Pamela Whitaker, MA, PhD
Course Director, MSc Art Psychotherapy, Ulster University, Belfast School of Art, Northern Ireland
Florescence refers to flowering, a changing situation and development. Flowers are expressions of life support and contribute to both biodiversity and human vigour. Human aesthetic correspondences to flowers include the capacity to identify with flower species that become them. The ephemeral nature of flowers is an opportunity to reflect upon metamorphosis as a human and botanical experience. As an art material, flowers evoke experiences of sensory absorption and facilitate attunement to temporality, blossoming attributes and decomposition.
Keywords: flowers, floral therapy, the art of flowers, artists and flowers
A floral tribute
Flowers changed everything. The angiosperms, as botanists call plants that form flowers and then encased seeds, appeared during the Cretaceous period (145 to 66 million years ago) and they spread over the earth with stunning rapidity...With the advent of the flower, whole new levels of complexity come into the world: more interdependence, more information, more communication, more experimentation. [3, p. 117]
Flowers as life supports have been considered one of the pinnacles of evolution. They are significant for botanical, aesthetic, cultural, therapeutic and health influences. Flowers associate to the earth’s history, human history and our own kinship and personal annals. Our wellness is intrinsically aligned with the state of the natural world in terms of developing eco-system health, resilience, regeneration and sustainability . As a symbol, flowers speak to us in terms of their communication of love, mourning, connection, and the commemoration of life events. Flowers can act as therapeutic art media, facilitating personification in the way our story is represented through their form, shape, color or fragrance. In art and therapy, flowers represent life cycles and rites of passage, they mark occasions with their blossoming and generate a focus for contemplation (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Joshua Werber (2022). The Power of Wearing Flowers. Floral tete-a-tete, floral headpieces styled for the T Magazine, New York Times [Floral headpieces] http://www.joshuawerber.com/floral-tete-a-tete
Note: Joshua Werber is a florist who specializes in floral headpieces as a form of wearable art.
Flowers are also there for us in their symmetry, both in their composition and their arrangement through designs that create a balanced production. Flowers entangle humans to nature through their cultural resonance. “The blossoms of the earthly plant are the indisputable symbols of spirit; they point beyond themselves to the ideal of light, reason, and consciousness” [18, p. 61]. Flowers signify a becoming, and with them we form alliances that traverse species . The embodied aesthetics of flowers transform our mood, perception and inform our physical sense of pleasure and sensory appreciation. Michael Pollan notes our disposition quickening around flowers—their vitality and short-lived blossoming exerting a pull to immediacy. “The flowering garden is a place you immediately sense is thick with information...It’s an oddly sociable, public sort of place in which species seem eager to give one another the time of day” .
Blossoms offer an opportunity to experience an embodied and relational form of aesthetics through multi-sensory impacts in relation to their fragrance, visual characteristics and colour . As cultivators and caretakers of flowers we tend to their personal and cultural associations to meaning. Propagating flowers generates nature, and gardening is an artistry that creates a living installation and immersive physical and perceptual experiencing. Gardeners are artists and growing flowers is both ecological and community building. Flower gardens in public spaces are a gathering point, a place of connection between people who come together for their aesthetic and sensory nourishment. Flowers can encourage pride of place and offer a way to be with people in parks, civic spaces and community gardens.
Elaine Scarry  interprets imagination as a flowering evoked through our engagement with the scent and composition of flowers themselves. There is a sense of localization as physical impression lingers in the form of captivation that interiorize the flower’s “transitory exactness” (p. 107). Scarry perceives flowers as the basis for imaginal experiences “the interior brushing of one image against another, is the way it feels when two petals touch each other” [26, p. 109]. Flowers conjure associations to beauty, aesthetic forms, and symbols of experiences that evoke memory and a sense of occasion. Whether as a commemoration, celebration or the making of a display, flowers make a statement.
By designating a distinctive milieu, flowers are transitional and often denote a rite of passage or significant life event . Flowers imply a life cycle and are imbued with personal meaning. A bouquet, or floral arrangement composes color, shapes and textures into a design of proximity. The collections often come together within a vessel that holds. The display accompanies life and can be considered a focal point around which experience is produced. A flower arrangement encourages our close observation of each flower’s features as an appreciation of how the display came together. It is also an observation of time passage. The display is not fixed, but transforming, and there is an appreciation of movement and the passing from one state to another. Flowers bestow rich cultural references and meaning. Where they originated and how they were grown suggest ethical links to place and sustainability. They are an artistic offering grown in order to assemble a centrepiece for the depiction of both growth and decline. The lifespan of a floral display is contingent on environmental conditions and caretaking. Flower cultivation has spanned over 5 000 years and so flowers have an ancient significance to the pleasure they bring and the satisfying sensory affects they offer . These are also attributes of human development within a floral ecology of colours, shapes and scents .
The preservation of flowers within an herbarium is devoted to the cataloguing of specimens. As a botanical history, flowers have relevance for the ordering of life into a legacy collection. Flowers may denote an association to a life period that has relevance and impact. Flowers symbolise life data and form a memorialisation of particular experiences. They are immersive and relate to sensory activation and potentially the quest to grow and blossom . They remember a past, honour the present, and denote a flowering that is the future.
The propagation of flowers can be a therapeutic component of horticultural therapy, occupational therapy, ecotherapy and art therapy. Floral therapy is a term that denotes the interdisciplinary affiliation between these professions and has contributed evidence to the mental health benefits attributed to floral design. Floristry may be utilised for artistic expression, self-efficacy, pain management and the enhancement of mood and capacity .
A floral arrangement health initiative has been associated with cognitive and communication benefits in relation to stroke and traumatic brain injury . Lagreze  notes the potential of flowers to become an antidote for anxiety, facilitating validation in the unique way they are situated as a focus for mindfulness and self-care. Within one example of an adult art therapy group flowers became an accessible and relevant reference for the sharing of life experiences. “The facilitator encouraged each participant to think of a vase that they could chose to represent their life, and to fill the vase up with what they needed in their life, using the flowers as representation” [11, p. 17]. In this example participants reported how flower arrangements personified their stories with more relevancy than fine art materials.
Gardens are a form of artmaking and flowers are an art material that can be harvested for assemblages, natural dying, pressing and for culinary and apothecary preparations. The apothecary garden has its origins in medieval history and represents a medicinal garden for cures and remedies. Flower remedies and herbal medicine also identify the restorative capacities of flowers. Medicinal flowers contain plant nutrients and antioxidants which reduce the risk of colds, cancer and heart disease . The Bach Flower Remedies are reported to restore emotional equilibrium, supporting a person’s potential to face their fears, live in the moment, reach out to others, and discover hope and joy.
Floromancy, fortune telling through the use of flowers, is a belief in the magic of flowers to predict a future and a person’s becoming. The emanations and energetic vibrations of flowers are also utilized in flower psychometry where they are selected and read as oracles to remedy and enlighten. In this milieu flowers are chosen in relation to a quest for knowledge and insight gained from the flower’s color, shape, and qualities to predict life’s manifestations. A flower, or an arrangement of flowers, can act as a conduit for the composition of a life story that is transformative . Intentionally arranging and selecting flowers is purposeful not only for their aesthetic value but for what it means in terms of bringing together flower influences for beneficial life effects.
Flowers as art materials are accessible and relatable and can be appreciated in relation to wellness and dignifying everyday living with a focal point. Flowers are there for us both in this sense of heightened emotion and nostalgia and also as a form of temporality marking a special occasion, milestone, or commemoration. There is an association to how flowers enhance recovery and uplift our mood . Flower artistry can be utilised in both the creative and healing arts, where the body and mind can be enlivened and enhanced by flowers as restorative agents. Positive emotions such as gratitude, hope, empathy, happiness, love, pride and peace are associated with flowers” [8, p. 3]. Flowers are intrinsic to the art of making special, promoting recovery and a positive outlook . The care of flowers is a cultivation for personal growth, nurturance and development.
Mochizuki-Kawai et al.  researched the effects of flower image viewing on stress recovery and reported a lowering of blood pressure, negative emotions and cortisol release. A flower image also reduces anxiety by offering a fixation point. A flower encouraged the deactivation of stress impacts in the amygdala-hippocampus areas of the brain through the captivation of attention and distraction away from stress activating situations . Arousal was decreased by viewing flowers, thereby enhancing recovery from adverse psychological and physiological responses. The results of this research associates with the attributes of attention restoration theory in compensating for prolonged directed attention . Attention restoration encourages a view of nature as an antidote for mental fatigue caused by extended concentration. A flower can replenish focus and encourage soft fascination which has a correlation to resilience and enhanced cognitive functioning . It is also a recuperation and an awareness of variation within nature—with flowers contributing to our perception of empathy and affiliation to the natural world as an expression of intersubjectivity and mutuality .
As a form of found or site-specific art making, flowers can nurture skills in cultivation, botany and design. Their growth requires planning and care, which are relatable therapeutic and artistic themes. A garden is prepared with thoughtful consideration; it is a horticultural production of land art or a living installation. The making of the garden is an intentional practice, a body-mind experience which bonds the creator to the outside world. It is the cultivation of nature for the effects of personal sensation and also for the implications of pollination and future harvests. The art of movement is also associated with flowers in terms of their propagation and in relation to seeking floral habitats. The impulse to gather flowers for aesthetic pleasure and sensory experience, has its place in childhood and beyond. We remember times past through a link with flowers that have adorned life events, milestones and rituals. Flowers also have a connection to gift giving whether provided by nature or by someone we know. There are sentiments attached to this giving that bestow abundance and connection, and flowers are reported to enhance mood long after being received .
The art of flowers
Flowers can be worn as adornments and act as talismanic forms for protection and cures. The traditions of healing associated with flowers relate to herbalism, folklore and divination . Frieda Kahlo wore flowers to signify life, fertility and regeneration. Her garden was the source of the flowers she wore for her self-portraits and still life paintings. She lived with the botanical heritage of Mexico as a tribute to its influence on her identity and artistry. She is famously quoted for saying that she painted flowers to preserve their life, to keep them alive despite their inevitable passing into death. Within her paintings, flowers are given prominence and represent a form of immortality, a symbolism of hope, and life force without end .
Death, memorialized through flowers, symbolises loss and also celebrates a life. As a tribute, and a consolation, the funeral bouquet pays homage to life that has passed. Becoming ultimately a memento mori—a flower arrangement of decomposition reminding us of death . Artist Anya Gallaccio has featured the art of decay in her installation of flowers in galleries that focus upon death and our attachment to ephemeral beauty (Figure 2). She profiles flowers as idealised commodities that depict the focus of our desires, but too quickly these romanticised forms transform into putrefaction. The organic matter of ourselves (and flowers) is aligned to decomposition. The themes of fragility and flux in Gallaccio’s practice showcase flowers as our life companions both in their beauty and in their despair .
Figure 2. Gallaccio, A. (2003). Preserve Beauty [Red gerbera flowers]. London: Thomas Dane Gallery.
Note: Anya Gallaccio is an artist who creates with organic matter in a state of transformation. She utilizes the process of entropy as an active agent of ephemerality and site-specific transfiguration.
Rebecca Louise Law is a contemporary artist known for her large-scale installations of flowers that are individually sewn and suspended. She creates as a painter, each flower a brushstroke contributing to an evocative surround that invites contemplation (Figure 3). This is nature re-made to disrupt the distractions of everyday life . Passersby are brought back to nature, stopped in their tracks, to view flowers in the process of drying and reforming.
A dried flower holds time. A fresh flower holds a moment, and both are equally special. The beauty of a dried flower is being able to revisit it and observe it as a preserved object of the earth, a perfect form of nature that holds on to its fragility. 
Law  encourages absorption and a physical immersion into her floral installations. They surround and invigorate as an all-encompassing experience of being cocooned in a florilegium or gathering of flowers within a commonplace of people . Her immense installations also celebrate the participation of people who bind flowers as communities of flower conveners and collaborative artists. Such compilations of flowers and people co-create floral epiphanies of abundance and awe.
Figure 3. Law, R.L. (2020a). Florilegium. https://www.rebeccalouiselaw.com/florilegium
Note: Rebecca Law creates floral installations for interactive experiencing that envelope each viewer in flowers, bringing them into contact with plant specimens and botanical collections.
Both Gallaccio and Law create with flowers to highlight a message about their consumption and impact as both representations of nature and consumerism. The flower as commodity is grown for its retail value, and its short life span is for purchase. Typically, flowers are obtained out of context, as a stylised bouquet out of synchronisation with their natural or geographical location. How flowers are grown for the floral industry signifies a form of production for commercialized sentimentality. Law considers her floral installations an antidote to floral atrophy and disposal: “I never saw dead natural material as waste. I think this is why I always struggled with floristry, with thousands of flowers being thrown away daily. I despaired” . Law dries and preservers flowers as a proclamation of sustainability.
Artist herman de vries (a biologist and naturalist) also arranges flowers as an intentional attunement with nature (Figure 4 and Figure 5). His appreciation of flowers, as pure botanical specimens, is a transpersonal quest. As forms of healing and social therapy, he presents flowers in abundance to be touched, smelt and held . His installations of flowers are medicinal cures for body and mind. As a remedy of restoration these flower arrangements compose us through our contemplation of their patterns, aroma, density and abundance . herman de vries collects plants and flowers for their representation of both life and “the active moment of perishing” , and his collections represent an archive of both passage and preservation.
Figure 4. Jockel, J. (2015)  To be all ways, herman de vires exhibition at the Dutch Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale. [Rose buds]. https://www.frieze.com/article/one-take-whole-earth
Figure 5. Santambrogio, G. (2017) . Rosa damascene by herman de vries [Rose buds]. The Dutch Pavillion, 56th Venice Biennale.
Note: Artist herman de vries experiences nature as art and assembles collections of plant specimens to form installations and archives of plant data for aesthetic and scientific study.
Floral designer Lewis Miller produces large scale street art flower bouquets within public thoroughfares (Figure 6). Miller, known as the Banksy of flowers, brings to life places often passed by in the course of urban passage . As punctuation marks in built up urban areas his floral interventions designate a sense of occasion and an opportunity for floral witnessing through his guerrilla artistry.
Miller’s impromptu performances of flowers, called Flower Flashes, are an offering of goodwill that is generous and uplifting. His floral designs occupy everyday scenes, and also become available as a form of gift giving and hospitality.
At its core Flower Flash is a testimony to the emotional impact of flowers, and the undeniable power they have in affecting daily life. Beyond celebrating all the good that flowers have to offer, the Flashes share other unspoken messages, such as sharing generosity, celebrating nature, and uniting communities—especially during times of stress or adversity...It quite literally is a friendly reminder to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and savour moments of natural beauty among the unexpected. 
Figure 6. Lewis Miller (2022). Flower flash: Spring awakening. [Flower bouquet]. New York: Trash can on 20th Street and Broadway.
Note: Lewis Miller is a garden designer who creates public art forms with flowers that are also freely available to passersby as a form of floral gift giving.
Coming into bloom
Figure 7. Gareth McConnell (2021). Dust, Flowers [Photography]. https://garethmcconnell.com/dust-flowers-2019/#1
Note: Gareth Mc Connell is a photographer who grew up within sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland and reflects on these experiences through flowers that denote his transformational experiences within youth rave culture 
Flowers can be planted, nurtured, selected, arranged, and preserved. As expressions of nature, artforms and cures they resonate with evocations of use. The purpose of this tribute is to designate the cultural and psychological significance of flowers as restorative remedies and as representations of the mind. “It seems that by the time the singular beauty of a flower in bloom can no longer pierce the veil of black or obsessive thoughts in a person’s mind, that mind’s connection to the sensual world has grown dangerously frayed.” [23, p. 64). In this regard, flowers assess our capacity to absorb and be inspired by botany as life potential. The ephemeral nature of flowers designates a passage of time, but also a focal point for contemplation and an affiliation to survival and the continuity of life.
Flowers are essential to biodiversity and the entanglement of species. Biodiversity is an interactive mutuality of people and their environments within the commons of shared landscapes. The therapeutic and aesthetic attributes of flowers bring us to life in the way they evoke restoration, memory and response. Flowers are mood altering “both dysphoric and euphoric” and “artists have to walk a little bit of a tightrope to ensure they’re not straying over into complete kitsch”  (Figure 7).
Within visual culture, horticulture and environmental therapies flowers are known to become us in the way they are cultural influencers and personal signifiers. Their temporality intensifies our experience in how they display our life stories in cycles of correspondences. The nature of flowers accompanies us as a life material that performs as a development of ontogenesis or our unfolding into our own evolution.
- Abram, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous. New York: Random House.
- Battle, L. (2014, June 7). Land art in lonely places. Financial Times.
- Dean, L. (2021). Nature’s hidden oracles. Godsfield.
- Flower Style (2022). Book review: With his botanical performance art, Lewis Miller asks us to stop and soak in the glow of his fantastical flower flashes. https://www.flower.style/good-reads/book-review-lewis-miller-flower-flash
- Gotthardt, A. (2019). Frida Kahlo’s garden is still thriving: Six decades after her death. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-frida-kahlos-garden-thriving-six-decades-death
- Grimberg, S. (2004-2005). Frida Kahlo’s still lifes. Women’s Art Journal, 30, 25-30.
- Hawthorne, M. (2018). The Banksy of floral design. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/26/the-banksy-of-floral-design
- Hosseini-Molla, S.M., Ahansaz-Salmasi, M. (2020). The recovery with nature and flowers, implications for the coronavirus disease pandemic. Social Determinants of Health, 16(1), 1-5.
- Huss, E., Yosef, K.B., & Zaccai, M. (2018). Humans’ relationship to flowers as an example of the multiple components of embodied aesthetics. Behavioral Sciences, 8(32). https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3ea6/2f76c946b673e72016a439b9d74a05a2613c.pdf?_ga=2.74218074.995186163.1645214821-1899737996.1645214821
- Jockel, J. (2015). To be all ways, herman de vires exhibition at the Dutch Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale. [Rose buds]. https://www.frieze.com/article/one-take-whole-earth
- Johnson, P. (2019). Development of a method: The use of flowers in group art therapy. (Master’s Thesis, Lesley University). Digital Commons @ Lesley. https://digitalcommons.lesley.edu/expressive_theses/223/
- Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0272494495900012
- Lagreze, K. (2019). Art therapy blossoms: Developing floral design in art therapy for adults with anxiety. [Master’s Thesis, Lesley University]. Digital Commons @ Lesley. https://digitalcommons.lesley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1197&context=expressive_theses
- Law, R.L. (2015). Outside: In. https://www.rebeccalouiselaw.com/artwork/outside-in-2
- Law, R.L. (2020a). Florilegium. https://www.rebeccalouiselaw.com/florilegium
- Law, R.L. (2020b). “I have always been in awe of nature”: Artist Rebecca Louise Law on the preciousness and power of flowers,” Artnet News. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/rebecca-louise-law-interview-1904110.
- Law, R.L. (2022). Rebecca Louise Law: Biography. https://www.rebeccalouiselaw.com/about
- Marder, M. (2013). Plant-thinking: A philosophy of vegetal life. New York: Columbia University Press.
- McConnell, G. (2021). Why flowers are essential for optimism. Frieze. https://www.frieze.com/article/gareth-mcconnell-flowers-art-essential-optimism
- Mochizuki-Kawai, H., Kotani, I., Mochizuki, S., & Yamakawa, Y. (2018). Structured floral arrangement program benefits in patients with neurocognitive disorder. Frontiers in Psychology. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01328/full
- Mochizuki-Kawai, H., Matsuda, I., & Mochizuki, S. (2020). Viewing a flower image provides automatic recovery effects after psychological stress. Journal of Environmental Psychology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494419304001
- Ohly, H., et al. (2016). Attention restoration theory: A systematic review of the attention restoration potential of exposure to natural environments. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10937404.2016.1196155
- Pollan, M. (2001). The botany of desire: A plant’s eye view of the world. New York: Random House.
- Richard, F. (September, 1998) Herman de vries. Artform. https://www.artforum.com/print/reviews/199807/herman-de-vries-51245
- Sanromán, L. (2013). The gardener, the farmer, the cook and the picture: Landscape in the work of Anya Gallaccio. In K. Schubert, N. Bryson, L. Sanromán, L., B. Fee, J. van Adrichem, & C. Wallis (Eds.), Anya Gallaccio (pp. 23-33). London: Ridinghouse.
- Santambrogio, G. (2017). Rosa damascene by herman de vries [Rose buds]. The Dutch Pavillion, 56th Venice Biennale.
- Scarry, E. (1997). Imagining flowers: Perceptual mimesis (particularly Delphinium). Representations, 57, 90-115.
- Tot Zover (2022). herman de vries: Passing. https://www.totzover.nl/english/exhibitions/herman-de-vries-passing/.
- World Health Organization. (2021). Compendium of WHO and other UN guidance on health and environment: Nature and Health. https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/who-compendium-on-health-and-
- Williams, K. (2020). Garden entanglement as ecological becoming: An arts-based diffractive methodology. Antistasis, 10(1), 40-57.
- Willmer, P. (2011). Pollination and floral ecology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Yarden, Y., Kabaha, A., Rosen, T., Avisar, I., Orbach, H., Amital, D., & Amital, H. (2019). The powers of flowers: Evaluating the impact of floral therapy on pain and psychiatric symptoms in fibromyalgia, The Israel Medical Association Journal, 21(7), 449-453. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335774930_The_Powers_of_Flowers
Reference for citations
Whitaker, R. (2022). Florescence. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 3(2). [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru (d/m/y)
Writing his name without capital letters, signifies for herman de vries a being with nature, a humility and a form of anti-hierarchical expression.