If you are a man, chances are you know nothing about flowers. Sure, you appreciate them as G-d’s creations, the same way you appreciate a rhinoceros or an ostrich, but chances are you’re not going to bring home a rhinoceros or an ostrich to put on your holiday table. But sometimes you have to buy flowers anyway, like on an anniversary or the holiday of Shavuot for example, and frankly, they scare you. For one thing, they all look pretty much alike. The only ones you can actually recognize by name are roses, and that’s because you remember learning about the War of the Roses when you were in high school.
It is for this reason that I have put together a beginners’ Q&A column about flowers, using questions sent in by actual husbands via telepathy, because they were all too scared to ask me in person. Or else I just made them up.
I have put together a beginners’ Q&A column about flowers, using questions sent in by actual husbands via telepathy
(AUTHOR’S QUALIFICATION TO WRITE THIS COLUMN: The author has been married for over five years, during which he has bought flowers more than eight times. .)
Q: What exactly is the appeal of flowers?
A: Flowers are pretty, and they smell nice, and are relatively inexpensive compared to jewelry, except that jewelry lasts for years and years and eventually gets fought over by your children, whereas flowers sometimes die on the way home from the store.
Q: They seem like a waste of money, don’t they? How about I buy something that actually lasts, like another vase?
A: Actually, the fact that flowers die works out in your favor. You’ll never hear anyone say, “Let’s not get them flowers, they already have flowers.”
Q: What type of flowers should I buy?
A: In general, if you buy flowers every Friday on the way home from work, you can probably get away with flowers that will last for a couple of days, whereas if you buy flowers once a year, they had better last you at least until the next Shavuot. Or else you can do what I do, which is go into the flower shop and ask “What can I get for X dollars?” Florists are used to dealing with clueless husbands, and will cheerfully point you toward a bouquet that does not appear to have any actual flowers on it. That’s how you know it’s time to up your price range.
Q: What is the difference between buying flowers from a florist and buying them from a street vendor?
A: About thirty-five dollars.
Q: No, I mean a real difference.
A: Okay. Street flowers usually last about two days.
Q: Shavuot is two days.
A: What are you saying?
Q: How about the planting flowers they have for sale at Home Depot? Can I just buy those? They last longer.
A: Okay. But good luck explaining this to your wife.
Q: I’m not buying the flowers for my wife. I’m buying them for Shavuot.
A: No, you’re buying them for your wife. Shavuot or not, you’re still going to come home from the store and say, “Look, I brought you flowers!” Single college guys don’t buy flowers for their dorm rooms for Shavuot. At best, they spray around a can of floral scented room freshener.
Q: How long will my flowers last out of the water?
A: Not very. Once you buy your flowers, you’re going to want to get home as soon as possible. Make irresponsible traffic decisions if you have to. If a cop pulls you over, just explain that you have flowers in the back seat, and then ask if you can please have a police escort to your home.
A: Really. I remember how one year it was about ninety-five degrees on the afternoon before Shavuot, and I’d had the idea to buy Italian ices for the holiday, but I had to make a choice between letting the ices sit in the hot car while I stood in line for flowers, or letting the flowers sit in the car while I ran into the supermarket.
Q: So what did you do?
A: I bought the ices first, and then took them into the flower shop with me, and spent a lot of my waiting time standing casually inside the flower refrigerator and pretending to have a genuine interest in browsing through the flowers, and at the end I just asked them for suggestions anyway.
Q: What do I do with the flowers once I get them home?
A: Every time I buy my wife flowers, she carefully cuts a piece off the bottom of each stem, at an angle, before she puts them in the water. I had no idea you were supposed to do this. I would just plop them in the water, and they would be sitting in the vase haphazardly, with the buds perched about three and a half feet off the table.
Q: I heard that different flowers are supposed to send different messages to the receiver. Is there any truth to this?
A: Yes. In Victorian times, people used flowers to convey secret messages to each other. Some flowers signified friendship or devotion, while others signified hatred or war or even death. “Dear France. We hate you. Have some flowers.”
IMPORTANT NOTE TO WOMEN: Nowadays, most of these meanings have fallen by the wayside, so if you ever receive flowers, don’t read too much into it, or you may end up starting a war. There is no way your husband knows what any of these flowers mean, and if you start yelling at him for getting you flowers, he will be more confused than he has ever been in his life. “No wonder they were so cheap.”
Q: Can you give some examples as to what some of these flowers meant, none of which you are making up, of course?
Palm leaves (lulavim) = victory or success.
Wolf’s Bane = misanthropy. In other words, if you sent anyone wolf’s bane, it meant you disliked people in general.
Betony = surprise. “Surprise! I got you Betony!”
Cactus = endurance. If someone was sick, you would give him a cactus, and it would sit on his nightstand so he’d be afraid to reach for the orange juice.
Oleander = caution. We’re guessing they put them into their appliance cartons with their instruction manuals.
Parsley = festivities. In other words, if you found parsley on the side of your plate, it meant you were at a simcha.
Q: What if I forget to buy flowers?
A: If you ever forget to buy flowers for a special occasion, don’t just buy them after the fact. Part of the point of flowers is to have them on display at the occasion, so that everybody can, in turn, say, “Oh. Flowers.” And now it’s too late. But you can buy apology flowers, though.
Q: What’s the difference?
A: About forty dollars.
(PS. Yellow roses mean, “I’m sorry.”)
This article is excerpted from Mordechai’s book “A Clever Title Goes Here” which can be purchased online here.