On the Ephemeral
Featuring Holly Carlisle, Founder of Rosegolden
In the preface of The Language of Flowers, Henrietta Dumont asks: "why is it that every landscape has its appropriate flowers, every nation its national flowers, every rural home its home flowers? Why do flowers enter and shed their perfume over every scene of life, from the cradle to the grave? Why are flowers made to utter all voices of joy and sorrow in all varying scenes, from the chaplet that adorns the bride to the votive wreath that blooms over the tomb?"
Here, we draw from Holly Carlisle's practice and lived experience to understand how floral arrangements reignite our relationship with the natural world. We turn our gaze inwards, exploring the role of changing seasons in our youth and contemplate what we can gain from renewing our curiosity with the rhythms of our surrounding environment. What do florals tell us about vitality, fluidity and resilience? What does the lived nature of such symbols provoke in us?
Essay Chynna Lao
Images Edana Isobel Jamora
Retouching Ara Park
"I came across a hollyhock recently in France that was growing up out of cracks in between cobblestones. It struck me how flowers, like people, can not only survive the harshest conditions, but continue to grow as well."
As children, seasonal shifts are momentous. Summer is sticky and wet like the sugary remnants of a popsicle between fingers or sand in hair and on skin as you rise from underneath an ocean’s swell. Autumn is reminiscent of a gradual, undulating sadness, of longing to see neighbourhood friends, the confusion of transitional clothing, rain-soaked windshields and damp swing sets. Wintertime involves frosted sojourns to ice rinks, snow days and the satisfying warmth of hot cocoa on chill-struck lips. And then there is springtime; the ecstasy and novelty of the first seasonal heat enlivens and invigorates. We await family trips to nearby parks, unwrapping glad-wrapped sandwiches among vibrant wisteria trees.
For Holly, childhood meant feeling deeply connected to the changing seasons. Much of her time was spent traversing her intimate surrounds to collect daffodil and buttercup blooms to display in her family home. Growing up on a wooded property in Birmingham, Alabama, she used to venture into the woods to build makeshift houses for fairies, and gathered pinecones, branches and berries to decorate the holiday table and mantle. “I’ve always been very connected to nature,” says Holly. “Looking back on that now I smile because I can see that I do the exact same thing with my arrangements. They are little worlds, little environments, little nests. They all have a narrative. I guess like so many things, it all goes back to childhood.”
With her work at Rosegolden, Holly tries to reignite this sense of childlike wonder. Cut foliage, grasses and weeds are incorporated into her compositions in order to cultivate a feeling of “union with nature’s ever-changing moods.” She tells us, “I always aim to use some elements from the natural environment so that the arrangement fits into whatever seasonal moment I happen to be observing.”
And in working with florals, Holly is able to experience the natural world differently. Interact with flowers long enough and you become much more observant and curious about the environment that surrounds you. “I’ve started a small cutting garden and look forward to seeing what pops up each season,” she tells us. “One thing that has surprised me is my love of dead flowers, even more specifically, my love for watching them fade from their most open and vital to their most fragile when they have dried up.”
Floral arrangements are “a way of reminding people of how it feels to be in union with the natural world” – of its fluidity, its vitality and ultimately, its resilience. “Wild flowers, foliage and grasses are almost always blooming around us no matter where we live or how we live. I came across a hollyhock recently in France that was growing up out of cracks in between cobblestones. It struck me how flowers, like people, can not only survive the harshest conditions, but continue to grow as well.”
Yet flowers are also fleeting. “Flowers are nature's complete works of art, each stem a harmonious expression of colour, line shape, texture and balance.” They have the unique capacity to stir the senses, evoke memories and imbue a vibrancy to a space, yet our relationship with them is fundamentally temporary. “I tend to think not of selling flowers but [of] selling an encounter with natural beauty and thoughtful design,” says Holly. Because when we receive flowers, what we ultimately receive is an interaction. We experience their sensorial beauty and are reminded of the wonder that grows around us. Floral arrangements are an elevation of the overlooked. Their fleeting vibrancy implores us to gaze deeper.