Our Soil and Blooms: The Language of Flowers
Scarlet Adele Anglesey
August 18, 2022
Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash
Out of the world's 6,000 languages, there is one distinct language of mysteries and riddles made up of the soil and blooms that collapse at the weight of our feet: The language of flowers. Each of these flowers has a purpose of sending a secret message whereby one could combine it with other flowers to create a letter embellished with blooms of different hues and meanings, most commonly demonstrating intimacy for one another.
This poetic language began thousands of years ago; for example, with ancient Egypt's belief that the lotus represents rebirth or Valentine's Day, where roses are given to significant others as demonstrations of love. The western world's floral roots began to grow in early 17th century Turkey when aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley wrote a collection of letters regarding Turkish customs and people in everyday life. She sent the letters with a Turkish interpretation of floral symbols and language. Although Lady Mary Wortley is the first-ever record of this flower language in the 17th century, its lore did not catch on until roughly one hundred years later, specifically throughout posh France and England.
Books on the language of flowers soon began to appear first throughout France. Le Langage des Fleurs, written by Louise Cortambert, pen name Madame Charlotte de la Tour, was the first-ever dictionary that deciphered 300 flowers to be used in bouquets. Cortambert's book stimulated France's admiration for this flower language forty years before England’s Victorian era. When Queen Victoria began her reign in 1837, and the buttoned-up Victorian age began, the language of flowers, or floriography, spread across England, where farmers' markets sold flowers of different colors that could be curated to create adored expressions. Floriography became a wonderful hobby for young and old alike. A magnolia’s love of nature and a tiger lily's pride were both recurring themes in Victorian-era France and England, where distinguished aristocracy and the forget-me-not flower language were recognized as Victorian era’s prominence. Floriography became a wonderful hobby for young and old alike.
After France’s Le Langage des Fleur's vogue, more books on floriography were published, deciphering every flower with a specific word. However, not all authors agreed with each other. Some flowers are seen with multiple meanings by different authors, but perhaps that is part of the beauty of this language: Much like these flowers, we, too, have many hidden themes we only show to the right audience.
During the conservative Victorian period, flowers were messengers for the public, especially after the language's recognition in France and England, when the blossoms traveled to the Victorian world of fashion for quite some time. The secret language took the form of tussie-mussies, a 'conversation bouquet.’ They were the collection of one or two wildflowers with meanings worn or carried in public as a bold presentation of one's feeling, displaying the 'uncontrolled emotion' that was disapproved in the Victorian era.
After the language of flowers’ journey to Victorian-era fashion, it set sail for art. Whether it was artist Vincent van Gogh's Sunflower painting, believing that sunflowers were emblems of happiness, or poet Emily Dickinson, who committed her life to words on paper, both artists had created a pocket of sentiment in their craft. These pockets glowed with floriography, comparing life, death, and their suffrage to the wildflowers of their garden.
Centuries ago, people alike used the language of flowers for freedom of communication in a conservative society. Centuries later, we are still searching for our field full of blossoms where our vocabulary and social liberty to express ourselves meet no thorns. So, until the day when we all accept those different fields of flowers as opposed to us collapsing their fields of soil and blooms, flesh and bone, with the weight of our feet, we have the language of flowers.
IN THE GARDEN; How to Speak the Language of Flowers | The New York Times
Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ - symbols of happiness | The National Gallery
Floriography: The Secret Language of Victorian Florals | Invaluable