannette Haviland-Jones’ study, An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers, in which she found that “women who received flowers reported more positive moods three days later.”
They make me feel good. They make me feel happy. And they help me appreciate nature in a way I never did before.
On a personal level, handling flowers, spending time outdoors with my hands in the dirt, surrounded by a garden of colour, my own connection with blooms has deepened. Now that I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by flowers, I can attest to the positive emotions I experience by having them in my garden and home. They make me feel good. They make me feel happy. And they help me appreciate nature in a way I never did before.
Like Tilly, the eccentric flower seller in the novel, says, ‘It’s their unseen beauty that makes the flowers special. They’ve got the power to change the circumstances of someone’s life. What can’t be seen is what makes them beautiful.’
I couldn’t agree with her more.