'Pretty Woman' may be the variety name of these tulips above, but do you know what red tulips signify in the Language of Flowers? Read on to find out and learn about this coded form of communication through the use of flowers. And what better a time of year than Valentine's to send flowers with secret messages...
Meaning has been attributed to flowers for thousands of years, from Ancient Egypt via Ancient Rome and Greece, as well as in the East. However, it was in the Victorian era that the interest in floriography soared in England and the United States. Gifts of flowers, plants and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in Victorian society. Armed with floral dictionaries, Victorians often exchanged small 'talking bouquets', called nosegays or tussie-mussies, which could be worn or carried as a fashion accessory.
In England, the renewed Victorian era interest in the Language of Flowers finds its roots in 1716 in Turkey, when Lady Mary Wortley Montagu accompanied her husband to Istanbul, where he was Ambassador at the Turkish Sultan's court. And she became fascinated by floriography and took the idea back with her as a souvenir of sorts.
The Language of Flowers quickly became popular and became the obsession of the Victorian age, as it complemented their interest in botany and gave people a way to communicate about matters of the heart, at a time when such things were completely suppressed. This symbolic language offered a socially acceptable way to express one's feelings. And by combining blooms to form a small bouquet, it was possible to have an entire conversation in flowers.
Books were compiled, many of them beautifully illustrated, containing flowers with their meanings. The first dictionary of floriography appeared in 1819 when Louise Cortambert, writing under pen name Madame Charlotte de la Tour, wrote Le Langage des Fleurs. Her book stimulated the publishing industry and publishers in both Europe and the United States produced hundreds of editions of floriography books during the 19th century.
The significance assigned to specific flowers in Western culture varied — nearly every flower had multiple associations, listed in the hundreds of floral dictionaries — but a consensus of meaning for common blooms has emerged. Despite the sometimes confusing number of potential floral interpretations, flowers were increasingly being used as a way of communicating. Not only did every flower have a different sentiment attached to it, but the way it was given or presented added a further nuance to the meaning. For example, a rose bud given with thorns and leaves attached meant, "I fear but I hope" - the thorns implied fear and the leaves hope). If the leaves were removed and the thorns left on, it implied "There is everything to fear."
Valentine's Day, celebrated annually on February 14th, originated as a Western Christian feast day honouring one or two early saints named Valentinus. In 18th century England, couples started to express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery and sending greeting cards. And when floriography exploded in the Victorian era, making a gift of Valentine’s Day flowers became a form of communication.
Valentine's Day is now recognised as a significant cultural, religious and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love in many regions around the world. And the rose is the traditional Valentine's Day flower as it signifies romantic love. But there are many other flowers that people send to communicate different types of love they feel for those important people in their lives.
Seasonal Flowers & Their Meanings
The individual meanings of flowers were never allocated randomly, but came from the role each plant played in ancient mythology, religious symbolism or medicine. And sometimes, definitions were derived from the appearance or behaviour of the plant itself.
Below, you'll discover the different meanings of just some of the flowers currently available at New Covent Garden Flower Market over the Valentine's period, listed alphabetically. It's important to note that the meanings of some flowers are different, based on their colour.
Red : Passionate love, A love that is pure and deep, "I must see you soon."
Pink : Encouragement, "Thank you for your charming token", "I'll never forget you."
White : Pure affection, "Chaste love I offer."
Red : Reciprocated love, "I love you."
Remembrance, true love, unforgotten, "Think of me during my absence."
Blue : Constancy, devotion, "I will give my life to your service."
White : Admiration, beauty and constancy, " I admire you."
Blue : Ardour, "You have set my heart a-glow", "I have a message for you", "Good news."
Purple : First love, memories of First Love, "You are my first love."
Self-love, egotism, vanity, "You love no one better than yourself."
Pink : Friendship, "I think we might be friends."
White : Interest, "Tell me something about yourself", "Our hearts and souls are united."
"I am dazzled with your charms", "You are rich in attractions."
Red : Love, romance, passion and beauty, "I love you."
Pink : Perfect happiness
White : Refusal, "I love you not."
Yellow : Misplaced affection, infidelity, jealousy, the decline of love, "I love another."
Lasting beauty, a contented life.
Ostentation, "Things that glitter do not impress me."
Gallantry, willing to please, coquetry, "I was only teasing you."
Red : Avowal, offer a declaration of love, "I love you", "By this token I declare my passion."
A perfect way for a bride to personalise her wedding flowers for her bouquet and floral arrangements is to choose blooms that hold specific meanings in the Language of Flowers. Did you know that the floral ingredients included in the Duchess of Cambridge's bridal bouquet in 2011, which Shane Connolly created, were chosen due to their meaning in floriography?
The Duchess was keen on the Language of Flowers from the start, and so every flower and leaf was relevant and meaningful. That in turn meant they were totally seasonal and locally sourced. The design featured lily of the valley (return of happiness), sweet williams (gallantry), hyacinth (constancy of love), myrtle (the emblem of marriage, love) and ivy (fidelity, marriage).
Perhaps something to consider for the upcoming wedding season for those brides who are passionate about their big day blooms?
If you'd like to explore the Language of Flowers and their historic, hidden meanings further, Shane has written two books:
- Discovering the Meaning of Flowers: Love Found, Love Lost, Love Restored
- The Language of Flowers
I hope you've enjoyed reading this month's florist's guide on the symbolic Language of Flowers. Please do ask away below if you have any questions or would like to make any general comments. As always, we'd love to hear from you...