In the Victorian era, when the world was a madrigal, the lyrics were sung by the flowers. They held the meaning to what was really inside the hearts of the people who gifted and displayed them.
A single flower could hold the tales of your desires and the whispers of your secrets. A flower could bloom new love into your life or uproot a wild affair.
The people of the time used flowers as a way to express their real feelings. This expression is known as the Victorian Flower Language, also known as Floriography, a language that can help you create poetry out of gift-giving.
Picture yourself going to see a friend you haven’t see in a while, and you want to bring her a gift. Instead of going to a gas station and picking up a pop socket on which there is a cat wearing sunglasses, maybe think of what she means to you. Give her oak leaf geranium if she is a true friend. Give her flax if you feel her kindness. Give her white hyacinth flowers to tell her she is beautiful. Give her lily of the valley if she symbolizes the return of your happiness.
Believe it or not, even in modern times people associate different meanings with different flowers. Ever wonder, “What do flowers symbolize?” What do white flowers mean? What do yellow flowers symbolize? What flower symbolizes love, or sadness?
Take a look at the list below to find out which flowers symbolize different things, like love, death, sadness or sympathy, so you don’t make the mistake of using the wrong flower in the wrong situation.
Flowers for a wedding:
The red rose is the most commonly used symbol for love. If your wedding is filled with red roses, your family and friends with be inhaling love with every breath.
I like the idea of adding other elements to your bouquet. Perhaps flowers that represent some of the ideals you want encrusted in the foundation of your marriage: Honeysuckle is for devotion, (and lovely for a spring wedding). Blue bells symbolize constancy (such a powerful thing to promise someone). Chervil is for sincerity — it doesn’t bloom because its technically a spice, but it would be a lovely compliment to a wildflower bouquet.
Ivy is for fidelity. While ivy isn’t a particle flower to have in in a bouquet, it would be lovely on a tress or an arch in an outdoor wedding.
According to A Victorian Flower Dictionary: The Language of Flowers Companion by Mandy Kirkby, you should avoid gifting the following flowers, though:
- White Rose — means your heart is unacquainted with love.
- Yellow Rose — means infidelity.
- Lavender — means mistrust.
- Yellow Carnation — means distain.
- Stripped Carnation — means “I cannot be with you.”
Fun Fact: People throw corn at wedding because corn is supposed to represent good fortune.
Flowers for a baby shower or childbirth:
Bringing gifts to newborn children and their families is a tradition that dates back to biblical times. Most people today bring baby clothes, diapers or blankets. If you want to bring something a little bit meaningful, perhaps you can consider peppering the air with your fragrant wishes for the new family.
Daffodils would be a lovely choice as daffodils represent new beginnings. Daisy flowers symbolize innocence and crocus are for youthful gladness. Oregano is for joy (probably why I’m so happy eating pizza) and Wisteria is for a grand welcome.
If you are a mother who is expecting your first grandchild, Moss is for maternal love. I personally think that is such a lovely and profound gift for a mother to give her daughter or daughter-in-law on such a momentous occasion.
You should avoid gifting the following flowers:
- Scarlet Geranium — means stupidity.
- Peony — means anger.
- Sunflower — means false riches.
Fun Fact: The Children in Victorian times would celebrate the arrival of Daffodil season by singing a rhyme that proclaims, “Daffadowndilly has come to town, in a yellow petticoat and a red gown.” I like the idea of using a Daffodil to welcome a child, just as a child welcomes the Daffodil.
Flowers for a funeral:
When someone you love loses someone close to them, it is hard to assess how they need you and how to support them. Flowers can add a fragrance to the air, helping them to open their lungs to the healing they may need.
Perhaps someone you love died. Perhaps you want to grow and display flowers as a way to communicate with them, as a way for you to bury your messages to the deceased and let them bloom. Use zinnia to say, “I mourn your absence,” and vetch to say, “I cling to thee.”
Yarrow can cure a broken heart, and tulips are a declaration of love. Thrift and rosemary symbolize sympathy and remembrance, while black poplar symbolizes courage. Rhubarb is a way to ask your loved one for advice, just as pansy conveys warmth of feeling. Periwinkle is for tender recollections, and red carnations symbolize heartbreak. Moss rose means confessions of love.
Marigold is for grief, and stonecrop is often gifted for tranquility. Hazel is for reconciliation, and white poplar is the gift of time.
Phlox is perfect for saying that your souls are united, and olive is for peace. Lilly of the valley symbolizes the return of happiness, and heather can be gifted for protection. Pear blossom helps to comfort, as ginger and fennel are for strength. Edelwiess is for noble courage.
Perhaps there are things you need to say to the deceased that have since gone unsaid. Perhaps you could use the earth to grow the departed a bouquet of unexpressed feelings. Clove is to say I have loved you, and you have not known it. Michaelmas daisy is to say farewell.
You should avoid gifting the following flowers:
- Basil — means hate.
- Bouvardia — means enthusiasm.
- Cabbage — means profit.
- Yellow Carnations — means distain.
- Heath —means solitude.
- Lichen —means dejection.
Flowers to inspire people:
We all want to make changes in our lives from time to time. We feel rooted in melancholy or indecision, knowing we need to make changes, but feeling completely uninspired. Claiming that flowers will turn you on your head and change your entire outlook on life is improbable and untrue, but having a token of motivation is something that can help us all to grow.
Agrimony is an herb that for gratitude, to remind you that you are trying to better yourself, and that you should be grateful for yourself. Use amaryllis flowers to instill pride because you should be proud of yourself.
Aster symbolizes patience and reminds you that real change takes time, while chamomile is great for motivation in spite of adversity; remember that it is hard but get up and keep going, and do it purposefully.
Chicory can be helpful for frugality, because, sometimes, you really don’t need those shoes. Gift corn to signify riches (in case you didn’t listen to the chicory). Cranberry can cure your heartache. Daffodil flowers can encourage you to start a new beginning. Hawthorn is for hope, when you don’t know what lies around the next corner, and olive is for peace when the world is buzzing around you.
Mistletoe reminds you that you can surmount all obstacles and Narcissus is an ideal symbol of self-love. Lupin is for wandering imaginations — when you’re feeling depleted of all original thought.
White poplar is best when you need to take some time to breathe, read, drink a cup of tea or a bottle of wine, or just be still.
Protea is for is for courage when you feel like maybe you’re running low. Witch hazel is for “spells,” to remind yourself that you are magic. And you truly are.
You should avoid gifting these flowers:
- Cowslip — means pensiveness.
- Columbine — means desertion.
- Camellia — means “my destiny is in your hands.”
- Blackberry — means envy.
- Raspberry — means remorse.
I will tell you an obvious truth. Flowers aren’t magic. They aren’t a cure to your pain. They won’t talk to you. They can’t promise eternal love or millions of dollars. But don’t be afraid to let them inspire you.
Plant them. Let them teach you to heal. Let them help you to celebrate. Let them shower the ones you love with affection. Buy them. Plant them. Give them. Breathe them in. Don’t be afraid to add a little lyricism to your life. Don’t be afraid to be thoughtful. Don’t be afraid to be poetic. And don’t be afraid to mean it.