Gardening: Why we give Mom flowers on Mother’s Day

Carnations became synonymous with Mother’s Day with different colours having specific meanings.

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We give flowers on Mother’s Day for lots of reasons. Maybe because they look and smell good; or because she loves flowers; or because that’s what you do. She probably loves chocolates and pedicures too, but it’s the blooms that win on Mother’s Day. And there’s an historical reason for giving flowers on Mother’s Day.

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In the years before the Civil War in the United States, Anne Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children. In 1868, she organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day” where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. Anne died in 1905 and her daughter, Anna Jarvis, decided to honour her mother’s memory by organizing the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908. A Philadelphia department store financed this first celebration and thousands of people attended a Mother’s Day event at the store. Anna also handed out 500 white carnations to all the mothers in attendance at her mother’s church, carnations being her mother’s favourite flower.

After the success of the first Mother’s Day, Anna, who herself remained unmarried and childless, worked to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Deciding that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter-writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians, urging the adoption of a special day honouring motherhood. By 1912, many states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially signed a measure establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

But that success didn’t sit well with Anna and she began to have concerns. She had established Mother’s Day as a day of personal celebration for families, when the focus was supposed to simply be wearing a white carnation and visiting one’s mother. However, when it became a national holiday, florists and card companies jumped on the bandwagon and the day became more and more commercialized. Anna began urging people to stop buying flowers, cards and candies. She eventually started a campaign against Mother’s Day profiteers and even launched lawsuits against groups that used the name. By the time of her death in 1948, she had disowned the holiday altogether and actively lobbied the government to remove it from the American calendar.

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Despite Anna’s later misgivings, carnations became synonymous with Mother’s Day with different colours having specific meanings. White carnations represent the purity of a mother’s love and are often used to remember a mother who has passed away. Pink carnations stand for “always on my mind.” It is believed that pink carnations were the first flower to grow on the holy ground where the Virgin Mary’s tears fell when she wept at Jesus’ suffering. Red carnations mean deep admiration and love.

Of course, other flowers also have their place on Mother’s Day. Gerbera daisies and tulips mean happiness. In Asia, azaleas and day lilies symbolize womanhood. Bluebells are for constancy; camellias mean longevity and gratitude; and pink roses are for gratitude and appreciation.

So what should Mom do with the beautiful flowers you give her? They will do best if she puts them in room temperature water with flower food. She needs to strip off any leaves that will be submerged as they will rot quickly and make the water cloudy. Tell her to set the vase away from direct sunlight and to change the water every third day. She should cut off the stem ends with a sharp knife (not scissors) when she receives them and then recut them when she changes the water. Potted flowers are another option, that can last longer than cut flowers.

So there is plenty of choice to give Mom some beauty and colour on her special day.

Ginnie Hartley is a retired Speech-Language Pathologist who loves gardening almost as much as she loves words.

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