The language of flowers

As part of my traineeship, I have been asked to organise our Mother’s Day event on the 30th March. The event will have a floral theme which will include a botanical art exhibition, children craft activities based around flowers and a florist who will be making small posies with the children but also promoting the flower arranging short course for adults taking place at Gressenhall in the spring.
As part of my research I have been looking into the Victorian “language of flowers” and what different flowers mean. In the Victorian times specific floral arrangements were used to send coded messages to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken out loud in Victorian society. Though often portrayed to relay positive messages of interest, affection, and love, flowers could also send a negative message and at times, the same flower could have opposite meanings depending on how it was arranged or delivered.
In 1819 Louise Cortambert, under the pen name, Madame Charlotte de la Tour, wrote and published what seems to have been the first dictionary of the flower language entitled, Le Language des Fleurs. It was a small book, but it became a popular reference on the subject.

Tussie-mussies “Talking bouquets” were small handheld fragrant bouquets often wrapped in lace doilies. Most often, they were a combination of fragrant herbs; each had its own meaning and a single central flower. Great care was taken to combine the selection in such a way that its meaning was accurately expressed. These small bouquets were also known as nosegays. They were sometimes carried at nose level to block out some of the unpleasant odours common during the Victorian Era. Suitors presented tussie-mussies to their ladies and watched to see if they were held at heart level, which indicated happiness and acceptance. If they were held pointing downward it was a sign of rejection. Not only did a certain flower have significance, but colours also expressed variations in intent or emotions. Even today, a red rose is said to be an expression of passionate or true love, a pink rose is a sign of warm affection, white roses are associated with purity, and yellow roses with friendship.

Some of my favourite and the most curious Floriography:

Basil- Hate
It was the Ancient Greeks who first associated basil with the fierce emotion, and a curious fancy warned that scorpions took shelter under a basil pot, and a sprig of basil placed under a pot would breed a scorpion.

Daffodil- New Beginnings
The daffodil is a welcome, heart-lifting sight, as it marks the end of winter and the beginning of the new season.

Holly- Foresight
Holly was given the emblem of “foresight” because nature protects it with prickly leaves until it has grown high above the reach of foraging cattle, after which the leaves, now out of danger, lose their sharpness.

Sunflower- False Riches
The first Spaniards who arrived in Peru in the 16th century were amazed at the profusion of gold, but they were more astonished when they came across whole fields covered with these flowers, which they thought at first sight to be composed of the same precious metal. And so, for their bitter disappointment the sunflower has been given the emblem of “false riches”.

Miriam Burroughs

Skills For The Future Public Events Trainee

Reference: Kirkby, M (2011). The language of flowers- A miscellany. London: Macmillan.


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