Victorian Language of Flowers: A Fascinating Journey

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The Victorian language of flowers, also known as floriography. It was a way of communicating through the use of floral arrangements.

It emerged in the 19th century as a popular pastime among the upper classes. They used flowers to express their emotions, sentiments, and messages.

The meaning of each flower varied based on its colour, shape, scent, and variety. Moreover, the meanings often derived from folklore, mythology, literature, and art.

The Victorian language of flowers was not only a form of entertainment. But also a reflection of the social and cultural values of the era.

The Fascinating History of Floriography

Floriography, or the language of flowers, is a way of communicating messages. That communication happens through the use of different types and colours of flowers.

Floriography has a long and rich history. Furthermore, it spans across various cultures and time periods.

Let’s explore the origins of floriography in the Victorian Era. We will learn how it flourished during that period. Moreover, we’ll discover some notable figures who contributed to the language of flowers.

The origins of the Floriography

One of the earliest traces of floriography goes back to Persia and Turkey in the 15th century.

In those cultures, flowers expressed forbidden or unacceptable feelings. For example, love, jealousy, or resentment.

This practice has its influence in Persian poetry and literature. They featured flowers that often used metaphors and symbolism.

For example, the red rose was a symbol of passion and love, while the yellow rose was a sign of infidelity or betrayal.

Introduction of the Language of Flowers in Europe and North America

Floriography became more popular in Europe and North America in the 19th century. This happens especially during the Victorian era.

The Victorians known for their strict social rules and etiquette. This made it difficult for them to express their feelings and emotions.

Thus, they used floriography as an elegant way of communicating their sentiments. This happened through careful arranged bouquets or floral gifts.

The Victorian language of flowers based itself on a variety of literature. Such as, mythology, religion, folklore and literature. Furthermore, they included regional variations and personal interpretations.

The Victorians also created floral dictionaries and almanacs. Those featured the meanings and symbols of hundreds of flowers.

Notable figures in the language of flowers

Some notable figures who contributed to the language of flowers were:

Charlotte de Latour

Henry Phillips

Louise Cortambert

Kate Greenaway

Charlotte de Latour was a French writer. She published one of the first floral dictionaries in 1819. The titled was Le Langage des Fleurs (The Language of Flowers).

Her book was translated into several languages. And that inspired many other authors to write similar works .

Henry Phillips was an English botanist. He wrote Floral Emblems: or A Guide to the Language of Flowers in 1831. The guide inspired itself from classical literature and mythology .

Louise Cortambert was a French author. She wrote under the pseudonym Madame Charlotte de la Tour.

She published Le Langage des Fleurs Illustré (The Illustrated Language of Flowers) in 1840. It was one of the most comprehensive and popular floral dictionaries of the time .

Kate Greenaway was an English illustrator and writer. She published The Language of Flowers in 1884. It was a charming and whimsical book that featured her own illustrations and verses .

Floriography is a fascinating and beautiful tradition. It reveals how humans have used nature to express their innermost feelings and thoughts. It is one way we can get more in depth with the flower meanings.

The Victorian Garden: A Symbolic Paradise

Victorian gardens were not only designed for aesthetic purposes. They also had symbolic meanings. The Victorians communicated emotions and beliefs through the choice and arrangement of plants. Let’s explore how Victorian designed their gardens with symbolism in mind.

How Victorian gardens were designed with symbolism in mind

One of the main principles of Victorian garden design was to create a sense of order, harmony, and beauty.

The Victorians valued symmetry, geometry, and balance in their gardens. Moreover, they added contrast, variety, and colour.

They also used plants to create different zones or themes within their gardens. Such as formal, informal, exotic, or romantic.

Each zone had its own style, mood, and meaning. That depended on the choice of plants and their arrangement.

For example, a formal garden might feature:

  • roses, lilies, and carnations to symbolise love, purity, and devotion.
  • daisies, violets, and forget-me-nots to express innocence, modesty, and friendship.
  • orchids, hibiscus, and passionflowers to convey luxury, beauty, and passion.
  • jasmine, honeysuckle, and lavender to evoke sensuality, sweetness, and loyalty.

A tour of iconic Victorian garden plants and their meanings

Some of the most iconic plants that the Victorians used in their gardens were:

  • Roses: The queen of flowers, roses were the most popular and versatile plant in Victorian gardens. They came in many colours and varieties, each with its own meaning. For example:
  1. red roses signified love and romance.
  2. pink roses denoted grace and admiration.
  3. white roses represented purity and innocence.
  4. yellow roses indicated friendship and joy.
  5. orange roses expressed enthusiasm and desire.
  • Lilies: The symbol of purity and elegance. Lilies were often used in formal and religious settings. They also had different meanings depending on their colour and type. For example:
  • white lilies signified virginity and chastity.
  • pink lilies denoted prosperity and abundance.
  • orange lilies indicated passion and pride.
  • calla lilies represented beauty and femininity.
  • Carnations: The emblem of devotion and loyalty. Carnations were a favorite gift among lovers and friends. They also had different meanings depending on their colour. For example:
  • red carnations signified deep love and admiration
  • pink carnations denoted gratitude and affection
  • white carnations represented pure love and good luck
  • yellow carnations indicated disappointment and rejection
  • purple carnations expressed capriciousness and whimsy

Creating a modern Victorian-style garden with floriographic elements

Want to create a modern Victorian-style garden with floriographic elements? you can follow these steps:

  • Choose a theme or mood for your garden. You can base it on your personality, preferences, or goals. For example, you can create a:
    • peaceful garden to relax and meditate
    • cheerful garden to entertain guests
    • romantic garden to enjoy with your partner
  • Select plants that match your theme or mood. You can use the language of flowers to convey your message or express your feelings. For example, you can plant:
    • lavender for calmness
    • sunflowers for happiness
    • orchids for love
  • Arrange your plants in a pleasing way. You can use:
    • symmetry or asymmetry
    • curves or angles
    • clusters or rows
    • any other design that suits your taste

Moreover, you can also add accessories such as statues, fountains, benches, or trellises. This will enhance the beauty and meaning of your garden.

  • Enjoy your garden! You can admire the colours that add extra flower colour meaning. The shapes, textures, and fragrances of your plants. Learn about their history and symbolism. You can also share them with others who appreciate floriography.

Victorian Flower Dictionaries: Decoding the Language

Let’s some of the pioneering flower dictionaries of the Victorian era. We will discover their authors and their significance.

The Pioneering Flower Dictionaries of the Victorian Era

The first flower dictionary appeared in 1829. Elizabeth Washington Gamble Wirt was the author. The dictionary was Flora’s Dictionary.

Wirt was an American writer and the wife of William Wirt, a prominent lawyer and politician.

She took inspiration from French sources. The dictionary contained about 400 flowers and their meanings. Moreover, it featured poems and illustrations.

In 1834, Louisa Anne Twamley (later Meredith) published The Language of Flowers.

Twamley was an English poet and naturalist who lived in Australia for many years. Her book included more than 800 flowers and plants. Furthermore, it featured botanical descriptions and cultural references.

Exploring Key Victorian Flower Dictionaries and Their Authors

In the Victorian Era, there was several victorian flower dictionaries created. However, the most influential was “Le Langage des Fleurs” by Charlotte de Latour. Her name was pseudonym for Louise Cortambert. It was first published in Paris in 1819.

Her book was a success and it was translated into several languages. It contained more than 800 flowers which included their meanings. Furthermore, it had anecdotes, legends and also historical facts.

Latour was also the one to introduce the concept of floral horoscopes. Floral horoscopes assigned a flower to each month and day of the year. This would contribute to the term birth flowers in later years.

Another key flower dictionary during the Victorian time was “The Language of Flower” by Kate Greenaway. Her book was published in London in 1884. It featured 200 flowers and their meaning. Moreover, it featured her own watercolour illustrations.

Victorian Language of Flowers in Art and Literature

The Victorian era was a time of social and cultural change. But it was also of strict moral codes and rigid etiquette.

The Victorian Language of flowers influenced many aspects of Victorian art and literature. Artists and writers used flowers to convey subtle messages, evoke moods, and create allegories.

Iconic Victorian Paintings and Literary Works Featuring Floriography

The Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway inspired many artists and writers. They incorporated floriography into their works, for example, Pre-Raphaelite painters.

Some of those artists were:

  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • John Everett Millais
  • William Holman Hunt

They often depicted women surrounded by flowers that reflected their personalities or situations.

The Bower Meadow (1872) is a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It features women holding roses, lilies, and honeysuckles. The Brower Meadow symbolised love, purity, and devotion.

Floriography also influenced many literary works of the Victorian era. Some examples are the novels of:

  • Charles Dickens
  • George Eliot
  • Thomas Hardy

They used flowers to describe characters, settings, and themes.

Great Expectations (1861) is a novel by Charles Dickens. In the books, Pip receives a bouquet of flowers. It is from his benefactor, Miss Havisham. The bouquet of flowers includes bluebells (constancy), lavender (distrust), and fennel (strength). These flowers reflect Miss Havisham’s complex feelings towards Pip and her past.

In Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-1872), the heroine Dorothea Brooke is often associated with roses. It symbolised beauty, passion, and martyrdom.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) is a novel by Thomas Hardy. The heroine is compared to various flowers throughout the book. For example, daisies (innocence), poppies (sleep), and guelder roses (winter).

The Legacy of Floriography in Contemporary Art and Writing

The legacy of floriography in contemporary art and writing is evident in many works of artists and writers. They use flowers as symbols, metaphors, and motifs.

Mrs Dalloway (1925) is a novel by Virginia Wolf. In Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway spends a day preparing for a party and buying flowers for her guests.

The flowers represent Clarissa’s inner life, memories, and her relationships with others.

The poem Tulips (1961) is by the author Sylvia Plath. The speaker describes her feelings of detachment and isolation. While she is recovering from surgery in a hospital.

The tulips in her room contrast the white surroundings and her own emptiness.

Flowers series (1964-1967), a painting by Andy Warhol. He used silk-screening techniques to create colorful images of flowers. Those were based on a photograph from a magazine.

The flowers are both realistic and artificial. Thus, they suggest themes of mass production, consumerism, and death.

The Role of Floriography in Victorian Courtship

The Victorians used the language of flowers to create romantic bouquets. Furthermore, we’ll learn how they exchanged secret messages. Finally, we’ll understand how modern couples can use this ancient art. It will add some charm and mystery to their relationships.

Love and Courtship in the Victorian Era: The Language of Flowers

According to the BBC, floriography was popular in England and France in the 19th century. It was influenced by the cultures of Turkey, China, India, and Persia.

Many guidebooks and dictionaries explain the meanings of different flowers. But they often varied or contradicted each other.

Thus, the sender and the receiver had to share the same reference or agree on the symbols beforehand. Common flowers and their meanings:

  • Rose: love, passion, beauty
  • Lily: purity, innocence, majesty
  • Daisy: innocence, loyalty, simplicity
  • Carnation: admiration, affection, disdain
  • Violet: modesty, faithfulness, humility
  • Iris: wisdom, eloquence, hope
  • Sunflower: adoration, loyalty, happiness

The colour of the flower also mattered. For example:

  • Red rose meant true love.
  • White rose meant innocence or secrecy.
  • Yellow rose meant friendship or jealousy.
  • Pink rose meant grace or admiration.

The arrangement of the flowers was also crucial. The position of the flower in the bouquet indicated whether it was a positive or negative message.

For example, a flower pointing upwards meant “yes,” while a flower pointing downwards meant “no.” The way the bouquet was delivered also had significance.

For example, handing it over with the right hand meant “yes,” while handing it over with the left hand meant “no.”

The condition of the flowers also reflected the sender’s feelings. For example, a fresh bouquet meant sincerity, while a wilted bouquet meant rejection.

Creating Romantic Bouquets and Exchanging Secret Messages

The Victorians used floriography to express their emotions on various occasions and situations. For example, they could send:

  • Flowers to propose marriage.
  • Accept or decline an invitation.
  • Apologize or forgive.
  • Congratulate or console.
  • Flirt or tease.
  • Declare their love or end a relationship.

Some examples of floriography bouquet messages are:

  • Red roses and forget-me-nots: “I love you, and I will always remember you.”
  • White lilies and ivy: “You are pure and faithful.”
  • Yellow carnations and marigolds: “I disdain you, and you make me sad.”
  • Pink carnations and lavender: “I admire you. And I wish you happiness.”
  • Blue violets and ferns: “I am faithful to you, and you are my secret love.”

Romantic Floriographic Gestures for Modern Couples

Floriography is not only a historical curiosity but also a modern trend. Many people today have an interest in learning the language of flowers. They could use it to add some romance and creativity to their relationships.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, some ways modern couples use floriography are:

  • Sending flowers on special occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day
  • Creating personalized bouquets based on the recipient’s personality, preferences, or zodiac sign
  • Writing notes or cards with the meanings of the flowers attached to the bouquets
  • Making flower crowns or corsages for weddings or proms
  • Growing flowers in gardens or pots that symbolize their feelings or wishes
  • Pressing or drying flowers as keepsakes or gifts

Floriography is a beautiful and fascinating way of communicating with flowers. It has a rich history and a contemporary appeal.

The Tradition of Incorporating Symbolic Flowers into Wedding Bouquets

Wedding bouquets have been a part of bridal attire since ancient times. They gained a new significance in the Victorian era with the popularity of floriography.

Brides would select flowers that matched their:

  • personality
  • relationship with their groom
  • hopes for their future marriage

Some common flowers used in wedding bouquets were

  • Roses symbolised love and romance in the Victorian language of flowers. Different colours and varieties had different meanings. For example, red for passion, white for purity, pink for grace, and yellow for friendship. Roses were often combined with other flowers to create more complex messages.
  • Lilies were another popular choice for wedding bouquets. White lilies represented innocence, purity, and majesty. Lilies were also associated with the Virgin Mary and symbolised her virtues. Lilies of the valley were especially favoured by brides who wanted to convey a “return of happiness” and “sweetness.”
  • Orchids were exotic and rare flowers that symbolised beauty, elegance, and refinement in the Victorian language of flowers. They were also considered to be aphrodisiacs and represented sexual attraction and desire. Orchids were often given as gifts by admirers who wanted to express their admiration and devotion.
  • Carnations were simple and cheerful flowers that had various meanings. It depended on their colour and shape in the Victorian language of flowers. Red carnations signified “deep love” and “admiration.” White carnations meant “pure love” and “good luck,” and pink carnations expressed “gratitude” and “affection.”
  • Ivy symbolised fidelity, loyalty, and everlasting love in the Victorian language of flowers. It was also associated with marriage and wedded-bliss. Ivy was often used to decorate wedding venues, such as churches, halls, and arches. It was also woven into wreaths, crowns, and garlands for the bride and groom.

Floriography may seem like an outdated practice today. However, it is actually experiencing a revival among modern brides. Those who want to add more depth and personality to their wedding bouquets.

They choose flowers that have symbolic meanings or personal significance for them or their partners. It can create unique and memorable bouquets that tell a story about their relationship.

Some of the modern trends in using floriography for wedding bouquets are:

  • Flowers that represent the couple’s heritage, culture, or religion
  • Couple using flowers that have a special meaning, such as their first date, their proposal, or their favorite song
  • Flowers that match the theme, color scheme, or season of the wedding
  • Using flowers that reflect the bride’s personality, style, or mood
  • Flowers that have positive or uplifting meanings, such as happiness, joy, or hope

Floriography is a fascinating and fun way to add more charm and sentiment to wedding bouquets. Brides can make their bouquets more than just beautiful accessories. They can achieve this by learning the language of flowers and choosing flowers that speak to their hearts.

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