Floriography: Speaking Through the Flowers


After years of living in the book world, personally and professionally, it's no surprise to those who know me that a single book played a large part in my desire to professionally design with flowers.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a fictional depiction of a young woman's relationship with flowers throughout the course of her life. It is through her story that readers are introduced to "The Language of Flowers": the Victorian-era symbolism assigned to each flower.

When I finished the book I became a little obsessed with learning the symbols of all the flowers, which leads me to the title-topic of this post: Floriography.

Floriography is a means of cryptic messages, communicated by arranging certain flowers together. In other words, it's a secret language spoken through what flowers have been paired together. This became all the rage in the late 19th century. And yes, it was common for someone to have a Floriography dictionary at home to help them interpret the secret message hidden among the blooms.

Remnants of this secret language are still relevant today. When I was in high school I once saw a large poster in the floral department of a grocery store that listed the meaning behind each color of a rose. My husband must have seen something similar once, because the first time I mentioned this concept of floriography he started to recite the meanings of the rose colors he could remember.

Red roses seem to be the most commonly remembered symbol: Love. Thus the oh-so-popular dozen red roses on Valentine's Day. A lot of people will also recall daisies as a symbol of innocence. But put them together in a bouquet and you've got "innocent love". Replace the daisies with the popular pairing of baby's breath and your message changes to that of "everlasting love." See how this works?

I finished reading Deffenbaugh's book and wanted to start concocting message-bouquets immediately. A few weeks later we were set to visit the cemetery with my in-laws per tradition of visiting their baby son's grave on his birthday and putting out flowers. Suddenly the flowers we chose meant so much more to me. I was cutting a few delicate stems of forget-me-nots from a neighbor's garden, with their permission of course, and calling a friend who's mother grew beautiful zinnias each year. I brought together what I thought was a beautiful bouquet of blues and whites, suited for a baby boy, but also delivering a message to him of his family's love and devotion.

White Daisies: Innocence Blue Forget-me-not: Forget me not White Zinnia: I mourn your absence Green Rosemary: Remembrance

Baby's Breath: Everlasting

Told you. I was a little bit obsessed. I didn't really explain my thought process to my inlaws, so I'm pretty sure they thought I was being eccentric. The bouquet looked like a mess of random flowers tied together with an amateur ribbon, but I felt so connected to that little baby, and he wasn't even my own brother.

Flowers have the power to bring us together. They speak for the giver and deliver a message to the receiver. Even if we've never learned a single symbolic meaning of a bloom, something in all of us is stirred when we are given flowers. Their message is loud enough and clear enough that we somehow don't have to dissect and memorize each meaning to hear their message.

I love working with flowers. I love putting flowers together for someone in the shop who will be delivering them shortly. I love hearing who they will be giving them to: their girlfriend, their mother, their wife, their son, their daughter. I love that I get to be a small part of their non-vocal declaration of feelings for them. What a beautiful side of humanity to surround myself in.

And what a beautiful language to speak: the language of flowers.

Photo Credit: my sister-in-law Hilary Heath

#floriography #symbolisms

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