You read the title right. Every April, the love of gardening meets the love of books, as some garden clubs honor National Library Week with book interpretations in flowers. Some clubs stick to strict rules and a specific set of books. My local garden club is a little more flexible. That’s how, exactly a year ago today (at the time of this writing), I found myself re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with an eye toward capturing its essence in flowers.
The Great Gatsby was one of the first non-animated motion pictures I remember seeing in a theater. I was very young when Robert Redford’s cool Jay Gatsby met Daisy Buchanan in the 1974 version. I thought it was glorious. Even as a child I understood the depth of character in Jay and Nick contrasting the superficial veneer of Daisy, Tom, and Jordan. It was a beautiful initiation into the flavor of the Jazz Age and great American literature.
Shortly afterwards, my mother took me to her college English Lit class when my elementary school was closed. They were studying Fitzgerald’s work. After raising my hand and responding (insightfully) to the professor’s question about the symbolism of the green light, I was invited not to return. Whatever. You’re never a prophet in your own land. Anyways…
I’m not sure how Gatsby leapt to the top of my mind during last year’s challenge. Maybe I’d been thinking of Leonardo DiCaprio, or how I could have used something like bootleg liquor in a dark speakeasy to make the pandemic a little more tolerable. In any case, I love all things Gatsby, so I had a blast with this exercise. Most people do one floral arrangement to represent something from the book. My design was a cluster of smaller arrangements. It was “The Great Gatsby: A Floral Interpretation in Six Parts”. The arrangement was set on a silver drink tray, and the story was told through each of six floral “scenes” on the tray. The picture below shows five of the six scenes (one is hidden in the background).
If that sounds interesting, read on and enjoy!
Meeting Leading Lady Daisy Buchanan: Shortly after the story opens we meet leading lady Daisy Buchanan. Our narrator Nick arrives at the Buchanan’s house and describes an italianate garden with a “half acre of deep pungent roses”. Daisy tells Nick that he reminds her of a rose as they sit and talk with Daisy’s friend Jordan. Everything is white and bathed in a rosy pale light. Images include dresses, windows, and billowing curtains reaching for a wedding-cake ceiling. Floral Interpretation: A small crystal bowl wrapped in white chiffon ribbon holds three white roses.
Meeting Mistress Myrtle Wilson: In contrast to the previous wedding-like imagery, we meet Daisy’s husband’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson in darker tones. She lives above a garage where her husband takes care of cars and owns a gas station. Her furniture is tapestried, and their interactions are frenetic and passionate, overblown. And at some point she changes into an “elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon”, which doesn’t seem to fit the surroundings. Floral Interpretation: An inexpensive table glass holds autumn-colored bright blooms, with rough textured pieces splaying out over the glass.
Gatsby’s Wild Parties: We meet main character, Gatsby – the legend – through lavish jazz age parties at his mansion. Primary colors, especially yellows, mix with gold and citrus imagery. Dancing twins are dressed in yellow, crates of oranges and lemons are shipped in for their juice, a full orchestra’s brass section plays “yellow cocktail music”. At another of his parties they describe a starlet as being a “scarcely human orchid of a woman”. Floral Interpretation: the tallest arrangement on the tray resides in a vessel covered in a red and gold embossed paper; it holds yellow orchids, and an ostrich feather, all underlaid with kumquats.
Gatsby and Daisy – Reunited Young Lovers. The lavish and loud party atmosphere is followed by a scene where Gatsby and Daisy – once lovers in their youth before the war – reunite after 5 years apart. It occurs in a little garden cottage that Gatsby has filled with flowers, where they drink tea and whisper together in hushed tones. There’s an awkward shy embarrassment between them, leading to a glowing elation. There’s bridled passion, and a sweetness and a hesitancy about their interaction. It is at once simple and innocent, yet complicated. Floral Interpretation: A vintage Noritake Morimura Lusterware tea cup holds a large creamy white double daffodil.
TJ Eckleberg’s Watching Eyes See Myrtle’s Demise. Their love rekindled, Gatsby presses Daisy to tell her husband Tom that she never loved him, and only loves Gatsby. At the first false start, Tom has Gin Rickeys brought in, and then they all leave to go into the city. Along the way they drive by the watchful eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleberg on a billboard, eyes behind glasses with retinas a yard high, who Mr. Wilson believes is God watching all. In the city, the scene goes from bad to worse, and Daisy and Gatsby drive off. As they pass Wilson’s garage, Daisy hits Myrtle Wilson, killing her, and leading to Gatsby’s ultimate demise. Floral Interpretation: A tall highball glass holds sparkling seltzer with lime segments; perched atop the glass is a miniature pair of eyeglasses – wire rims with violas inset for eyes.
Jay Gatsby, the evolution of Jimmy Gatz. And in the end, we’re left with a very solemn and solitary funeral for Gatsby, with few mourners. Nick as narrator speaks of Gatsby’s ever hopeful quality. He describes his “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life”, and says he had an “extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person”. Floral Interpretation: A single white rose, its stem wrapped in black satin.
Thus ends our story, in flowers and otherwise. If you’ve never tried a floral interpretation before, April is just around the corner. Consider trying it yourself. There are so many ways to approach it, you can’t go wrong. Just use your imagination!