David Bruce: Flowers Anecdotes

A nobleman deeply loved his garden of chrysanthemums. In fact, he loved the flowers more than he loved his wife, and he used to severely punish anyone who accidentally broke off a blossom while walking in his garden. Zen master Sengai learned of the nobleman’s behavior, so he walked into the nobleman’s garden one day with a sickle. Hearing a noise in his garden, the nobleman went to investigate — and discovered that Sengi had cut down every chrysanthemum. Sengai told the nobleman, “Even weeds like this become rank if they are not cut.” The nobleman realized that he had been wrong and began to treat people with more respect.

Margaret Webster was called on to play Lady Macbeth at short notice because of an emergency, and during her airplane trip to the theater she closed her eyes and tried hard to remember the business she must perform on stage that evening. A man noticed her and offered, “I have some airsickness tablets, if you would like one.” She declined, and after that evening’s performance she found a huge bouquet of flowers waiting for her at her hotel, with the note, “Never again will I mistake a rehearsal of the sleepwalking scene for airsickness.”

When George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova were keeping house together and working for Sergei Diaghilev, they participated in the Monte Carlo premiere of Le Bal. Unfortunately, all of the soloists except Ms. Danilova received flowers at the curtain. This made Mr. Diaghilev angry, and he spoke to Mr. Balanchine about it. At the next performance, Mr. Balanchine sent Ms. Danilova 100 roses at the curtain — there were so many that she couldn’t carry them all, and she gave many of them away to other members of the company.

Marie Curie’s name was Marya Sklodowska when she was born in Poland. As a child, she concentrated on her books. One day, as she sat, absorbed in reading, her siblings built an arch of chairs over her. She finished reading, stood up, and toppled the chairs. Her siblings laughed, but she said merely, “That’s stupid,” before walking out of the room. When she went out on her first date with Pierre Curie, he didn’t give her candy or flowers — instead, he gave her a copy of a scientific article that he had authored.

Ruth St. Denis cared little for flowers and would throw them away after a performance. Her husband, Ted Shawn, would often rescue the flowers and put them in water after reading the card that came with them. Sometimes, a visitor came backstage to visit her, and Mr. Shawn would whisper to her something like, “Mrs. Jones — red roses.” Ms. St. Denis would then say, “Mrs. Jones. Those beautiful red roses. They went right to my heart. Oh, my dear, thank you. Thank you so much.”

After witnessing a particularly good performance, balletomanes often throw flowers — which sometimes leads to problems. A balletomane once threw a “remarkably solid and heavy water lily” which hit Margot Fonteyn in the chest. Another regular ballet-goer discovered that flowers were easier to throw when they were weighted, so Ms. Fonteyn quickly learned to keep an eye in his direction whenever she came out for bows after a performance.

The famous writer of haiku, Basho, once decided to visit a place that was famed for its beautiful flowers. While traveling there, he heard about a peasant girl who was famed for her tender devotion to her parents. Basho visited the peasant girl, and discovered that her devotion to her parents had not been exaggerated. Basho then gave her all the money he had saved for his trip and returned home, saying, “This year I have seen something better than flowers.”

The world fell in love with Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Not only did she revolutionize gymnastics with high-difficulty and high-risk feats, she exhibited a winning personality to the audience. In the finals of the women’s all-around competition, Olga fell off the uneven bars. As Olga was crying afterward, a woman in the audience jumped over a barrier, ran to her, and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.

During Vatican II, a Dominican father gave a flowery speech praising women. He expected the approval of the women in the audience, but he did not get it. Instead, a woman told him, “Leave out the bouquets. The only thing needed is what women expect: To be recognized and treated as the full human persons they are in the Church, equal in all things.”

Oscar Wilde once went into a florist shop and asked that the flowers in the window be removed. The florist replied, “With pleasure, sir. How many would you like to have?” Mr. Wilde replied, “Oh, I don’t want any, thank you. I only asked to have them removed from the window because I thought that they looked tired.”

Each week, William Powell put flowers on the grave of Jean Harlow. When Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married, Marilyn requested that he do the same thing for her if she should die before he did. After Marilyn died, although the two were divorced, Joe honored her request.

Why practice meditation? When Munindra was asked that, his students listened closely to his answer, hoping to hear something profound. Munindra answered, “I practice meditation to notice the small purple flowers growing by the roadside, which I otherwise might miss.”

The great Russian dancer Lubov Tchernicheva seldom smiled when she was dancing for Sergei Diaghilev, but teenage dancer Alicia Markova knew how to cheer her up. Young Alicia would occasionally give her a bunch of carnations. Then Ms. Tchernicheva would smile.

Bitter political campaigns are nothing new. After a fiercely fought primary campaign years ago, Chauncey Depew, a Republican, observed, “The only question now is which corpse gets the most flowers.”

At a retreat, Zen master Soen Roshi once woke several Zen students in the middle of the night, then led them downstairs to admire a night-blooming crocus.

A Pennsylvania cemetery once displayed this sign: “Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”

“A flower is more beautiful in the hands of a woman than all the pearls and diamonds in the world.” — Isadora Duncan.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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