What do the flowers in your garden say about you, or to put it another way, what message are you sending out through the choice of flowers in the garden? For centuries people have attributed a meaning to flowers and out of that has arisen the language of flowers, or floriography as it is sometimes called.
Originally practised in Asia, and the Middle East it became the fashion in Victorian England and spread to America. Posies of flowers became such popular way to send cryptic romantic messages, that it spawned a slew of flower dictionaries, some 400 or more!
They were necessary because nearly every flower had multiple associations but over time a consensus of meaning for common blooms has emerged.
How have the flowers obtained their meaning? According to Wikipedia, definitions often derived from the appearance or behavior of the plant itself. But not necessarily so.
For instance yarrow (Achillea millefolium) means “war”. It is not a particularly invasive flowering herb but in ancient times was called soldier’s woundwort (herba militaris) because it was used to staunch the flow of blood from wounds.
There seems to be a slowly returning interest in the language of flowers and how one can tap into the beauty and healing energy of flowers.
My interest was sparked by a book, “The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Pan) about an alienated young girl who finds her connection to the world through flowers.
It made me wonder about how flowers affect us on a subtle level. Why is it that one finds certain kinds of flowers in some gardens and not in others?
For fun, I decided to analyse my favourite mixed border, using “The Illuminated Language of Flowers’ by Jean Marsh and her Language of Flowers website.
At the back of the bed, the pink and coral roses (‘Duftwolke’, ‘Pernille Poulsen’, ‘Our Anniversary’) mean appreciation and gratitude and the red rose (‘Red Intuition’) means love. In front of them is a clump of alstroemeria (devotion and loyalty), red valerian (accommodating disposition), goldenrod (precaution, encouragement) and clumps of bearded irises to the side (I have a message for you), which probably alludes to my occupation as a garden writer.
In front of them are a mix of white, yellow, blue pansies (forget-me-not) that I have not yet had the heart to pull out, blue scabiosa (mourning) and Shasta daisies (innocence).
I could not find a meaning for the pink gaura ‘ballerina; the white Japanese anemones, or the catmint (Nepeta mussinii) but I am sure they are all of good character!
Knowing what each of the flowers means, just adds to my appreciation and delight in the border.
Interestingly, there are also hydrangeas in the garden, which I am not particularly fond of but they are rescue plants. Looking up their meaning I see that hydrangea means “a boaster’, heartless, you are cold”. Maybe I should have left them to rot.
What nicer occupation can there be but to drift around the garden with a flower dictionary. Your flowers might surprise you, or tell you more about yourself that you realised was evident.
Five meaningful flowers to add to your garden:
Coreopsis (always cheerful) ‘Rising Sun’ grows in full sun, ordinary soil that drains well and flowers throughout summer. It has semi double yellow blooms with a red fleck in the centre of the petals.
Heliotrope (devoted, faithfulness) ‘Marina Mini’ is a new dwarf variety with an intense fragrance. It grows in sun or semi-shade, and likes fertile, moist soil.
Verbena (enchantment, sensibility) ‘Bebop’ is a bushy variety with bi-coloured flowers with a white eye. They are rain-resistant and also tolerate the cold making them an all season’s plant.
Lavender (serenity, grace, calmness) ‘Mini Blue’ is compact, doesn’t need trimming, and produces many deep blue spikes against grey green leaves. Garden height is 25cm high and 30cm wide.
Rudbeckia (justice) ‘Indian Summer’ has single, golden yellow flowers with dark centre, grows up to 1m, and flowers throughout summer if grown in full sun, with regular watering and fertilising.