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Artificial flowers may last forever, but nothing beats the power and beauty of the real thing, says MICHAEL McCOY, even if it’s gone by next week.

One of my good friends had a bloke turn up at the front door clutching a bunch of flowers. It was their second date. The flowers were fake.

She didn’t know what to think.

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She couldn’t tell if he was taking the mickey (so to speak) or whether, perhaps, he didn’t realise they were fake. The other option she considered was that he was somehow genuinely convinced that faux flowers were superior to the real kind as they survive indefinitely.

What she did know was that these objects, arranged in a pretty-ish posy, were totally worthless to her. And they spectacularly failed to communicate the positive messages that – if we are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt – he intended.

For the whole point and poignancy of flowers depends on their transience. The same is also true in the garden. If flowers were permanent we wouldn’t value them. It’s their passing nature that makes us engage – that calls to our mindfulness and demands we seize the day.

Of course, this leads to a degree of frustration. Last spring I had to go away for a week. The day before I left I noticed that my standard crabapples were just starting to bloom. By the time I returned home, they’d finished. This isn’t unusual. Flowering cherries are at their best for only a few days. Tulips might give you three weeks, if the weather is fully on your side, and very few flowering shrubs are capable of doing better. Annuals are usually the longest blooming, with the best of them providing eight to 10 weeks in flower. But in order to make sure that this fleeting floral reality doesn’t generate a permanent sense of indignation, we’ve got to understand that it’s essential to our gardening pleasure. It’s possible in much of Australia’s climate to achieve a garden of reliable, 12-months-of-the-year verdancy, but without these exquisite moments of transience – of these precious, passing moments – it can look a bit like a flower arrangement of nothing but the background foliage. The ‘moment’ needn’t necessarily be flower driven. It might consist of a few glorious weeks of autumn foliage, or a season of light-catching seed heads, or that brief but heart-stopping phase when a deciduous tree breaks into its spring growth of glowing, translucent lime.

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