“A flower is not a flower alone; a thousand thoughts invest it.”
One bloom (dahlia) signifies “forever thine” while another (daffodil) speaks to self-love. Do you know what message you may be sending? After digging deeper in the language of flowers, all of us at Fleurs de Villes are thinking more about the message of the actual blooms when sending a bouquet or planting a garden.
Volumes have been written throughout history about ‘floriography’ - the language of flowers. For thousands of years - as far back as the Hebrew Bible - flowers and their arrangements have communicated symbols or meanings in different cultures through song, art and literature. In the Golden Age of Dutch painting, for example, rare tulips signified wealth and were prized as much as priceless artwork. They were always placed at the height of an arrangement in a floral painting. The addition of flies in a painting? A symbol of corruption.
Fast forward to Victorian times in the 19th century and fascination in how flowers could send a coded meaning exploded. Illustrated dictionaries were published pairing flowers with their symbolic meanings (and those could differ from book to book) and a new language of flowers swept through newspapers, poetry books, paintings and magazines. Victorians used gifts of flower arrangements and small bouquets called “nosegays” or “tussie-mussies” (once used to disguise street smells and body odour) to communicate feelings or share secret moments that sidestepped the strict protocols of behaviour. They expressed their emotions - from romantic love to angry quarrel - through the blooms they sent. A hopeful suitor may send his beloved a nosegay but if she pinned it over her cleavage, it was a sign of rejection. He professed love. She answered with friendship.
A single flower could have multiple meanings but accepted definitions for popular blooms, such as roses, became commonplace and continue today. The deep red rose, a Valentine's Day staple, represents romantic passion. Beware the besotted who receives pink roses instead - still lovely but a disappointing signal of a less intense affection. Or a gift of yellow roses from a potential love may actually be a sign of infidelity. Black roses have long roots in dark magic while white roses are said to be signs of virtue.
Different cultures also interpret flowers. (We’ll tell you more about that in another post.) Since the 8th century, the Japanese have honoured cherry blossoms - sakura season - to where it is now a national pastime. They consider the fast blooming and quickly fading cherry blossom to symbolize the beautiful but fleeting nature of life.
Today, interest in floriography is enjoying a resurgence. With more of us spending time at home, flower arranging, garden design and home entertainment (Hello Bridgerton on Netflix!), many are returning to appreciate the secret meanings of flowers. Flower arranging has swept through social media - Instagram and Pinterest in particular - and lavishly illustrated books about flower arranging, the language of flowers, and colour theory are flourishing. If you’d like to read further about floriography, we recommend two different books.
The first is a gorgeously illustrated and deeply researched book that gives the background of a selection of different flowers with their contemporary cultural meaning - The Language of Flowers, A Fully Illustrated Compendium of Meaning, Literature and Lore for the Modern Romantic written and illustrated by Odessa Begay (Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers).
What do your favourite blooms signify? Definitions vary by flower and shade in different books so we borrowed a handful from Begay’s book:
White Daisy = innocence
Scarlet Red Ranunculus = “I am dazzled by your charms”
Sunflower = haughtiness
Snapdragon = presumption
Peony = anger or bashful shame
Morning Glory = extinguished hopes or uncertainty
Purple Lilac = the first emotions of love
Our second book, also called The Language of Flowers, is a novel about communicating through flowers. This 2011 bestselling novel is author and real-life foster mother Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut. It tells the story of Victoria Jones who had bounced around 32 foster homes by the time she reached the age of emancipation at 18. Inspired by one of her foster mothers, Victoria learned to communicate through studying flowers - and it set her on a new life path. Her success as a self-taught florist comes from the messages conveyed through her clever choices of blooms, taken from the exhaustive research put into her own dictionary of flowers. And while we may think of a romantic association with blooms, Victoria’s story is more about motherhood, heartache, and redemption - it’s a masterful novel that will bring you to tears. (Ballantine Books)