The language of flowers

May 21, 2014

I went to the nursery this week. I think I can finally safely plant. I only do container gardening as we have no backyard to plant an actual garden. The woods back up almost to our deck. And truth be told, I'm not much of a gardener anyway.

I do love flowers, though. I've always dreamed of having a huge cutting garden, with staff of course. They would take care of the weeding and trimming and mulching and such. I would wander through it, basket and scissors in hand, Jane Austen style, cutting lovely bouquets to place around my house.

After the exertion, I would sit on the porch fanning myself, and sipping cool lemonade, the ice clinking in the chilled glass. 

I make do, however, with my pots of flowers and herbs on the deck, and enjoy watching the variety of birds that nest in the woods and frequent our feeders. Of course, it's not hard to "make do" with this at all, a secluded little area full of beauty and peace. It asks for so little (watering and dead-heading, and that's all), and gives so much.

I was excited to find stock this year at the nursery. Such an old-fashioned, lovely-scented flower. Because our book club just read The Language in Flowers, I've been looking up all the meanings of the plants I brought home. Stock means you will always be beautiful to me. In the book, the young couple places stock on each other's pillow at night.

Stock is native to Greece and the northern Mediterranean, and was first brought to the U.S. by Thomas Jefferson, an avid gardener who introduced many European flowers to our country.

Stock has a lovely, clove-like scent.

Cosmos stands for joy in love and life.

Several of my blogging friends were unhappy to learn that peony represents anger. I don't blame them. I love the full, gorgeous blooms of the peony. I think it should stand for extravagant beauty or luscious beauty. Hey, it's not like this language of flowers is a law or anything. I say change it if you want. For example, I picked up this beautiful lobelia. It means malevolence. Oh dear. I was sitting on the deck with my son, considering this meaning and possible alternatives, and asked him what the flowers might mean. He said calming. I'll go with that.

I suppose if the Victorians wanted to communicate through flowers, they needed to be able to express the whole range of human emotion, not just positive regard. So some flowers would have to be designated to represent hurt feelings, sadness, or jealousy. For example, let's say a young woman has realized that her lover has been flirting with someone else. She might send him a bouquet of striped carnation (I cannot be with you), redbud (betrayal), mustard (I am hurt), and a Michaelmas daisy (farewell). If she was really angry and spiteful, she might add tansy (I declare war against you)! Her best friend, in sympathy, could send her a bouquet of yarrow (cure for a broken heart), thrift (sympathy) and snowdrops (consolation and hope). 

In this spirit, I put together a little bouquet for book club the other night. I included parsley in it, which means festivity. We did laugh a lot. Hmmm . . . 

This beautiful baby's breath represents everlasting love.

Petunia means your presence soothes me.

I found this sentimental poem, written in 1872 by James Gates Percival, and set to music by Edward Elgar, the English composer, when he was just 14 years old. It was dedicated to his sister Lucy on her birthday.

The Language of Flowers

In Eastern lands they talk in flow'rs
And they tell in a garland their loves and cares;

Each blossom that blooms in their garden bowr's,
On its leaves a mystic language bears.

The rose is a sign of joy and love,
Young blushing love in its earliest dawn,

And the mildness that suits the gentle dove,
From the myrtle's snowy flow'rs is drawn.

Innocence gleams in the lily's bell.
Pure as the heart in its native heaven.

Fame's bright star and glory's swell
By the glossy leaf of the bay are given.

The silent, soft and humble heart,
In the violet's hidden sweetness breathes,

And the tender soul that cannot part,
In a twine of evergreen fondly wreathes.

The cypress that daily shades the grave,
Is sorrow that moans her bitter lot,

And faith that a thousand ills can brave,
Speaks in thy blue leaves "forget-me-not".

Then gather a wreath from the garden bowers,
And tell the wish of thy heart in flowers.

Linking with . . . 


  1. Such an interesting post, Deborah. Your container garden is very beautiful. xoxo

  2. Stock is indeed an old-fashioned flower not seen in most nurseries ( in my area, at least..Western PA )

    Cosmos..I'll comment on them. As a little girl, they were the first flower seeds that my mom and grandmother had me plant as my very own. I suppose they did this because they were easy to grow. To this day I always try to remember to get some Cosmos seeds, and I have some seedlings going on the back porch right now! :)

  3. Gorgeousness abounds - whatever the language! Happy Wednesday, Deborah!

  4. I'm glad we don't plan our lives around the language of flowers like the Victorians did. I like to choose for colour, regardless of the plant and grow what performs well in the garden.
    I have planted stocks from seed in the garden before but really don't grow too many annuals other than the container pots I make.
    I see you have purple fan flower too, I use it pretty much every year in a black urn.

  5. That's all so very interesting Deborah. I can think if flowers that would better express some of those negative feelings! I could never think of peonies and anger!

  6. Great post. I'm trying to learn more about flowers. The Clematis is blooming around here in Brooklyn, the peonies too. And ha, don't you know I love both peonies and lobelia, it's funny to me that they'd be considered as flowers to show anger and malevolence. Oh well, here's to the dark side then! XO, Jill

  7. Well I hope all those Victorians read from the same handbook regarding flower language. Can you imagine the mix-ups that could occur if there were conflicting emotions to the same flower. The only one I can remember is that a yellow rose means true love. Well, it's what I read once. I've told my husband to only buy me yellow roses (he never does though). I just can't look at any flowers and imagine they represent the darker emotions ... all of them lighten my heart :) Wendy x

  8. Dearest Deborah,
    We only have annuals in our fiberglass planter boxes so we do have a lot of plants to tend to on our property! Love roses very much.
    Stock is one of our favorites too but in Georgia it gets too hot for it. We had it once... Back in The Netherlands they would use Stock for special feast days in the Church, e.g. white stock and the entire Church would be perfumed with its almost stupifying sweet fragrance. Something almost heavenly...
    Hugs to you and enjoy your deck this summer!

  9. Deborah,
    Thanks so much for stopping by!! The Victorians were very much into hidden meanings of not only flowers but of fans and other things.....
    A truly beautiful post!! I do container gardening too but I also do have a very small back yard that is one big flower bed with mostly perennials...


  10. I just read another book that kept referring to the "language of flowers " and thought the same thing as you , the meanings of flowers are not a law, so I can choose to think a flower good without regard to a negative meaning. But it is fun to communicate in flowers.

    You have the bounty & beauty of woods right there along with your container gardens , you must get a big variety of birds visiting.

    The flowers are so beautiful, each one is a work of God's art in creation and I hope I never cease to marvel at them.

  11. Oh, I love the language of flowers too, Deborah. Even if we don't know their meaning they have a way of speaking to our heart, don't they? Love the poem. I recently shared a post with a link to a webpage titled The Language of Flowers. I love to browse through it.
    Have a beautiful weekend. I'm off to pamper myself in a little pink indulgence I wrote about. Hope you'll join in.

  12. Beautiful flowers! Happy Pink Saturday!

  13. I love how the flowers do represent something - beautifully thought out! I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,

  14. What a lovely garden! I had some Cosmos last year. They were so sweet! We had snow in early May so we are always cautious to plant. But I am worried about an old climbing rose bush that was here when we moved in four years ago. It usually produces lots of bright pink blooms and nothing so far. SOme of my neighbors have blooms already! Drat!
    Thanks for sharing today and enjoy the weekend.


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