History of Flowers

The Language of Flowers

Flowers have blossomed and bloomed in the heart of mankind, right through civilised
history as we know it; they present a perennial source of splash and colour
against the grey backdrop of day-to-day life. Flowers are a seasonal symbol
of joyful emotion; the heart of a beautiful bouquet can convey a message of
potency and drama, love and appreciation, passion and prayer.

Flowers have a story all their own, and thanks to the Victorians, they became
powerful symbols, and so redolent with meaning that flowers burst forth into
their own language – Queen Victoria’s subjects coined the term ‘Floriography’
– an umbrella term to describe the language of flowers.

This was very important in Victorian times – that might be difficult to
understand in today’s world where we enjoy great freedom of speech and
expression and the contemporary flower arrangement can say many things. However,
in more conservative times, a romantic bouquet of red roses had to work very
hard to convey its message.

Basically, a beautiful floral arrangement had to say what perhaps the lover
could not!

Floral dictionaries were published, in answer to great demand; because flowers
had great power of expression, so the giver needed to be sure the floral tribute
was accurate!

The giving of flowers was laden with potency in meaning.

Even the way the arrangement was presented could pose problems for the posy!
You conveyed good feelings of friendship by handing the flowers in the upright
position, whereas downwards handing over was seen as antagonistic. Imagine the
consternation of a romantic suitor – he goes to great trouble to find
the perfect arrangement of roses so red; he hands them upside down to his beloved,
and she immediately bursts into tears or faints on the spot from the shock of
what she perceives, quite rightly in one sense, as a deeply hostile gesture.

And so the demand for flower dictionaries is easily understood in the context
of how dangerous the business of floral tributes could be, given the potential
for misunderstanding.

Another source of contention can be found in the spectrum of colour in flowers.

Take the rose again, the perpetual symbol of love as perfect as the rose itself
– but what a lot of people don’t realise is that, depending on the
colour, the gift of a rose could be either divisive or enriching. Most people
would agree that a red rose is widely appreciated as a flower of passion, love,
romance and great feeling. But it’s not so widely recognised that a yellow
rose can convey jealousy and malice and a definite lack of trust! Therefore,
it’s easy to see how a lack of knowledge in the shades and shadow of meaning
could prove an explosive landmine in terms of misunderstandings.

But aside from these hidden dangers, Floriography, a floral language for the
sole purpose of definition in meaning, made a vital difference for the shy,
retiring and conservative Victorian. With the help of this new language and
a dictionary to accompany it, flowers meant freedom! The story of flowers as
expression gives ‘flower-power’ a whole new impetus!

Flowers have long symbolised spiritual meaning and divinity – the Bible
itself has many references to the Lily as symbol of love, purity and grace.
The Lily is also seen in Biblical terms as a floral icon of the Virgin Mary.
The fact that religion with its devotion to visual art has embraced floral expression
is no coincidence; it makes sense that floral beauty of nature should represent
the more divine, spiritual and reflective aspects of life on earth.

Just consider the concept of flowers as surprise; the joy on a woman’s
face when presented with a perfect bouquet; or the gasp of surprise when a woodland
walker comes upon the first snowdrop of spring – such white perfection
bursting forth from the dark soil of winter.

The imagery of the snowdrop like a white miracle peeping up out of the dark
loamy soil can surely be seen as a symbol of divinely inspired art – or
indeed can reflect the way a perfect poem of lyrical beauty can swim up from
the dark hidden depths of the soul of a poet. Given these metaphors, it is no
surprise that art and flowers are so historically entwined.

All over the civilised world, floral expressions of art are every bit as abundant
as a carpet of bluebells in a spring woodland setting. The rich classical art
world is abundant with floral depictions in painting.

But it’s not just the great art galleries that are adorned with an abundance
of floral paintings. The Victorians began a huge trend where all things floral
became deeply important, not just in expression as has been discussed above,
but also when it came to sight and smell. Visual depictions of flowers began
to appear everywhere – adorning all manner of china, commemorative cups,
hair adornments, jewellery, wallpaper – flowers began to bloom miraculously
on all manner of things; everything from letters to lapels! The Victorians set
great store by appearance and image; and flowers were considered every bit as
important as a commitment to be well and properly dressed. With regard to smell,
even the simple gift of a floral scented handkerchief could evoke a very positive
feeling, and convey a message of warmth and affection.

However, getting back to the great and hallowed halls of high art, and we see
the most abiding examples of floral inspiration. It’s clear to see that
the world’s most profound celebration of nature’s flowering bounty
came from the divinely inspired paintings of the great classical artists.

Indeed, it was the humble sunflower which inspired one of the most treasured
paintings in the world – ‘Sunflowers’ by Vincent Van Gogh.
There was something reverential and miraculous about this artist’s celebration
of the flower and what it meant to him. Despite his many afflictions, the stress
and difficulty of his life, Vincent fell upon the Sunflower as a symbol of comfort
and gratitude. Van Gogh found comfort and succour in the flower perhaps because
he was so prone to affliction. Couple that fact with today’s much-loved
tradition of sending floral tributes to friends in hospital as a gesture of
comfort to a friend who is ill, and we see how the present and the past are
still deeply connected when it comes to convey meaning in flowers. Van Gogh
called to that deep and spiritual truth in mankind which still resonates today;
that it seems no matter how deep the difficulty, the spectacle of a simple flower
can give immense succour to those in moments of suffering.

And so while some flowers continue to represent the same tone in meaning from
ancient times to modern, others have taken on very different connotations in
contemporary times, like the Lily, which you could say has been ‘gilded’
with irony and new meaning over the years. While the bible sees the Lily as
Virginal and pure, contemporary art has hijacked the image and made it symbolic
of female sexuality.

The famous American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe places the flowering Lily
in a central position in her exploration of female sexuality. O’Keeffe
makes great use of this special flower in that her work is so beautiful that
the lily is evoked almost as perfectly as it appears in nature itself. Her work
stands alone as a breathtakingly beautiful depiction of flowering beauty; her
painting is powerful enough that the lily is presented to us in deeply textured
brilliance, coloured in creamy velvety perfection. But her work is also multi-layered
in meaning, as she makes great use of this ancient flowering symbol to break
new boundaries in this most modern study of human sexuality.

However, Lilies also remain very popular in times of spiritual need. They are
probably the most popular flowers for funerals. Lilies offer great comfort in
times of bereavement, and this is possibly linked to an older meaning, when
some cultures saw a valley of lilies as indicative of the sweetness and closeness
of loved ones departed. In older cultures too, dreams of lilies were seen as
an omen of sad news on the way – again a tradition which links past with
present; considering the powerful message of comfort conveyed by lilies in times
of sadness and loss.

It’s worth pointing out though that even with the innocence associated
with flowering lilies, they can cause confusion in terms of colour and meaning.
White flowers generally have a benevolent message, and are all about goodness
and purity, but orange lilies can actually convey hatred! Tiger lilies were
used to represent good social rank, while a yellow lily can convey insincerity
and a perceived lack of integrity.

Carnations continue to adorn bouquets and buttonholes as prettily as they did
in times Victorian. Indeed they have been documented as a food item since the
17th century! Apparently they are indeed edible, with a strong sweet taste.
Like other flowers, they are as multi-tiered in meaning as the frilled layers
of their pretty petals.

Ironically, the humble pink carnation takes on a ‘blue-forget-me-not’
tone because its meant to convey the message that the giver will ‘never
forget you’! Red carnations signify deep admiration and can also say that
the givers heart is aching. Sadly, a yellow carnation indicates rejection and
disdain and gives a very negative message.

Carnations can be solid-block colour or striped and variegated, and this matters
a lot in terms of Floriography. Basically a carnation has the power to say yes
or no – a striped flowers signifies a refusal – no, I cannot be
with you, whereas a solid colours means a resounding yes!

Flower meaning has also flourished into the arena of birthdays. The following
is an example of different flowers representing birth dates. Snowdrops stand
for January; Violets for February, Daffodils for March, Sweet Pea and Daisy
for April, Hawthorn for May, Honeysuckle for June, Larkspur for July, Gladioli
and Poppy for August, Aster and Morning Glory for September, Calendula for October,
Chrysanthemums for November and December is represented by Holly, Narcissus
and Poinsettia.

In these contemporary days, we enjoy great freedom of speech. Flowers don’t
have to work so hard to say what we are not free to say. Flowers enhance our
words, we are free to tell our beloved what we mean, and what we don’t
mean! Two dozen red roses can be seen as an accompaniment or a glorious prelude
to a proposal of marriage, and does not have to stand alone as the proposal
itself!

And yet anything goes in another sense!

Take Valentines Day and the ultimate romantic gesture – the big stand-alone
bunch of red roses from the anonymous sender; flowers to represent the ‘secret
admirer’ – a harking back to earlier times, and yet possibly the
most potent flowering symbol of passionate modern romance that we know!

And so we see that modern flowers arrangements are not constrained by meaning.
Nowadays, floral fashion is free to explore new boundaries.

There’s a new exciting creative energy in floral artistic expression,
reflecting the new freedom of contemporary times. The huge scope of available
arrangements at Flowers123 typifies all that is special about the modern flower
shop.

A crystal vase full of happy Gerbera daisies of multi-coloured cheer is a very
popular expression of fun and frivolity.

Likewise, the modern trend for wildflower gardens, and floral gifts to reflect
this, says a lot about the stress of city living; the explosive growth in urban
settlement patterns giving rise to a nostalgic look back at more pastoral times;
where the lingering image of a flowering meadow full of wild honeysuckle and
fragile orchids gives rise to a new trend in a more natural bouquet.

The history of flowers gives us a fascinating insight into how flowers gathered
meaning, and how different the messages they came to convey over time, and also
how tradition in flowers can still be connected with flowering symbolism today.
But perhaps one of the most interesting observations in the study of flowers
is in the arena of what flowering gifts say about the essence and endurance
of human generosity of spirit. Flowers give an overall message of hope in the
world. The world might be a busier more stressful place, but the gift of flowers
still mean a lot to people, both in the giving and receiving, thus continuing
to symbolise a civilised society, which in itself gives comfort and reassurance.

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