Humans have an uncanny and incredible capacity to attribute meaning to pretty much anything and teach that meaning to others. This ability to create a language from everyday items and symbols allowed the Victorians from the upper strata of society, who were taught expressing certain things by word improper, to make grand, intense declarations of love, hate, friendship or indifference via bouquets of flowers and herbs.
It was not proper, nor polite, to declare social war on another in speech. But it was perfectly acceptable to do so via a bouquet of Tansies. Could one tell the handsome gentleman one met at that dance they thought he was hot stuff and extremely eligible? Absolutely not! What kind of Victorian lady would stoop to such crass levels? No, the proper way to do so would be with a nosegay, perhaps with a big lavender or lilac rose in the middle, surrounded by pretty daisies and a few sprigs of myrtle. Depending on the dictionary the sender or receiver were using, they would discern a message of falling in love at first sight, innocent devotion and interest in marriage. That is, depending on how the nosegay was tied and then delivered… No-one said Floriography, the art of language via flowers, was simple to discern.
While we associate herbs with bouquet garni more than a decorative bouquet, the Victorians used herbs to send messages too. Basil was so hated, that a bouquet with this fragrant herb was used to express how much the person receiving the bouquet was disdained.
Carnations, like roses, meant different things depending on their colour. A solid coloured carnation meant the answer was “yes”, unless it was yellow, in which case it meant the opposite. A striped one represented, “I’m sorry, I can’t be with you.” Pink Carnations sent someone the message “I will never forget you”. A lovely sentiment for a loved one who was going away on a long trip or moving away for good.
A yellow Iris represented passion. Otherwise, it could express faith, hope, wisdom or simply, “My compliments.”
Successfully growing these gorgeous flowers is a matter of pride among gardeners. With their glorious, big blooms and fragrant scent, no wonder they are popular bouquets. However, for a Victorian, receiving a bouquet with Peonies meant the person who sent them to you harboured seething resentment against you.
Depending on the floriography dictionary used, receiving Petunias could either mean the person sending them was full of resentment against the receiver, or it could mean that the sender found the receiver’s presence soothing.
Rhododendrons were introduced in the UK around the 1700s before anyone knew they would become such a pest. The Victorians must have sensed the trouble they would cause because they mean “beware”.
Depending on the colour, roses could mean several things. A red rose still represents love. A white rose, favoured by brides, used to say indifference. Orange roses expressed desire and yellow joy and friendship.
A Tansy has a fluffy, yellow flower and is slightly sweet to look at. However, a Victorian sending these to someone meant they were entering strife with them.