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For Valentine’s Day, Nine Stories About Flowers

In addition to being obvious testaments to beauty, flowers are often bound up in human ritual. We give blooms to note a birth, a death and many occasions in between, including the, well, blossoming, of romantic love. At a certain point, though, we long for something more surprising and complex than the single stems of roses and carnations that we might have given to middle school crushes. Here are nine stories that show how else one might think about or use flowers (or even weeds), from turning them into sculptural headdresses to incorporating them into a home-cooked meal — on Valentine’s Day or otherwise.

How do you create a flower-centric restaurant that doesn’t feel like a bridal shower? If you’re Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti, you ask your good friend, the artist and writer Leanne Shapton, to paint your walls with a geometric watercolor mural, and you ask Elizabeth Roberts, the architect known for her light-filled, thoughtfully reworked Brooklyn brownstones, to design the rest. The result is a high-ceilinged oasis on 26th Street in Manhattan, a stone’s throw from the flower district, bedecked in pale wood and Patricia Urquiola chairs imported from Italy. The space, Il Fiorista, doesn’t so much look like a bouquet of flowers — rather, it offers the calming, rapturous effect of smelling one. The restaurant’s team shared advice (and recipes) on how to bring floral notes into your next dinner party — without overwhelming your guests. Read more.

What has remained consistent throughout the last 150 years of Japan’s history is its love for cherry blossoms, or sakura, as they are commonly called. Anyone who has even a passing interest in Japan knows this, has seen the photographs of black-suited salarymen having picnic lunches in an incongruously pink landscape, like something out of a child’s fantasy bedroom. When cherry blossom season nears — typically the first and second week of April, though that is changing — news programs and papers start airing and printing cherry blossom reports, sakura zensen, alongside the weather forecasts, noting where and when in the country the trees are or will be in peak bloom. Equivalent environmental reports are made about snow in Colorado or waves in Hawaii or maple leaves in Vermont, but when the West covers the Japanese interest in cherry blossoms, it is often with a faint, patronizing smirk, as if there’s something essentially silly and feminine about being so fascinated by the color pink. Read more.

In the designer Sourabh Gupta’s studio, in a nondescript apartment building in East Harlem, flowers bloom on nearly every surface. Towers of hollyhock animate one corner with their showy hot-pink-and-white blossoms. On a nearby bookshelf, pale lady’s slippers, Carolina roses and strawberry buds spring from earthenware pots. Gupta moves about gently tending to his nursery — not with pruning shears and trowels, but with tweezers and a magnifying glass. Only up close is it clear that these perennials are all made of paper, stunningly lifelike down to each delicate pistil and stamen. Read more.

“I’ve always loved gardening and plants,” says the Brooklyn-based artist Joshua Werber, who is best known for his fantastical floral headpieces. “I’ve been gardening since I was in high school.” Despite his early green thumb, Werber only transitioned from working in ceramic sculpture to floral design in the last decade, initially producing arrangements for settings and events. As part of our series on Summer Entertaining, T asked Werber to create three decorative arrangements for the table using fruits and vegetables, herbs and weeds as each of the separate main components. Read more.

Long before makeup or millinery or jewelry, our first adornments were plants and flowers, and our love for them was — and is — universal. Perhaps we have never known better. But how and why we wear them has shifted over the years, from the laurel wreaths of the ancient world, bestowed on victors (and deemed so necessary to the functioning of a martial culture that Darius III of Persia, in the fourth century B.C., kept 46 men employed just to weave them), to the floral crowns donned by animists in medieval Europe to dance around maypoles and welcome spring. Read more.

To simply call Buunch a flower delivery service would be something of an understatement. The offshoot of the floral events studio L’Atelier Rouge does, in fact, offer a streamlined selection of color-coordinated arrangements for delivery throughout New York City. But Buunch’s imaginative, effervescent bouquets — which pair unconventional flower selections with shapely, colorful vases — offer an artistic, of-the-moment rejoinder to the usual floral-shop deliveries and the recent wave of digital-first florists. Clients order from a menu on the Buunch website that categorizes current selections by hue: choose “yellow/orange” for a composition made up entirely of fiery gloriosa, perhaps; click “purple/black” for an inky, arachnid-like spray of black millet, lady’s slipper orchids and heuchera leaves; or select “rainbow” for a scattering of dyed baby’s breath and dianthus. Read more.

A weed is unwanted: That is its definition. It is a plant that we have deemed to have no value because it contributes nothing to our life, neither nourishment nor beauty. But now, weeds are not only welcome but guests of honor, proliferating with our blessing across front yards and formal gardens, shacking up with more “respectable” flowers in grand floral arrangements and shaggy bouquets and bringing a whiff of forest and meadow to 10-course tasting menus. This isn’t entirely new: The mid-20th-century English florist Constance Spry, a railway clerk’s daughter, was famed for heaping sprays of cow parsley at high-society weddings and debutante balls, and the revered English gardener Beth Chatto was nearly disqualified from one of her first horticultural shows for entering native flora that one judge ridiculed as weeds. But the current obsession with these unruly plants speaks to a larger cultural moment. Read more.

Even the most ephemeral street art is not usually this fleeting: Minutes after the work is finished in the metallic glint of dawn, passers-by stop, stare — then carry bits of it away, until the whole thing collapses. The act of creation has been briefer than a spring shower; destruction comes even more swiftly. Soon, all that is left is a scattering of petals and twisted stems, curled on the ground like punctuation marks. Photos of the piece survive on social media, of course, as most things now do — a cascade of orchids and echinacea, nature sculpted into a gloriously unnatural state — but even the images are haunted by the specter of wilt; it’s built in. Guerrilla flower “flashes” are taking the most evanescent of the decorative arts into places it has rarely gone. Read more.

Steven Edney, the English plantsman and horticulturalist, has been challenging the established thinking that values spring and summer blooms above all (sometimes to the detriment of a garden’s biodiversity) and to investigate the possibilities of fall and winter. He has questioned the incessant demand for tidiness and “perfection” in a garden, which leads many to pinch off shriveled flowers before seed heads can form. The traditional argument for this grooming procedure, a routine part of gardening called deadheading, is that it can encourage another bloom. To Edney’s mind, that’s a limited view; a plant’s worth shouldn’t be confined to the brief moment of its most overt and brazen appeal. For a seed head is no drab aftermath. Read more.

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