The lovely language of flowers

Flowers speak to us in a language that is universal. Our African violets call to us from the eastern window sill, the old fashioned roses call to us from Grandmother’s garden, the sweet peas of spring call to us from the cutting garden. The first snowdrop pushing through the snow, the lilies of summer and the dahlias of fall are precious moments in the garden.

If you make flowers a part of your life then you already know a great deal about the language of flowers. They call to us at life’s most important moments whether birth, death, love or celebration, we do it with flowers in our hands. We remember our bridal bouquet, a corsage for a special dance, plants that we received at the time of the death of a loved one. I will never forget the gift of red roses on my birthday, a container of pansies on Mother’s Day or bright red poinsettias at Christmas.

In Latin America people tend the marigolds in their gardens in memory of loved ones who have departed this earth. The brilliant flowers guide the souls of their loved ones home and for the space of one day, families have the spirits of their loved ones home again.

In Japan festivals take place during the time of the blooming of the cherry blossoms. Everyone watches the weather carefully. The blossoms are fragile and the trees are at their peak for only two weeks. Families gather for tea or lunch under the beautiful trees full of the fragrant pink flowers.

In France on May Day the lily of the valley is the flower of the moment. Every street corner overflows with bouquets of the sweet smelling flowers. The French say the lily of the valley is very much the bringer of happiness.

In England and America, flowers play an important part in our weddings. From the brides bouquet to the flower girls little basket to the centerpieces on the tables, flowers help us celebrate and commemorate this very special day.

The Victorian Age was the great age of gardening. At that time middle class and upper class people lived in homes where a garden was possible. The new middle class, eager to emulate the upper class, felt that the knowledge of flowers demonstrated a love of the finer things in life. The Victorians were very spiritual and they felt that God spoke to them through nature and their flowers. The messages especially moral ones were considered sacrosanct.

Floriography, or the language of flowers, popular during the Victorian era, was a means of communication in which flowers were used to send coded messages to express feelings of love, respect or admiration. The communication was often through small flower bouquets or tussie mussies.

During the 1800s flower dictionaries appeared. Young ladies used these flower dictionaries when they considered matters of the heart. The books were what we would call coffee table books today. The Victorians did not often send each other bouquets of flowers. The meanings of the flowers were studied and indulged in as a game. Daffodils meant good taste, spring crocus meant youthful gladness and snowdrops meant hope. Pansies mean good thoughts, ivy means fidelity and tulips mean hopeless love. By making up little bouquets, subtle messages could be composed.

The Victorians had bouquets of flowers in their homes, much more than most do now. Gentleman wore flowers in their buttonholes and ladies wore flowers in their hair or on their evening gowns. While few took the meanings of the flowers seriously many flowers were customary on certain occasions. Roses, violets and forget-me-nots were for courtship, orange blossoms were for weddings and cypress was used at funerals. Inevitably there are geographic variances.

Decorating graves of loved ones with flowers has been a custom for many, many years. We send flowers of consolation to the funeral to carry the message that this person will live on in our memory or will live on in eternity. The same is true when we decorate the graves of family and friends. The live flowers we place on the grave demonstrate to the world that someone loves and respects the departed. Live flowers need to be refreshed in a week or two. This brings us back to the grave to show love and respect. Artificial flowers never die because they never lived.

Today we enhance our homes when we plant shrubs and perennials and we compose beautiful containers for the porch or the deck. We plant for color, size and form, planting the flowers we like and the flowers that will grow in our zone 5 gardens. For the past few seasons the style has been to plant containers with foliage and grasses, not flowers. While I am using more foliage in my containers, I would not want to miss a summer without containers of my favorite flowers.

Picking flowers you have grown yourself brings great joy. To take a stroll through the garden in the early morning, choosing flowers for the home is one of the small joys of the day. Back in the kitchen the flowers are sorted, recut and grouped according to color and size. The next happy task is selecting the right vase for the flowers and then placing them in the dining room, the powder room or the kitchen. I have a special antique vase that looks its best with dark purple petunias. Every spring as I plant my containers I make sure that I have a flat of purple petunias just for this vase.

Over the years so much changes, transportation, communication, the way we dress, the way we live, it is surprising that the one constant is still flowers. We study them, we tend them, and whether in sorrow or joy, celebration or commiseration we exchange them still. There will always be flowers and we will always communicate with them.. As we move through summer 2013 the flowers will change with the season speaking to us in the language of the flowers.