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Friday, February 12, 2010

Say it with flowers

By Jennifer

Bleeding heart, a way to communicate undying love.

Those crafty Victorians! They didn’t have cell phones or email of course, but boy, did they know how to send a message.

Consider this bouquet:

Here’s what you and I see: spiky blue salvia, pink cosmos and one yellow black-eyed Susan. Here’s what a lady in 19th Century England, who finds this bouquet on her doorstep, might imagine her admirer to be telegraphing:

“I’m thinking of you (salvia) and ONLY you (the single yellow flower), but I’m too modest (cosmos) to say so out loud.” And our fair lady might even blush.

To those versed in the Victorian language of flowers, plants offered a discreet means of communication. Code lists and books were all the rage at the time. Many meanings are steeped in mythology or ancient literature, with some flowers retaining their potent metaphors into today. You can hardly turn around this week without seeing ads to buy red roses for Valentine’s Day, for instance. Because the red rose, with its meaning of passionate love, is the king (or queen!) of flower symbols.

The Victorians attached meaning to most every flower and herb. Undoubtedly plants had multiple codes, but I suspect deciphering which meaning the sender intended was part of the fun. Check out this link for an impressive list.

So not only could you say, “I wish you good luck (allium),” you could tell someone, “I don’t trust you (lavender). You’re nothing but a jealous (yellow rose), egotistical cad (narcissus).” Phew! I pity the poor bloke who lived in the climate zone producing all those in bloom at once.

Several plants convey sentiment in their very names:

(quotations indicate cultivar names)

“Angel face” floribunda rose

Bleeding heart

“Daydream” tulip

“Everlasting” sweet pea


Honesty plant




Obedient plant

“Romance” narcissus

“Valentine” sunflower

Wouldn’t it be fun to make a Valentine’s card out of seed packets? I think so. It’s a sure-fire hit for the gardener in your life.

You could promise your Valentine the “Moon and Stars” (watermelon) – because yes! -- produce gets in the lovey-dovey act, too:

“Black Valentine” beans

“Hearts of Gold” cantaloupe

“Hungarian Heart” tomato

Instead of traditional trinkets, you could give a growing, botanical version:


“Diamond” eggplant

“Golden treasure” pepper

“Chocolate beauty” pepper

“Teddy bear” sunflower

“Lady Godiva” squash, anyone? (Nah, Godiva chocolates are probably better.)

Show that you appreciate your Valentine’s special qualities by pointing out:

“Good Mother (Stallard)” beans

“Provider” beans

“Country Gentleman” corn

Use your imagination, and let plants do the talking this Valentine’s Day. Take it from me, though. These may be incredible plants, but for the holiday’s sake steer clear of sending a message with “Lazy Housewife” beans or “Seneca Red Stalker” corn.

Have you ever sent a botanical message? Tell us about it!


Stefany said...

I love love love tussie mussies and their meanings! Thank you for sharing!

mike said...

Very interesting. Now I am stressed about the flowers I get Marisa. what if I choose the flower that says "Thou art fat and dumpy." That is not the message I want to convey.

Jennifer said...

Ha ha, Mike! Didn't mean to stress you out. I'm sure you'll do great. I guess, as someone who never receives flowers herself, I didn't think of this angle!

marisa said...

Jennifer, it's okay, it shouldn't stress him out. He knows better than to get me cut flowers, I much prefer a plant, something that lasts longer. I guess I'm unromantic like that.

Karen said...

I agree with you, Marisa and I also think this post is awesome.

Dale Johnson said...

Great article.

Lindsay said...

I love that idea!!!

Jennifer said...

Marisa, we're alike that way. I gave Jeff an out early on in our courtship when I said I didn't like bouquets because they just died days later. (Yes, I was an idiot!) But he has given me several beautiful plants over the years.

TracyMB @ Crow's Feet Chic said...

I was looking for ideas for fall bouquets with cosmos & black eyed susans (our Thanksgiving this weekend in Canada) and your bouquet by far is the most beautiful on the net! Thank you! :)