28 April 2014


If spring's bounteous bloom has you giddy at the long-awaited break from a long, hard winter, no doubt you're looking for reasons to keep the giddiness going. Although May is already upon us you can still have your spring and celebrate it, too!

This week, why not dig back to your Ancient Roman roots and celebrate Floralia? And really, who wouldn't enjoy a six-day festival honoring the goddess of flowers right on the heels of Vinalia (the Roman festival of the wine harvest), though I suspect things could get a bit out of hand. All in moderation, people, all in moderation.

Because Ancient Romans believed these things, there were gods and goddesses for just about every occasion and situation. Flora, the goddess of flowers, vegetation, and fertility, was one of the most ancient. She even had her own priest, the flamen Florialis (they really liked alliteration, those Ancient Romans).

Triumph of Flora by German artist Tiepolo (c. 1743), based on Ovid's description of the Floralia
Gladiatorial games, dancing, feasting, licentious behavior, and the flinging about of vetches, beans, and lupins were the hallmarks of the festivities, which began at the end of April and ended in the beginning of May. Naked putti were optional. If you should choose to emulate these celebrations and your neighbor peers at you over the fence with arched brows as you prance around a May Pole wearing a diaphanous gown, pelting him with members of the Fabaceae family, don't say I didn't warn you. Personally I think the Romans seized on every opportunity to be naughty and Floralia was another excuse to throw a party. After the winter we've had, I can't say I blame them.

Even Erasmus Darwin, Charles's physician grandfather (who was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade abolitionist,inventor and poet), used an image of Flora as the frontispiece for his lengthy poem, The Botanic Garden, written in 1791. By inserting Flora into his work as metaphor for the science of botany, Darwin was using ancient mythology to connect modern readers with science, popular culture, literature, and art history; all things the best gardeners I know are curious about. Unlike modern day counterparts, Darwin's Flora is assigned a minion of Gnomes to do her bidding and assist Spring in its debut:

"Oh, watch, where bosom'd in the teeming earth,
 550 Green swells the germ, impatient for its birth;
      Guard from rapacious worms its tender shoots,
      And drive the mining beetle from its roots;
      With ceaseless efforts rend the obdurate clay,
      And give my vegetable babes to day!
      And steps celestial press the pansied grounds.

Midsummer Eve by Edward Robert Hughes, c. 1908

After the brutal winter the east coast has had, I'd say spring was definitely 'impatient for its birth' and now that it's here, why not celebrate it? Perhaps we don't in the way the Ancient Romans did, but we still celebrate it in our own Western way. Do you think it's a coincidence that Earth Day is at the end of April? Or that blooming plants and flowers are exchanged at Easter and Mother's Day? Something to make you go, "Hmmm....".

If the saying 'the earth laughs in flowers' is true, then it is positively cachinnate with mirth. Hot colored daffodils, iris, and forsythia, cool magnolias, crocus, tulips, blushing cherries and snowy (ugh) white crab apples, fresh green leaves in the trees and carpets of grass are all arrayed in their spring finery. Plant a kitchen garden and grow some 'vegetable babes', or visit a local botanic garden (just be careful not to 'press the pansied grounds'). What better time to go outdoors and celebrate spring!

Or, if you're stuck inside by rain like I am, you can try to identify all 500 plants in this painting!

Primavera or Allegory of Spring by Botticelli (1482). Flora is second from right. Sources say up to 500 plant species are depicted in the paining, with 190 different flowers. Of these, 130 have been specifically named. How many can you find?
Happy Floralia!

No comments: