This past spring, I started working at a local home improvement store, with a number of shifts spent in the Lawn and Garden section.
Apart from chillier days spent huddled over the little space heater in the cashier booth as it rains or when it's more chaotic than usual, it's become one of my favorite areas. Being out in the fresh air on occasion is a welcome change to the stuffy and at times tobacco-laden air of the casino mall in which my previous job was located, and the birds and occasional chipmunk make for lovely company.
It usually quiets down in the early evening, which I've taken to using to my advantage. It's during these lulls I'll tackle a Hindi lesson in Duolingo or draft a blog post in a pocket-sized notebook.
Another plus of this setting is the view. The booth is situated towards the entrance, with the registers facing the rows of flowers for sale and in full bloom.
While I lack my grandmother's green thumb, I have a love of plants, and they're something I'll often weave into my writing.
Whether they are creating privacy in the form of a hedge, used in medicine, providing sustenance, or just there for the sole purpose of being pretty, plants have been reliable tools for centuries—and can also be valuable tools for writers.
I've incorporated various flora in my WIPs, and this post is getting to the root of some of my favorite ways.
Olive Branches And Beds Of Roses
I love to sneak symbolism in my writing, and flowers can sew the seeds through various correlations sprouting in cultural or societal beliefs.
Roses are synonymous with romance. But did you know that there is also meaning in the color of a rose? Traditionally, red roses are associated with love and passion, whereas pink and yellow may be tributes to friendship and white can be symbolic of purity and young love. White roses are also associated with reverence or remembrance.
Although roses tend to be the first blossom springing to mind when in search of a symbolic flower, they're not the only one.
Olive branches are known symbols of peace. As the name suggests, Forget-Me-Nots are associated with the hope that a person is not forgotten. Dandelions, though often considered weeds, might be symbolic of overcoming hardship and difficulty.
When you just can't find the perfect way to communicate an overarching tone or hint at a character's feelings, don't be afraid to do some digging and find the right plant to cultivate the desired effect.
Weaving flowers into your writing invites opportunities for symbolism and deeper, hidden meanings to flourish.
As for where or how to do so, there are innumerable paths.
Everything In Its Season
When introducing a new setting, one of the first things I'll mention is the presence of greenery or lack thereof. This might be a field rolling into the horizon, trees boasting a mosaic of gold and orange, or patches of dirt and sparse blades of grass poking through melting snow.
This approach aids in establishing a vivid image in the reader's mind, but it also helps convey another potentially important piece of information: the season.
The old oak across the street shedding some leaves implies the scene is autumnal. Describing yellow crocuses and daffodils in the garden suggests we’re most likely reading something set in the early spring.
Flora can also indicate the setting’s region. A coastal New England town would probably be devoid of bamboo.
Another of my favorite uses for plants in fiction is showing the passage of time without explicitly saying it. For example, your first chapter may feature your protagonist strolling through wheat stalks that are still green, and a later scene may occur during the harvest.
Plants may seem like small details or appear to serve only aesthetic purposes, but they can be incredibly useful for conveying important information about the world of your story.
Grounding Your Reader In Your World
Along with presenting a weather report for readers, describing the plants populating your setting can aid in your worldbuilding process.
Some plants are closely associated with locations and regions. The hibiscus is almost always linked to Hawaii, just as Sakura blossoms are associated with Japan.
My WIPs are set in Regency Era England, and I’ll often refer to plants grown in traditional English country gardens like rosemary, thyme, and lavender.
Additionally, if my story takes place in a real, specific location, I’ll see what I can find about local landmarks and hot spots such as London’s Hyde Park, and incorporate those findings, too.
Plants can also be very telling when it comes to settings encountered in works of fantasy or those dealing with the supernatural.
Maybe you introduce your protagonist by showing them cleaning up their yard after their neighbor’s tree shed its leaves and the character has to take painstaking care to avoid getting sap on their hands because it can be exceptionally deadly to their kind.
Flowers can ground your reader as they enter your story, whether it's based in reality or somewhere a bit more removed from the environments we know.
This is quite honestly my favorite way of incorporating plants in my writing.
The kinds of plants a character keeps can say a ton about them, and so can the lack thereof.
Maybe your character is like me and triple-checks to make sure any plant they’re about to buy is feline-friendly because their cat is a curious creature who may attempt to eat anything that smells interesting.
You might feature a workaholic with a wilting succulent because despite their best efforts and the plant’s reputation of being easy to manage, caring for it falls to the wayside whenever the character picks up another few hours at their job.
Or you’re writing a nurturer archetype and their collection suffers frequent casualties from rotting roots due to being over-watered and being over-cared for.
Your character could also suffer from allergies and hates visiting their in-laws because of the dogwood tree in the backyard.
The plants our character has around may also be of cultural or religious importance, like the marigolds often used in Indian wedding ceremonies or poppies if someone in their family was in the armed forces and killed in the line of duty.
Consider the traditions woven into your characters heritage or how their circumstances might shape the floral additions to their surroundings.
A Rose By Any Other Name
References aren’t limited to physically-there flowers.
Some parents draw inspiration from nature when it comes time to name their children, and some authors may take a similar approach with their characters.
Those writing a sweet or delicate character (or desiring a bit of irony by writing a character whose name is a complete contrast to their personality) may call them Rose or Rosemary, Ivy, Heather, Lilly, Poppy, or Daisy.
Violet, Iris, Sage, and Jasmine are also popular—and I even went to school with a girl named Amaryllis.
Essence Of A Sense
Writers place great importance on sensory details in their writing. These little details can be the thing that truly breathes life into a story.
The aforementioned examples of flowers in fiction tie into visual elements, but another of my favorite ways to use plants in my writing is through the power of smell.
Scents are incredibly evocative, able to bring forth memories and a sense of familiarity for readers.
Passing a box of geraniums on a windowsill could remind your character of their late sister’s house, or a stroll through the local botanical garden might reignite an inside joke from their childhood about a teacher who seemed to douse herself in floral essential oils.
One thing I’ll frequently mention is a character’s perfume or cologne, or the smell of their soap lingering on their skin. Over time, this can become a recurring thread bringing comfort to a love interest after borrowing a sweater laced with remnants of sandalwood or increasing annoyance with an antagonist's presence because they seem to leave a cloud of vanilla perfume in their wake. I've personally that found the former example makes for enticing details in more romantic and intimate scenes.
Doing this also offers another means of worldbuilding because I'll reference scents that were popular in my stories' time period.
Leaves seem to be a particular favorite for adding auditory details, and with good reason. The classic example of browned leaves crunching under a character's footsteps is often used to set scenes in autumn or even winter. In warmer seasons, there may be mention of rustling as the wind sweeps through the boughs overhead. Writers of horror or supernatural works may be especially partial to the creaking of trees and the scratch of branches against window panes.
We can't forget to touch on the sense of touch!
Textures can give your writing dimension. This could mean describing the soft moss growing on the bark of a tree, the fluffiness of a dandelion gone to seed and prime for wish-making, or the prickliness of a cactus.
And, if you're unfortunate enough, the itchy aftermath of coming in contact with poison ivy.
Readers want to know what your characters feel, not only emotionally, but physically.
Sewing the seeds of your setting is as entertaining and exploratory as it is at times complex, and the process can be integral to your reader's enjoyment of the story. Vivid descriptions make it easier for your audience to step into and ground themselves within the world you've created for them.
Plants have so many uses for writers of any genre from those described above to countless others not mentioned.
How those ideas bloom and flourish is up to you.