A Literary Love of Flowers

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So, I think one of the perks, if not one of the outright goals, of educating little kids yourself at home is that you get to choose what to stuff into their little brains. Maybe that sounds nefarious, but aren’t the early years mostly just about learning how to learn, and learning to love learning? That’s why I used a saint-based curriculum this year for Police Preschool and it’s why as the school year winds down we are focusing on nature and birds and most of all, flowers.

Because maybe someday Pippin will be a police officer and Scout will be something totally depressing, like a dentist, but they’ll keep these memories of the difference between a dandelion and a daffodil and the way robins dance beside the turned-up garden soil and how grape hyacinth smells like Concord grapes (and maybe a fact or two about St Thérèse, too).

And on our quest, there are plenty of books to light this love of flowers.

OK, I better get this out of the way: these aren’t my only copies of Anne of Green Gables, just the prettiest ones.

I don’t know if I could find a favorite floral passage in the Anne books, crammed as they are with blossoms. Montgomery starts up with her botanical observations pretty immediately and we learn quite soon how important flowers are to Anne Shirley as she exclaims:

“[O]h Mr. Cuthbert! Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!! Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!!!”

[…]

The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

Its beauty seemed to strike the child dumb. […]

“I guess you’re feeling pretty tired and hungry,” Matthew ventured to say at last, accounting for her long visitation of dumbness with the only reason he could think of. “But we haven’t very far to go now—only another mile.”

She came out of her reverie with a deep sigh and looked at him with the dreamy gaze of a soul that had been wondering afar, star-led.

Years later, as the book closes, again Montgomery returns to her floral theme, this time calmer and more mature but nonetheless rapturous:

Anne went to the little Avonlea graveyard the next evening to put fresh flowers [spoiler?] and water the Scotch rosebush. She lingered there until dusk, liking the peace and calm of the little place, with its poplars whose rustle was like low, friendly speech, and its whispering grasses growing at will among the graves. […] The beauty of it all thrilled Anne’s heart, and she gratefully opened the gates of her soul to it.

Flowers are an opportunity for a direct encounter with sublime beauty in Anne’s world, and though her response grows less effusive over time, she is nonetheless buoyed by the “flowers of quiet happiness” her story’s conclusion promises.

In The Secret Garden, the flowers are untamed and the agents of their blossoming are children like the child I was upon first reading. I found myself particularly fascinated by Dickon:

Everybody knows him. Dickon’s wanderin’ about everywhere. Th’ very blackberries an’ heather-bells knows him. I warrant th’ foxes shows him where their cubs lies an’ th’ skylarks doesn’t hide their nests from him.

It was delicious for me, a child of the North Florida piney woods to envision heather-bells, daffodils, snowdrops — many of which I can plant in my garden now but which were only half-imagined for me then, as I read about foxgloves knowing only honeysuckle.

I offer other books, too. Here are a few that have been specially recommended to me. I especially love Brambly Hedge.

What books have been foundational in your love of flowers, and your children’s? What am I missing?

(Note: Usborne has some lovely picture book editions of classics, including Illustrated Classics’ Enchanting Stories for Young Readerswith The Secret Garden and this Anne of Green Gablespicture book retelling. Want to buy them from my friend? This is not a sponsored post. I just like them.)

9 thoughts on “A Literary Love of Flowers

  1. We just finished “The Secret Garden”! Well, truth be told, Ephraim wanted to read the last three chapters at bedtime and ended up falling asleep pretty much at the beginning of the last chapter, so he understandably wants to read that chapter again.

    I can’t say it is promoting a love of wildflowers as much as it promotes a love of nature study, but have you read “The Trumpet of the Swan” to Pippin yet? Ephraim very much enjoyed it and wants to read it again.

    Personally, I just started reading Teale’s “North With the Spring,” and I’ve enjoyed reading his beautifully descriptive language of the flowers.

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  2. You must read Miss Rumphius! It’s such a charming book. I read it over and over to my 3.5 yr old boy. After that he saw I was reading Anne of Green Gables (there are flowers on the cover) and he asked me if the flowers were lupines. 🙂 We are flower lovers as well.

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    • I’m not sure I’d be able to read either Anne or Secret Garden aloud to my 5.5 year old in their regular form. I tried him on the audiobook of SG and he said it was too scary, which I guess with parental death and gloom is kind of fair? (He is afraid of approximately everything, though.) And Anne takes forever — like, three chapters — before anything happens. I know I read both by myself at 9 but I’m sure some kids would enjoy them younger.

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  3. Oh I can so relate! It was literature that sparked my love of flowers and desire for the quintessential English cottage garden. Most recently, Rumer Godden’s China Court, which I first read a.few years back and fell deeply in love with the garden in the book, and the sense of place it evoked. Very similar to a Montgomery feel!

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