Bring it back: Floralazzling

by Chelsea Hughes

Flowers are delightful. Wouldn’t you agree? They come in different kinds and colours or whatever. They’re splendid.

But it’s no secret our love affair with flowers is on the decline. The only time you see them these days is on graves, in sick people’s hospital rooms and on the desks of people with guilty lovers. There are very few people left who like flowers ‘just because they are delightful’, and they’re either super old or just a bit weird (see my opening sentence).

It shouldn’t be like that. Everyone should love flowers for no reason whatsoever. They should be integrated into our everyday life, all the time, always. Roses, tulips, daisies, and all the other ones I don’t know the names of. We should have them in vases, in our hair, on our clothes, in our cars, down our pants and up our noses.

The sweet, lingering sway of a field of lilies should be the first thing you see in the morning as you draw back your window curtain to greet the new day, not the ass crack of your neighbour picking up dog shit off the footpath. The delicate touch of a smooth rose petal should be the last thing you feel on your porcelain cheek at night as you drift off into a blissful slumber, not the dripping water of your leaky roof.

You might be thinking, ‘Wow Chelsea, your description of this utopian society sounds thorough and exciting, but it’s impossible.’ And this is where I publicly shame you for having such a negative attitude. You’re also wrong. It IS possible. I know this because it was a reality in our not-so-distant past. Much like the modern conventions of Bedazzling and Vajazzling, whereby people staple pretty things onto ugly things, Floralazzling was a practice of beautifying the world with flowers.

So this week I want to bring back Floralazzling.

A Man, His Beard and a Bouquet

Mr. R D Campbell of Wanganui was the first known floralazzler. Before he posed for this groundbreaking photo, portraits involved regular people just staring at a camera. Self-conscious of his giant, ugly beard, Mr. Campbell found a way to distract the viewer with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. When asked why he didn’t just shave off his beard, he responded, “What beard?” then quickly put a bouquet of flowers in front of his face.

Mr R D Campbell, with flowers

Mr R D Campbell, with flowers. Harding, William James, 1826-1899: Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-004544-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The Brave Woman

In the 1890s, floralazzling was still in its infancy. The general population had still not embraced this new trend, and people who dared to floralazzle were often publicly shunned. Under the cloak of night, disgusted with the mundanity of her bike, Elizabeth McGillicuddy, bravely dared to floralazzle her bicycle. In her later years, when floralazzling became a national past time, Ms. McGillicuddy, admitted the only reason she put flowers on her bike was because she “was high as a kite on opiates”.

Woman with decorated bicycle

Woman with decorated bicycle. McAllister, James, 1869-1952: Negatives of Stratford and Taranaki district. Ref: 1/1-012697-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Two Boys, Petaling

In a no-holds barred floralazzling competition gone awry, these young boys refused to concede victory to the other. Instead, they continued adding flower upon flower to their trikes until carnations obstructed their views and rose thorns shredded their fingers. Frances (left) eventually won the 47 hour competition after judges rewarded his creative incorporation of a teddy bear.

Street scene, close-up view of two young boys on their tricycles decorated with flowers, Hawke's Bay District

Street scene, close-up view of two young boys on their tricycles decorated with flowers, Hawke’s Bay District. Whitehead, Henry Norford, 1870-1965 :Negatives of Napier, Hastings and district. Ref: 1/4-029580-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Chrysanthemum’s the Word

In 1959, for the first time in the National Chrysanthemum Society’s annual flower championships, a woman tried to enter herself in the competition. After being told repeatedly by the judges that only flowers were allowed to compete, the woman froze, then after a few seconds whispered through her teeth, ‘But I am a flower’. The judges did not believe her and called security. She later awarded herself the prize of ‘Best impersonation of a Chrysanthemum’.

'Fashion and flower show at the Town Hall' (caption) witn Champion of champions bloom of the National Chrysanthemum Society

‘Fashion and flower show at the Town Hall’ (caption) with Champion of champions bloom of the National Chrysanthemum Society. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1959/1437-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The Heist

On 2 November, 1959, the largest bank robbery attempt in New Zealand history took place at the Otaki branch of the Bank of New Zealand. Covered in a cloak of flowers, Mrs. Carole Walsh spent 5 hours slowly positioning herself inside the bank. She moved a few centimeters per minute from the bank entrance to the vault so as not to be discovered. This photo was taken just hours before the robbery. She nearly succeeded in robbing the bank, but was caught when a sneezing fit caused an allergic bank teller to accidentally press the bank’s panic button.

Mrs Carole Walsh, among spring flowers

Mrs Carole Walsh, among spring flowers. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1959/2722-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


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