Victorian England was a time of restraint and morality. Expressions of deep emotion were private matters, and some topics were simply not discussed. But crafty Victorians found a way to communicate their hearts’ desires without speaking or writing a single word.
Floriography, or the language of flowers, allowed people to send messages through floral arrangements. Assigning meanings to plants dates back thousands of years, but became especially popular during the Victorian Era. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements allowed people to express feelings that they could not speak out loud.
Whilst floriography has fallen out of fashion, it can still be used to send secret messages or add special meaning to a gifted bouquet.
I love you!
Perhaps the most common reason for sending flowers, it’s no surprise that there’s a blossom for nearly every degree of love.
Red roses are a Valentine’s Day staple, but myrtle, red chrysanthemums and tulips boldly declare affection as well. Lilacs are more timid, representing the first emotions of love. And if you ever receive a mysterious bouquet of yellow acacias, you might have a secret admirer!
Of course, you may want to (gently) let someone know that you don’t love them romantically. In this case, a bouquet of pink roses and ivy signifies friendship.
The “I’m sorry” bouquet often goes hand in hand with declarations of love. For an extra touch, Star-of-Bethlehem (ornithogalum) will express your desire for reconciliation.
For those who are truly sorry, a bramble branch symbolises remorse. But be careful—if your loved one sticks their finger on one of the prickles you’ll owe them another apology!
Blushing brides can add extra meaning to bouquets and boutonnieres. Stephanotis denotes marital bliss, whilst red peonies symbolise devotion.
Those looking for a “something blue” to walk down the aisle with may choose speedwell (Veronica) or blue violets. These blossoms represent fidelity and faithfulness.
Guests can also join in by wishing the happy couple “good luck” with a sprinkling of white heather.
Not all flowers represent positive intentions. Floral arrangements can easily be crafted for your enemies (but we don’t recommend it).
A jilted lover may send a bouquet of rosebay oleander and bird’s-foot trefoil to their love’s new partner as a warning: these blooms mean “beware” and “revenge,” respectively.
When someone neglects to thank you for your help, a grouping of buttercup and wild ranunculus will remind them of their ingratitude.
Strong hostility towards another can be signaled with St. John’s Wort, and giving them a basil plant will let them know you hate them. If those sentiments aren’t strong enough, there’s always belvedere (Bassia scoparia). This shrub says, “I declare war against you.”
A last goodbye
The Victorian Era is known for extravagant funerals and strict mourning rules. It should come as no surprise that floriography focuses quite a bit on death.
Family and close friends may display weeping willow or cypress branches to indicate they are in a mourning period. A bouquet of purple geraniums and marigolds may brighten their day, but also signify their sadness and grief.
Mourners may wish to leave pink carnations or rosemary on the coffin or at the gravesite. Both plants show that you will always remember the deceased.
What’s your favourite flower? Share which blossoms brighten your day on our Facebook page.