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12 June 2024

Bridgerton’s flowers are pure fantasy

Many raised their eyebrows at the sex scenes; I was outraged that anybody thought wisteria, apple trees and roses bloom simultaneously.

By Alice Vincent

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – the clichés of freelance life come to pass. Last Thursday, having made a big deadline a couple of days early, I celebrated by running an afternoon bath and cracking into Bridgerton. Netflix’s notoriously horny period costume drama is, for me, cognitive candy floss. The plotting is slow, the dialogue and acting hammy, the costuming overdone – and yet, it soothes my brain pleasingly.

For the uninitiated, Bridgerton is a glossy adaptation of the Georgian romance novels by Julia Quinn. They detail the matchmaking that happens during “the Season”, the endless parade of balls and sporting events that unfolded between May and August in “the Ton” – or London high society – in the early 19th century.

Beyond the big houses and swooning, what I find really fascinating about Bridgerton is the endless impossibility of the gardens and abundant floriculture dripping from every scene. When the first series came out, in a grim, locked-down winter, many raised their eyebrows over the sex scenes; I was outraged by the idea that anybody thought wisteria, apple trees and roses might all bloom simultaneously.

In a pivotal scene in season two, a tender and bittersweet father-son bonding moment happens as hyacinths – one of the earliest flowers to open in the New Year, usually all faded by March – are picked from the garden in the height of summer. (Bonus nerd points for those who were doubly irritated by the ease at which they were plucked from the ground: hyacinths have tough, brittle stems that demand secateurs lest you mush them to a pulp.)

In the same season, two ballroom runaways lie down and have a tête-à-tête in a field of daffodils, in some imaginary grove where late spring doesn’t exist. The producers later admitted to planting 5,000 fake daffs; God knows what happened to them afterwards. Forget a sometime second flush in August, wisteria – a plant that typically has a flowering season of a couple of weeks in a good year – is eternally in bloom in the world of the Ton.

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The cut flowers are, somehow, even more bizarre. There’s a scene in the first season where a bouquet containing eucalyptus, orange lilies, pale yellow roses and red tulips is handed over in an attempt at courtship. Colonialist plant-hunting started gearing up in Europe in the 18th century, but given that eucalyptus seeds didn’t land in the UK, at Kew, until 1774, and frost-resistant varieties didn’t arrive until the mid-1880s, everyone seems pretty indifferent about this then exotic plant turning up in the living room. (I find it ticklish that the recipient of the bouquet went on to enter a marriage of convenience with a botanist.)

Bridgerton’s producers have claimed to have made more of a fuss of the flowers with each passing season. But while the second series exploded in a riot of orchids, clematis, roses, hydrangeas and delphiniums, often dripping from ceilings or smothering mantelpieces, the latest, third season seems to have calmed down a bit.

As heartstrings have been tugged in the will-they, won’t-they romance of Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington, the floral vomit of previous years has given way to open meadows and clipped topiary (which, in previous years, would have had fake roses poked in among the hedging). This is the work of the show’s new production designer, Alison Gartshore, in collaboration with a new showrunner, Jess Brownell. While the trailer for the second, more dramatic half of the series (the show has taken a mid-season break) promises a return to bonkers horticultural form, there does seem to be a slight incline towards what might have actually grown in a garden in summer in the 1820s. Eagle-eyed viewers will, however, notice a profusion of gladioli. The show’s florist, Phillip Corps, has declared them Penelope’s flowers – which seems an unfortunate fate to bestow a character who has already suffered so much.

[See also: The Chelsea Flower Show goes green]

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This article appears in the 12 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The hard-right insurgency