The meaning of flowers

These past days, I have been reading several books that talk of the meaning of flowers. One such book is The Illuminated Language of Flowers (1978), illustrated by Kate Greenaway.

In the book’s introduction, author Jean Marsh tells us that language-of-flower customs were first mentioned in England with the publication of the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1763. Marsh notes too, that the first flower dictionary, Le Langage des Fleurs, was published in Paris in 1818, and soon after, language-of-flowers dictionaries gained popularity in England.

I love reading about the history of flowers and what they stood for in past times. The book The Meanings of Flowers – Myth, Language & Lore (1998), by Ann Field and Gretchen Scoble is another fascinating read. The pictures are not as lovely as the Greenaway book illustrations, but they are fetching nonetheless.

Today I have been thinking about the meaning of Zinnias because this time of year brings back many memories of a former gardening neighbour. Edgar grew an incredible variety of vegetables and flowers in his back garden until his mid- eighties.

In his last gardening year, when his knees were giving out, he asked me to plant his tomatoes and peppers. It was quite the experience for me because he was very specific about how to plant his seedlings. I didn’t quite get the knack until I had planted about the twenty-fourth tomato seedling. Eventually all of the seedlings were planted and happily they thrived during that summer.

When his Zinnias were in bloom, Edgar would arrive at my door bearing a lovely bouquet. I knew these flowers meant the world to him and that it was quite an honour to receive them. I miss him.

While I was reading The Meaning of Flowers, I flipped to the entry for Zinnias. My thoughts were transported back to these memories from a different time. I was living in Ottawa then and had no idea of the many life changes that would lie before me.

As The Meaning of Flowers tells us :

The Victorian meaning of the Zinnia was absence, as well as its emotional correlation, sorrow.

This is where my heart and my thoughts are today …

9 thoughts on “The meaning of flowers

  1. Hi Kate,Nice pots.Have you read 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names? It’s a small almost pocket sized book but I like it because like this book it’s a little book on plant history.I can’t think of the plant right now but there’s one that was discovered by a botanist who’s young assistant was actually a woman that disguised herself as a young man so she could travel around the world with him cataloging plants. Her secret was eventually discovered on an expedition.

  2. Neat story. I love the part about Edgar especially…he sounds like my grandfather who is long gone.

  3. Hi Kate, thanks for the comment on my blog….if you’ve never heard of Kaiser, you’re a lucky lady. 😀

  4. The language of flowers is fascinating, isn’t it? Kate’s book I’ve read.How lovely of your neighbour to bring you a bouquet of Zinnias. It’s good that you have wonderful memories of him.

  5. Thank you, Ruth, acey & mrbrownthumb for visiting my blog for the first time! Alison, I’m waiting for more pics of your garden. Yolanda,I think part of my love for gardening stems from all the wonderful people I’ve met through sharing stories, plants and coffee! I am the Diva – thank you for alerting me to Kaiser … I will avoid learning how to play it!

  6. I agree – this is a very touching post, Kate; zinnias now speak to you of your friend Edgar. One of the Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie hinged on knowing the language of flowers… that’s where I first heard about it. But yellow roses meant something unpleasant – jealousy maybe? Since they were my favorites, part of graduation, wedding and anniversary, I decided the heck with what meaning someone else had imposed on them… they only say love to me!Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. There is a wonderful book by the florist Shane Connelly where he makes up arrangements with meanings – all are beautiful, but some quite bizarre – nettles anyone?Jane

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