Say it with flowers . . . but say it to a stranger

by Davide Ghilotti

credit: Davide Ghilotti

If someone came up to you and said, “Hi, can I give you some flowers? You don’t have to pay for them; it’s just a nice gesture,” how would you reply?

It might be worth giving it some thought, as one of these days you might well find a complete stranger bearing down on you, brandishing a colourful bunch of blooms.

This outbreak of random flower giving is the idea of landscape architect Will Sandy, who wants to help overcome our instinctive reluctance to engage with strangers, particularly in big cities such as London.

“To me, it works very much like a garden fence,” Will says. “The fence used to be something that you could lean on, while you talked to your neighbour. Now fences are much higher and topped with barbed wire. ‘It’s the thought that counts’ project is trying to do its bit to lower that fence again.”

The idea of the flowers is to surprise and delight people into letting their guard down – even if only for a few seconds. And Will hopes that when someone receives a bunch of flowers, they will be encouraged to do the same for someone else, and the idea will spread.

I decided to do my bit for the cause. “With flowers, I can’t go wrong,” I kept thinking as I walked around Soho looking for a deserving recipient for my floral gift, which had a label attached explaining the project (available here).

A woman in her early twenties who was staring at a map looked quite approachable. “Excuse me,” I said, after taking quite a deep breath, “can I give you these flowers?” The reaction was not quite what I was expecting – she didn’t turn towards me, but just moved her neck enough to allow her eyes to glance at me, and muttered, “What?!”

As she looked confused and on the verge of flight, I added quickly that she didn’t have to pay a penny, and simply had to accept the flowers. “Take them, if you feel like it, and enjoy the rest of your day,” were my last words and ones that, I believe, convinced her I was not up to anything sinister. She took them, smiled – a little – and went on her way.

Fashion model and community gardener Mak Gilchrist, who is a friend of Will’s, took on the flower challenge too: “The first time I did it, I was in Angel, and it was at night. I thought it would be easy, but actually I was really anxious. I stood there for ages just watching people passing by, looking for the right person. Eventually, I spotted someone and went up to her to give her the flowers.”

Mak fell into conversation with the woman only to find out that they were on their way to see the same play, and that they had friends in common.

But why flowers, rather than, say, chocolate or a card?

“Flowers attract attention, that’s their job. And so even when you’re walking around with flowers, you’re doing something positive,” says Mak. “When I see a girl in the street carrying flowers, I think how lucky she is and what a wonderful boyfriend she has. With flowers, you can’t go wrong.”

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