Two dozen sunflowers in a huge crystal vase. They’re the first thing you see when you look into the stately grey clapboard house in Edgartown, MA., once owned by a whaling captain. It’s the kind of place my father-in-law, who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, used to call “old money.”
Though beautiful, the bouquet speaks volumes about the matron (or mistress or mister) living there. Indulgence (two sunflower bouquets?). Living large. Understatement. Class. Appreciation. Hospitality. Openness. Decency. Humanity. Generosity. (Keeping the door wide open to give tourists like me a glimpse into her spectacular home.)
I spotted those sunflowers more than 20 years ago. It’s funny how flowers have that effect (or should I say impact?) on people. For me, no gathering is complete without a bouquet or two of flowers. It’s a little thing, but my hostessing duties aren’t complete without flowers, even if it’s just a sprig of sage and some red berries in a bud vase.
My shaded property in suburban Connecticut has curtailed my ability to garden (I’m not the type to enclose my yard in wooden deer fencing), but my love of flowers storms back at the Vineyard. Glorious hydrangeas in bursts of blue, pink and white. Dainty pink climbing roses tumbling over stone walls. Electric blue strawflowers in stainless steel bins at a farm stand. Acres of wild flowers. The most beautiful window boxes I have ever seen.
It’s impossible to navigate this island off Cape Cod without seeing homegrown bouquets on sale at the end of dirt roads or entrances of horse farms. The Farmers’ Market is also lined with flower vendors with glorious arrangements. But I’ve never bought a bouquet in the 35 years I’ve been coming here. I just seems . . . indulgent.
I almost broke my streak on Saturday. I was having my husband’s family over for an impromptu lobster bake and wanted a bouquet for the dining table. I had a bunch of beautiful hydrangeas in my sight at the market when my husband and son (his sidekick) scuttled my plans.
“No one’s expecting flowers, they’re expecting lobsters,” my husband bellowed. “And besides, they won’t fit on the table.”
For a minute, I thought about pilfering flowers from a field or worse, a relative’s home between rental bookings. But I didn’t have the guts, time or equipment to pull off that caper. I spotted some clippers at a fish market, but I wasn’t about to spend $12.99 when a bouquet would have only set me back $20. (How can one family be so cheap?)
So there I was, stuffing lobsters and baking potatoes without so much as a wilted day lily to brighten the space. In a last-ditch effort for greenery, I plunged a bunch of fresh parsley into a vase, but seriously? So lame.
I felt something was missing, but carried on. And to my delight, my sister-in-law Ann arrived with an overflowing bouquet of hydrangeas in a rainbow of hues plucked from her garden in Edgartown. There were even a few raspberry-colored butterfly bush flowers in the mix. An unexpected hostess gift!
I put the flowers in the center of the table and admired my first authentic Vineyard bouquet. As the lobsters came out of the oven and were plated, I removed the flowers to make room for food, people and conversation. When I told my husband I was sharing this, he agreed with one caveat:
“Be sure to say that someone did bring flowers and there was no room for them on the table, just like I predicted.”