The language of flowers

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Our theme for Spring/Summer 13 is Botanics. Whilst our design inspirations were based on aesthetics our Victorian ancestors may have read a whole lot more into it...

I have a strong interest in the language of flowers as I my Great, great, great, great (we are uncertain but think its 4 or 5 removes) aunt was Kate Greenaway. Kate Greenaway was a famous Victorian illustrator who is most famous for popularising a style of dress for children. Her sketches influenced a range produced by Liberty of London that was favoured by the artistic and liberal set called "the souls".

Her most enduring illustrations though were for a book called "Language of Flowers" which lists in exhausting detail the meaning of each flower (including 34 types of rose!) A simple bouquet from an admirer was a secret code to discover the true intent. A posy given to a friend could give words of encouragement or be a veiled insult. In such an outwardly polite society posies could be used to say the unsayable. For example*:

A Victorian lady separated from her paramour can be grateful if she gets this tussie-mussie; bluebells for constancy, patience dock for patience and rosemary for remembrance. However, alarm bells would be ringing if the bouquet contains lavendar for distrust and pasque flower for you have no claims - the wedding is probably off!

Equally a friend on hearing about your errant lover could be kind and send a bouquet containing hawthorn, hazel and oak leaves for hope, reconciliation and bravery.

My favourite meanings are the rather saucy "if you love me, you will find out" for the Maiden Blush rose and the wild tansy which means "I declare war against you" which brings to mind images of pistols at dawn duelling.

And I am not sure how I would have felt had I been sent Mignionette which has the rather backhanded complement "your qualities surpass your charms"

I hope you enjoyed this little look at the lost art of floriography (as it was known) but please don't read too much into the collection when it launches in March!

Language of Flowers in available on Project Gutenberg all images are sourced from the project.

* Please note I am no gardener and no doubt these posies would have been impossible to put together as they probably flower at completely different times of year!

 


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