The language and the giving of flowers (known as florigraphy) can be said to have started as far back as the 1700's by the Persians, as discovered by Charles II of Sweden, who then introduced the practice to Europe. But it was the Victorians (during the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901), who developed this into a whole new language and their practices are best known today, because much of it has been well documented in books and journals of the time.
In their very protocol dominated society, the Victorians often replaced words with symbols and gestures, and flowers became an integral part of being able to express one’s thoughts and feelings to loved ones. The species, colours, number and grouping of the flowers were of great importance and as there weren’t as many flower species as there are today, each flower had a specific meaning. A particular favourite was the red rose, symbolizing passion and love, and meaning “Be mine’, whereas primroses stated, “I can’t live without you,” purple hyacinths, “Please forgive me,” and pink carnations, “I’ll never forget you.”
For roses there is a particular coding, but this can also be applied to other flowers as well. Red roses mean romantic love, purple signify that the giver had fallen in love with the recipient at first sight, coral and orange means desire, yellow is joy and friendship, pink roses express gratitude and appreciation, light pink roses show feelings of admiration and sympathy, peach can either signify either sympathy or gratitude and white roses show reverence and humility.
The messaging didn't shop there, how the flowers were worn or presented was also highly charged with meaning. If the flowers were presented upright it was positive, upside down and you were less fortunate. Also, how a ribbon was tied around the flowers was of importance; it referred to the giver if tied to the left and the recipient if tied to the right. A question could be answered depending on which hand the bearer had presented the flowers with. If it was the right hand the answer was "yes" and the left hand "no". Should you have the misfortune to receive a bunch of dead flowers then not only did you now have nothing for your vase, your love had been totally rejected.
In order to attract positive chi in Feng Shui, flowers and their placement within the home play an important part. Dried flowers should be avoided at all costs as they do not ensure a good energy flow. Sunflowers bring stability and endurance, cyclamen bring passion and romance, the spider plant encouraged calmness, whereas African violets attract fame, or recognition. For calm regions of the house such as bedrooms, pinks are best for harmony, for busy areas, balance-inducing lilies and orchids are suggested.
These days, giving a bunch of flowers is more about the sentiment behind the gift than its actual meaning. We seem to have all but lost (with a couple of exceptions) the Victorians’ language of flowers. So go on, next time you give a bouquet, really say it with flowers.
© Alison Day
First published in the Connections magazine #19 Spring 2008