Those Victorians and their elegant ways have worked their magic into nearly every facet of our literature, art, and lives no matter how modern we think we are!
There’s a simple sophistication and dignity in that time that helps us to relax from our busy lives and revel in this old-fashioned era. Even the Victorian's Floriography can be updated and interwoven into our 21st-century lives … and gardens!
Whether you are a Jane Austen fan or a Downton Abbey fanatic, there’s something alluring about these antiquated times of old that fills us with a sense of romance and longing!
There was a frenzied rise in enthusiasm for gardening, flowers, and plants during the Victorian era as a way to show one's standing and wealth. Plus new plants were being brought over from other countries by the shipload!
But beyond the Victorians, many cultures put meaning to flowers! Even Shakespeare's Hamlet had loads of meaning ingrained into flowers and plants!
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember. And there is pansies; that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it herb of grace a’ Sundays. You may wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end” —Act 4, scene 5
Plant symbolism is embedded in everything, sometimes without us even noticing! Some of the meanings were based on mythology, while others were rooted in medicinal or magical properties and superstition.
Honestly, any meaning we affix to a plant or flower is based on our own individual connections. For myself, the lowly annual Cosmo flower was the first I laid eyes on as a toddler, and have been transfixed by plants ever since! So regardless of the fact the Victorians believed that the Cosmo symbolized peace, joy, harmony, order, and balance, they’re always going to be included in my garden!
Maybe it was your Grandmother's favorite flowers or one your Dad grew every year in the front garden that will always hold a special place in your heart. Or the fond memories that are conjured each time you get a whiff of a dear Aunt’s prized Peony.
But the Victorians took it to an entirely new level!
For one, they had lots of rules when it came to social engagements and relationships. In a world of uptight morals and stifling etiquette, one needed an alternative to flirt and send secret messages! The Victorians used Floriography to assign a very particular meaning to each and every posy. They even went so far as to use flowers to convey very secret and silent messages in their bouquets, called ‘tussie-mussies’ or nosegays!
A flower given with the right hand meant 'Yes', while the left hand meant 'No'. The very position of the flowers had meaning - holding the flowers at heart level meant you agreed with their message, but upside down conveyed the opposite of the blooms' symbolism! A wilted bouquet carried with it an obvious message to its recipient!
The number of flowers included even showed deeper meaning! One Rose for love at first sight, six for infatuation, 15 to apologize, and 24 say “I’m yours!”.
Even the flower color changes the meaning too!
Chrysanthemums and Carnations had every bit of meaning as Roses depending on their color! In general, Chrysanthemums represent happiness, love, longevity, and joy. A red Chrysanthemum or Carnation stood for love as much as a red Rose did, but sending someone a yellow Chrysanthemum conveyed disdain!
Giving someone Lettuce conveyed coldheartedness, Mustard told someone you were hurt, and Cucumbers were symbolic of upper-class people in a snotty stuck-up way, so a sandwich may double as a way to tell someone you dislike them!
In fact, an entire conversation or statement could even be made by simply sending someone a bouquet! And not just romantic notions either… a single nosegay could convey feelings of melancholy, sympathy, friendship, refusal, or pure hatred!
Sounds like something we could indeed work into modern society, don’t you think?
While the meanings can vary depending on where you look, you can instill deeper meaning in your garden and get started down your own road to including Floriography in your landscape!
Send someone white Lilies or a potted Aloe for grief. Or create a garden of remembrance with a Weeping Willow to symbolize sadness, grief, healing, and everlasting life. White Lilies for funerals and sympathy, a Cypress to represent mourning, Rosemary and Forget-Me-Not to remember, Lemon Balm and Sea Thrift to convey sympathy or say goodbye with a potted Cyclamen.
By using longer-lived plants, your gesture goes far beyond just the comfort that cut flowers could ever convey on their own. Include Poppies, dark crimson Roses, purple Hyacinths, and Marigolds. Or Black-Eye Susans to represent justice and black Roses for despair or even revenge.
Victorian Bridal bouquets included seasonal blooms like Peonies for a happy life, Daisies for purity, Honeysuckle to represent the bonds of love, Myrtles (Myrtus spp.) for all things matrimonial, plus Lilacs and Roses. But if you were lucky enough (read as wealthy enough), you would get hothouse blooms too! Orange Blossoms for chastity, purity, and loveliness, Freesias, Lily of the Valley, and Gardenias!
Gift the new couple any of these plants for their garden! Include a Linden Tree which symbolizes marriage, Sweet Violets or a blue Violet (Viola) as a symbol of fidelity and faithfulness, and Ivy to show fidelity and marriage. White Lilies for purity, weddings, or innocence, and Dahlia represents lasting bonds in marriage. Plant red and white Roses together to show unity with Babies Breath to represent everlasting love!
Give someone fighting (or winning) the battle against an illness or cancer a garden full of hope and strength! Send Junipers to reflect your assistance in times of hardship and distress, Azaleas to say “take care of yourself”, Goldenrod for encouragement, and Snowdrops for hope!
An Oak or Cedar tree for strength (of course!), a Bay tree or circlet of Bay leaves for courage, and Thyme for strength and courage. Dill represents power versus evil, Yarrow for healing, and Chamomile represents patience during times of adversity.
Use Pine trees for humility, accented with Bluebells that also symbolize humility. Order them a Filbert tree or Hazel bush to represent reconciliation. Include some Garden Chervil for sincerity, and Raspberries to show remorse. Give them an Olive tree to represent an offering of peace, a Purple Hyacinth to ask for forgiveness and show regret, or a yellow Orchid to represent new beginnings.
Add white Tulips to say ‘I’m sorry!’, or white Poppies as a way of saying ‘never again!’ to show your earnest repentance. A sprig of Bittersweet symbolized truth.
The Pomegranate symbolizes fertility and Lilacs mean youthful joy, especially white Lilacs! Oregano (specifically Dittany of Crete) represented birth. Plant Cinquefoil for maternal affection and Daylilies and the color pink are the Chinese symbols of mothers, a mother’s love, and motherhood. Carnations have long been considered linked with motherhood and the eternal love between a mother and child. Sunflowers which can symbolize strength, warmth, and loyalty, are all qualities associated with fatherhood. Gardenias represented children and families.
White Camellias mean “you’re adorable”, Crocus and Coreopsis represent cheerfulness and youth, and Shamrocks for lightheartedness. You of course need Daisies for innocence! Include Daffodils in Children's Gardens, plant Pansies, Baby's Breath, Sunflowers, Sweet Peas, and Primrose!
Want your home’s landscaping to represent power and influence on the sly? Plant Chesnut trees to represent luxury, Ash trees to convey grandeur, and American Elms for patriotism! Nasturtium also stood for patriotism so plant these edible annuals around your flag pole!
Plant Crown Imperials for majesty and power, and Scarlet Poppies for extravagance! Plant Trumpet Creeper (either the vine or the tree-form) to attract fame, and Mountain Laurels to represent ambition. A wreath on your front door made of Wheat stalks attracts riches!
Show a friend your appreciation! Start with Arborvitae trees or shrubs since these ‘trees of life’ meant unchanging friendship, Oak-leaf Geraniums meant true friendship, and Periwinkle a blossoming friendship. Zinnias and Forget-Me-Not told an absent friend you missed them and Clematis showed appreciation for one's mental beauty.
A Dahlia tells someone they have good taste! Garden or Perennial Sage (modern gardens can substitute Salvia) and Spiderworts to show them your esteem. Bulbs like Daffodils were given to convey warm regards and Jonquils represented respect and friendship!
Instill tranquility in your backyard in more ways than one by planting a Birch tree to display gentleness, and Bluets (Houstonia) to represent contentment, Mallows for mindfulness, and Garden Sage for wisdom. Hellebores represent serenity, tranquility, and peace, and shade them with a White Mulberry tree or Olive tree for peace. Stonecrops for tranquility, and White Bell Flowers as a reminder to be grateful.
Lavender plants may be relaxing and symbols of peace now, but in Victorian times they meant mistrust (we prefer the modern sentiment!). Asters were symbols of patience because they don’t bloom until late in the season.
Plant Beech Trees for prosperity, Primrose and Ranunculus for riches (the kind beyond wealth!), Alstroemeria (Peruvian Lilies) to attract wealth and good fortune, and Bells of Ireland for luck!
Create a vegetable garden or edible landscape of Cabbage (or ornamental cabbage!) to represent money and profit, Corn for riches, Endive for frugality, and Coriander for hidden worth.
Nowadays, and in the Victorian Era, the Snake Plant (Sansevieria) represents wealth and prosperity! And of course, the Money Plant is a houseplant of modern sentiments of good fortune!
Roses (in general) represented love and appreciation, but also a lot more depending on the color! While Wild Roses represented pleasure and pain (they do have a LOT of thorns!). Oddly enough Cactus may seem stand-offish to us, but back in Victorian times, they meant ardent love! Plant Ferns to represent fascination, or Honeysuckles to show your devoted affection! Any red flower meant varying degrees of love, lust, and affection!
Include Garden Pinks (Dianthus) in red and pink hues for ardent and pure love! Red Ranunculus and any red flower to show you are attracted to their charms! Larkspur means strong bonds of love while sending your beloved Tall Garden Phlox symbolizes goodnight kisses or unity!
Herbs have always been linked with religious and day-to-day symbolism! Basil carried with it good wishes but could also be used to convey hatred (Victorians disliked the smell and taste of this herb!). Chives meant usefulness, and Hyssops were sacrifice and cleanliness.
Lavender may be our favorite, but was once given to show devotion and virtue, but could also mean distrust! Include Mint for virtue, and Sage for wisdom! Rosemary has long been associated with memory and remembrance.
Instead of simply sending someone a bouquet - send them an entire love letter in the form of garden flowers! Revive the tradition of using plants and flowers to create hidden meaning, or give more meaningful gifts, and imbue every part of your life in sentiment! Go even further by planting an entire garden that has a secret statement!
Include plants with personal meaning and modern symbolism with the old - like some hot peppers to let someone know you think they spice up your life! Heck, make them an entire Salsa garden!
Subtly let that coworker or a troublesome neighbor know you dislike them with a bouquet or garden of yellow Roses and yellow Carnations or Hyacinth, orange Lilies (hatred), and Tansy that meant one had hostile thoughts or declared war! Or send them a pot of Petunias to display passive-aggressive resentment, Birdsfoot Trefoil for revenge, or Butterfly Weed to tell them to get away from you!
Get as creative as you’d like and use modern flower symbolism mixed with the old. The hidden message will be our little secret!