As I discussed last week roses have a special meaning depending on color. This can actually delve deeper depending on variety but I’ll leave that alone because it is simply too much. Instead, I’m going to share with you a little symbolism behind flowers, and then I’ll explain the traditional language of flowers that became highly prevalent during the Victorian era.
Flowers as a whole have had distinct meanings for centuries. Take color for instance white flowers typically mean innocence and purity. A common color for funerals – there is something distinctly sacred in death that defies color – a blank slate as you enter heaven, or a cleansing of sin. Even a bride wears white to signify virginity and wholesomeness; flowers can mimic the same sentiments.
Take a look at the Iris – it’s the state flower of Tennessee, the inspiration for the French Fleur De Lis, a symbol in many a royal family, the designated flower for a 25th wedding anniversary, and the birth flower for February. It has several meanings such as wisdom, honor, and valor. Nearly every flower has a list as impressive as the Iris – flowers might just be pretty to look at but they also have a voice and a place in this world.
In Victorian times and Regency, people rode in horse drawn carriages. If they were lucky the carriage was enclosed, but if they wanted to be seen, as much of the peerage did, they took pride in riding though the parks in an open-faced coach. Now, the problem to this is that you would be facing the sour end of a horse. Therefore, women carried what is called a nose gay. A small bundle of flowers in which to bury their nose and relieve themselves of the stench of the horse, the river, or any other multitude of things. Typically, the nosegay was comprised of an ornate metal container with a loop at the bottom. A woman would loop her pinky or ring finger through it, leaving the rest of the holder resting against her gloved palm.
There are oodles of stories around that explain how flowers actually began to have significant language. The one that resonated with me is of a sad and lonely wife of a Duke, who was dreadfully unhappy to be separated from her true love. In time, the pair circumvented the rigidness of society and found a way to be together. Unfortunately, in those times a man couldn’t send an email or call her up on the phone to arrange a meeting. He would not want to write her a note incase her husband found it and they were discovered. Between the two of them, they created a complex language of flowers in order to communicate with one another. For example, he might send a nose gay, or another small handheld bouquet called a tussie mussie, with a red rose (love), a Scottish thistle (Scotland), some chickweed (a rendezvous), some purple hyacinth (sport), and just for grins a little geranium (conjugal affection). His message might be interpreted as My love, meet me in Scotland for a rendezvous of sport and conjugal affection.
A few more — If an arrangement included basil, pansies, and a sweet pea, it would mean Best wishes and loving thoughts on your departure. A mix of an cymbidium orchid , a laurel leaf, and some juniper, might mean magnificent success on your new home.
The list goes on and on. Over time this tradition grew into society and was, and still is, used in bridal bouquets and anniversary gifts. I spoke earlier about Irises, the traditional have the meaning of “I Promise.” So a bride might carry a bouquet of Iris, with white, pink, and red roses, meaning I promise you my innocence, my beauty, and my love.
There is an entire language open for interpretation on flowers. Personally I’m enamored by how beautiful the sentiments can be behind something so beautiful.I love determining the meaning by color and interpretation to come up with something that truly speaks from my heart, something physical and artistic that words can not describe.
Next week I’m going to finish up my month long devotion to flowers with a piece about why you should support your local florist. For today please comment with any flower you’d like to know the meaning of and I’d be happy to get back with you tonight about what they mean and what symbolism they might have.