Chrysanthemums smell like graveyards

by Eileen Ward Birch


Or should it be graveyards smell of chrysanthemums?

My parents always sold flowers in their greengrocers, so I saw the turning of the years in fruits, vegetables and flowers. Daffodils in early spring have a beautiful delicate scent, especially the pretty multi-headed jonquils.

I remember going to visit Leah, the Wolverhampton flower seller who supplied our shop wholesale. She and her family sold flowers in the town centre and outside the hospitals as well as supplying bouquets and funeral tributes. Her HQ was a shed-like structure in Penn Fields.  We went there to talk through and order flowers for my wedding, which being Easter Monday was a tricky one.  The church was easy, as my parents simply paid for the church flowers that would have been there anyway for Easter.  Buttonholes for the chief guests were also a simple decision, as carnations were the order of the day back then and Dad treated Mom to a lovely orchid.  However, I was to be carrying a prayer book and just needed a small bunch of something delicate – I settled for freesias.  The aroma of that shed lingers to this day, all sorts of flowers, dominated by the chrysanthemums which were mostly destined for funerals.

Then the tulips and the sensitive mimosa. I well remember the time Dad decided to turn the petals of a few tulips that were past their best so that they curled opposite to how they should. We actually had customers admiring the exotic result and asking the name and price.

Summer flowers were mainly cornflowers and carnations, both of which we could turn into lovely sheafs using gypsophilia as a background and filler.

Through it all if ever there was an order for funeral flowers, either a sheaf or wreath, it would be chrysanthemums, the flower that filled our vases in autumn.

I’m not sure if it’s the association of chrysanthemums with funeral flowers or if graveyards do indeed smell of them, but every time I go to a service in an old cemetery, like we do in Merridale, I smell chrysanthemums. The Dutch War Graves service takes place on Remembrance weekend and is dominated by poppies, but even with few funeral tributes around I still smell chrysanthemums during our service.


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