Becoming the Crazy Flower Lady

Nonfiction by Katie Noah Gibson

flower stand

It started off small, as so many things do: with a job I hated and a commitment to buying myself flowers on Mondays.

When my ex and I moved to Boston, we were full of nervous anticipation and dreams for our adventures in a new city. We had been there once before, on a spring break trip back in college, and eagerly expected – at least, I did – to make new friends and soak up all the cultural excitement the city had to offer. My then-husband started his new job right away, but it took me six long, agonizing months of job hunting to land a position at a small, artsy college just off the southern edge of Boston Common. I hoped I would find community there, but within weeks it was clear: this was not a place I was going to make friends.

I spent my days in a windowless gray office, within shouting distance of three of my colleagues and our student workers. But nobody ever shouted; some days they didn’t even talk. I grew to long for even the tiniest scrap of conversation, whether with my coworkers or just someone next to me in line at Starbucks. I developed a perception of New Englanders as cold and closed off (just like my Texas family had warned me they were), and an image of myself as bland, forgettable, not worthy of capturing their attention.

On my lunch breaks, I wandered the neighborhood, exploring the Common and the Public Garden, browsing the shops on Beacon Hill, losing myself amid stacks of used books at Brattle Book Shop. A block away from the Brattle, I found a tiny flower kiosk at the grimy entrance to a subway station. Run by a quiet East Asian man, the stand, with its buckets of lilies and daisies, sunflowers and roses, gave me hope in the midst of that first lonely winter. In March of that year, prompted by a creativity challenge in an online course I was taking, I decided to “do one little thing” to brighten my days, and began buying myself flowers every week.

It made – of course – such a difference right away. Golden daffodils in February; vivid tulips in March; daisies and sunflowers and tall purple iris. It felt ridiculously indulgent, sometimes, to be buying flowers for no one but me. But I bought them anyway, filling a vase with water in the public bathroom across the hall. I’m still not sure if anyone else noticed my flowers, but I savored their bright, cheerful presence on my desk almost every week for two years.

When I moved over to Harvard – with immeasurable joy and relief – I started dropping into the neighborhood flower shop, Brattle Square Florist, to marvel at the green-lined shelves of houseplants and the colorful buckets of flowers. Calla lilies, hyacinth, budding pussy willow branches in early spring – I fell in love with all of them, but especially the tulips in every color. I wanted to buy armfuls and scatter them all over my house and office, but settled, eventually, on buying two bouquets a week: one for the office, one for home.

Tulips were, and remain, my go-to flowers most of the year when they’re available, but gradually I began to vary my weekly purchases: ranunculus, anemones, heavy-headed peonies in early June. Vivid blue delphiniums or deep crimson snapdragons. Once in a while, Stephen, the tall, kind-eyed owner, would pluck an extra rose from a bucket on the ground and wrap it up with my order. And always, I spent the first few weeks of early spring watching for daffodils.

By the time I left Harvard, buying flowers every week was an ingrained habit. I remember a conversation with an older male coworker who was baffled by the simple truth that I bought all these flowers for myself. (That week’s bouquet was purple tulips, as I recall.) I didn’t even have to explain it on my own: a female colleague jumped in to affirm that yes, women buy flowers for themselves, and it is a good and right and wonderful thing to do.

When I moved across the river to work at Berklee College of Music, one of the things I lamented was the loss of my Cambridge neighborhood: how would I ever, now, enjoy flowers from my beloved Brattle Square? Where there was a will, though, it turned out there was a way. I began taking the T over to Harvard Square before work at least once a week, buying bouquets from Stephen and then riding back across the river with tulips or anemones sticking out of my backpack. The familiar colors brightened the all-too-gray cubicle at my new job, making a vibrant contrast to the aggressively neutral office color scheme.

I found new sources for flowers, too: the tiny Trader Joe’s around the corner from my new office, and the (expensive but lovely) farmers’ market in Copley Square. I bought sunflowers and pink stock and ruffled ranunculus, augmenting my trips to Cambridge with blooms from the neighborhood. I got questions from my colleagues there, too: “Who loves you so much that they’re buying you flowers all the time?” The short answer, I suppose, then and now, is me.

At this writing, there are four vases filled with blooms in my apartment: creamy peonies and a dozen multicolored roses; red carnations that have hung on for several weeks and a couple of pink ones from a former bouquet, now happily residing in a bud vase. The leggy fern by the north window is waving its green arms in the breeze, and my potted geraniums are a riot of scarlet and pink, at my elbow.

I started a new job last summer, and flowers sometimes live on my desk there as they have in other places. I hope they bring a bit of joy and color to my coworkers’ days. But – I don’t even whisper or sidle up to this fact anymore – they are mainly, unapologetically, for me.  

Katie Noah Gibson is a writer, runner, flower fiend, cyclist and Texas transplant based in Boston. She does communications work for a small nonprofit, reviews books for Shelf Awareness, and squeezes in yoga when she can. You can find her online at, or on Instagram and Twitter at @katiengibson.

Photo by Nico Bermudez 

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