Floriography - the meaning of flowers

I’d like to think that back when there was only Earth and Sky, the Sun and the Moon would long for something new and beautiful to gaze upon. They hoped and they prayed until one day, strong winds blew in seeds from a far away realm, and out sprouted the most breathtaking blooms the heavens had ever laid eyes on. Isn’t that sort of what flowers are meant for? A break from the mundane - something so enthralling we’re taken aback and forced to appreciate beauty in its rawest form.

Blessed by the heavens

I wonder, if flowers could speak, what would they say? Would they swoon along with us when we arrange them for our sweetheart? Would they wince in pain and question our sanity when we plucked at their petals, asking them if the person we were pining after loved us or not? Would they whisper soft things, and tell us about the inner workings of the universe, or how Flora herself willed them into being?

Soft. Sweet. Delicate. Fragrant. Exquisite. Versatile. They can be draped around the four corners of a grand ballroom or sit pretty by your windowsill and they’d still draw your attention with their quiet charm and undeniable beauty. Even when they wilt, there’s still something strikingly beautiful about them.

The language of flowers

Lucky for us, we have Floriography to help satisfy our thirst for understanding these precious plants. Floriography roughly translates to “the language of flowers” and has been used as a means of cryptological communication simply by the way flowers are arranged, their colour and variety. To say that their unique language is fascinating and deeply romantic is an understatement. Floriography has the innate ability to embody the most captivating of human emotions and leave nothing but warmth in its wake.

 The Mother of Floriography

It’s fitting that the renowned poet-adventurer, aristocrat, and feminist, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced floriography to the UK in 1717. Without her grit and passion for floriography or her influential background in high society, the art-form would not exist as we know it. Wed to the British ambassador to Turkey, Floriography flourished under both of their supervision. As the secret language flourished; flowers were used as a means to pass messages between courtesans and lovers in Europe’s noble houses.

A game of fleeting moments and treasured blooms

Apart from the lovely Lady Montagu, the Victorians were also great patrons of the craft that knew how to appreciate flowers thoroughly. They regarded flowers great gifts that had the power to convey true feelings. Colours, textures and scent all played a part in this language of love. The language of flowers has more in common with verse than prose. The meanings of your floral presents were ambiguous and evolving within the context of how they were arranged. From how they were wrapped right down to whom they are gifted to and the particular way they are arranged all made a difference.

Floriography’s most illustrious era

The Victorian era, apart from being historically rich in literature, was one brimming with romance and a flare for the arts. It was, however, also riddled with unspoken longing and repressed emotion. So much so that Victorians yearned for a medium to be able to convey exactly how they felt without having to explicitly do so. Call it the Victorian way of courtship, if you will. The rise in popularity of Floriography gave birth to another artistic revolution that was poised to sink its roots into the modern world. Floristry was taking its first, tentative steps into the world of high society, significant business ventures, and the most sincerest of budding relationships. Flowers slowly crept into our lives one nosegay and peony at a time.

Decoding each bloom

Certain blooms convey emotional content and a range of meanings. Bursting with symbolism and even a little magic, the suggestive language of flowers helps you express thoughts, feelings, and emotions without a single word uttered through it variety, colour, and a plethora of other qualities. Perhaps one of the most striking elements of a flower is its colour. Each vibrant hue can evoke a specific meaning; mixing and layering colours deepens their significance. Flowers may also convey meaning with the scents they carry or the medicinal properties they contain. When arranging flowers into a bouquet, the combination of flowers and colours can bring about even deeper meanings and messages. Even the condition and the presentation of a bouquet can be as important as the flowers it contains.

Itching to learn more about flowers and what meanings each colour and variety may hold? You’re in luck:

The quick guide to floriography

Part 1: Colours

Where colours are concerned:

  • Pink represents unconditional love, happiness, pure innocence, and femininity
  • Red represents passion and desire so deep it could cut you like a rose’s thorn
  • White represents purity, spirituality, perfection, and sympathy
  • Blue represents peace, tranquillity, prosperity, friendship, and immortality
  • Violet represents grace, refinement, elegance, royalty, and beauty
  • Green represents rebirth, renewal, good fortune, good health, and the promise of new beginnings
  • Yellow represents joy, happiness, energy, pride, and friendship
  • Orange represents enthusiasm, excitement, exuberance and a bold passion for life
Part 2: The different flower varieties

Each flower has a unique meaning. Here is a short list comprising of some of the most common flowers:

Roses, ever so popular, have always been a top pick for flower aficionados. However, depending on the colour, we can say that different coloured roses may be applied to a number of different occasions. For example, white roses signify purity and are often used as wedding flowers, or the classic red which screams “I’m absolutely mad about you”. Generally speaking, giving someone a rose conveys that you admire them, are grateful for them, and thoroughly enjoy their lovely company.

Single rose stem

Daffodils could quite possibly be the staple flower of every romantic comedy or drama. You’d hate to admit it, but know that scene all too well - where the main character has flashbacks; the memory etched in every protagonist’s mind starts to play an image of simpler times, of running through a field of daffodils with their childhood sweetheart and blowing on these little things while making a wish. Well, not only are they cute and make for great photos, they also mean “I’ll be there for you no matter what”. On the other side of the coin, they may also express unrequited love.

Daffodil flower

Carnations, the beauty clove-pink pixies of the garden, represent pure love and luck. As with all flowers, however, the colours can make all the difference. While these flowers generally give off warm and happy sentiments, the purple variety is reserved for losing a loved one.

 Carnations flowers

Gardenias may convey purity, sweetness, and secret love. You’ll find that this popular little bud makes quite a lot of appearances in the wedding bouquets of blushing brides. It’s only fitting that a bud as fragrant and delicate as a Gardenia is chosen for such a joyous occasion.

 Gardinia flower

Hydrangeas are flowers that evoke gratitude and heartfelt emotions. These cute rounded flowers bring forth feelings of sincerity and understanding as well. This little shrub roughly translates to “water barrel” and they come in a number of different hues of blue, pink, and purple.

 Hydrangeas flowers

Hyacinth flowers stir light, playful feelings while imbibing in its delicate little body feelings of constancy and appreciation. Think of these little tots as tinier, baby versions of Lavender flowers.

 Hyacinth flowers

Irises symbolise royalty, intelligence, and valour. While the purple Iris embodies respect and intelligence, blue irises are symbolic of hope and faith.

Iris Flower

Lilac flowers are bursting at the seams with youthful innocence and confidence. While white lilacs symbolise purity and innocence, violet ones embody spirituality. Blue lilacs on the other hand symbolise happiness and tranquillity. For the Magenta counterpart, they bring about feelings of love and passion. Saving the best for last, Lilac, the colour and its namesake, represents the power of first loves.

 Lilac flower

Lily fun facts, you ask? Apart from these flowers symbolising humility and devotion, lilies are widely celebrated as the staple bouquet for couples celebrating their the 30th anniversary. The white lilies of the valley in particular are reserved for the 2nd wedding anniversary. On the other hand, lilies are also the flowers most often associated with funerals, as they signify that the soul of the departed has been restored its innocence after death. Primary elements integral to this flower are purity and refined beauty.

 Lily flower

Peonies are the champion of compassion and happy marriages. The embodiment of riches, good fortune, and honour, these flowers are celebrated for their beauty and close ties to one of our most beloved Greek gods. Legend has it that the peony came to be when Paeon, the beloved physician of the Greek gods, and one most favoured by Apollo, the god of the sun, died after sustaining an injury whilst playing with Apollo. From the crimson blood of Paeon sprung the pinched-pink flower.

 Peony flower

Sunflowers, ever the bright and sunny bearer of good news, bring about feelings of adoration, longevity, and dedication. The popular flower, with its golden and sun-kissed aesthetic, is a popular choice to give to loved ones you’d like to impart feelings of cheerfulness, safety, and protection to. Whether the bouquet is meant to be given to friends or a lover during a grey rainy day, one thing’s for certain: Sunflowers have the innate ability to erase the dread and gloom inside your heart.

 Sunflower

Tulips have snagged the first runner-up spot in the Valentine’s Day game for years, and rightfully so - it’s classic shape, cut, and range of colours are absolutely endearing. They represent perfect love, royalty, and importance.

 Tulip flower

Lavender has a beautiful, strong scent and is fantastic at filling your mind, body, and soul with purity, silence, and peace. These gorgeous-hued flowers also express unwavering devotion and hard work. You’ll find that it’s always a popular choice for beauty products because of the calm it brings.

Lavender flowers against a purple background

Jasmine isn’t just reserved for tea - these blooms represent beauty, sensuality, love, and purity. These dainty white flowers - despite their modest size - make for great embellishments on a grand bouquet or woven into a flower crown.

 Jasmine flower

Poppies. Their striking colour and delicate petals are flowers that symbolise restful sleep and peace in death. Quite often we view them as flowers who posses a dangerous and mysterious quality to them, but it’s important to take into account that it’s only its deep, exotic aesthetic making you feel such strong emotions. For loved ones struggling for peace and for loved ones that have left us in pursuit of the next life, Poppies make the perfect present.

Red poppy flower

Immortalised through books

In the decades that followed floriography’s Victorian golden era, several books about the art-form started sprouting. Floriography dictionaries – beautiful books with illustrations of flowers and all of their benefits and characteristics listed neatly – proliferated. Each flower was dutifully catalogued. Everything from which flower suited which occasion best, to what the colours meant were present in the dictionary. Artists, poets, and writers alike added this information to their work.

 

Sincerity that trumps any precious stone

Our love story with Floriography is one that warrants a lifetime; our insatiable appetites for these precious blooms will continue to flourish until our bones return to the very Earth that nourishes them. As I leave you with visions of your next floral arrangement, I hope you’ll remember the sentiments behind each one. I hope you’ll stick around and continue to grow and fall in love with flowers all together. For more informative little titbits and flower tips you might like to check out our other articles or visit our FAQ page.