A simple bunch of flowers have come to symbolise something both potent and political in recent days, after a deluge of bouquets have been left outside royal residences around the UK by mourners paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.
Hundreds of thousands of floral arrangements have been placed at official sites at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham Estate, Balmoral, Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland and Edinburgh’s Physic Garden following the announcement of the former monarch’s death on Thursday 8 September.
In addition to the colourful blooms, balloons, Paddington Bear soft toys and marmalade sandwiches have also been left at official tribute points – a reference to the Queen’s appearance in a sketch with the popular children’s character as part of the platinum jubilee celebrations earlier this year – prompting officials to release a statement discouraging non-floral tributes, as the food is attracting rats and having a “negative impact on the park’s wildlife”.
Flowers have long been associated with death and funerals. Before the modern practice of embalming, flowers were historically used to disguise the odours of a decaying body. The tradition has continued to the present day, however, with flowers representing beauty, colour and life during an event that may be characterised by pain and sadness.
The sheer volume of flowers being brought to royal residences has prompted concern and anger amongst many spectators, however. As the UK faces an unprecedented cost of living crisis, many feel that the money spent on blooms could have been better spent on charities and organisations supporting the many people who will struggle to heat their homes and feed their families over the coming months.
“I still don’t understand why the royal family did not ask people to donate money to charity instead of buying flowers,” wrote one user on Twitter. “Food banks can do with all the help they can get right now.”
While there is a line hidden deep in a government online document that “making a donation to one of her majesty’s many charities and patronages may be considered a fitting way of paying tribute to her extraordinary legacy”, the official royal website and channels have offered no such advice, however.
A number of social media users have suggested that the firm’s failure to make such an announcement is intentional as it would highlight the grave inequality that, for many, the royal family represent.
“Because it would be seen as a political statement – admitting that people need food banks equal failed government. People know they can donate to charity, without having to be told. They prefer to leave flowers because it’s a visible – and photogenic – gesture,” wrote one Twitter user.
Another added: “That would be an admission that something has been seriously wrong for quite a while, and that they have neither the will nor the power to try and do anything about it.”
Other users felt that admonishments not to lay flowers were unkind or disrespectful to the Queen, with one saying that bringing flowers was “a natural impulse” and that they wanted flowers at their own funeral.
However, the sheer scale and cost of the flowers, and the announcement from the British Floral Association (BFA) that recent demand has been “significantly high”, adding that the “the general feeling is that it will be higher than Princess Diana’s funeral” has led others to feel that a line must be drawn sooner rather than later.
While the new King is renowned for his commitment to the environment, others have expressed concern about the volume of plastic waste, with many bouquets packaged in the unsustainable product.
Images from the official sites show giant bags full of plastic sheaths which have been removed from the flowers, following guidance from the Royal Parks to do so as it will “aid the longevity of the flowers and will assist in subsequent composting which will start between one week and a fortnight after the date of the funeral.”
To expect a bereaved son to consider such a comparatively small gesture may seem offensive, but it’s worth noting that the logistics surrounding the Queen’s death will have been organised months, if not years prior to last week, with military precision. A statement from the official royal website could have been a powerful thing indeed.
With thousands continuing to queue in the pouring rain to leave their bouquets and the official mourning period continuing for a further week, however, the volume of floral tributes and plastic waste, like the crowds, continues to grow.
Follow the latest updates as the world pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth II