Thursday, 3 June 2010

What are you saying with that Flower?

By Ingrid Murnane

[caption id="attachment_2628" align="aligncenter" width="459" caption="Flower brooch, copyright Ingrid Murnane"][/caption]

Spring is in the offing and will be here before you know it! After the catkins and the leaf buds comes the best bit: the flowers. But did you know that by giving and recieving flowers you may be making a statement that you weren't aware of? A declaration of forbidden love, or the capturing of souls in the afterlife, to name but a couple.
Historically plants and flowers have been associated with gods and goddesses and used in rituals for healing and love potions; protection and prosperity alike. Still used in Wiccan practice, many of these correspondences also survive elsewhere: for instance flowers decorate Christian churches and at times such as Harvest Festival the fruits of the land are placed on and around the altar.

On the death of a person, many people today will send a flower basket or wreath. Traditionally floral wreaths were intended to enclose the soul of the deceased and to prevent it coming back to haunt the living. Three year old Greek children were also traditionally bedecked with flowers at the Spring Equinox to recognise their reaching childhood safely without illness taking them. In Switzerland, the customs of crowning children with the crocus flower was said to ward off evil and illness too.

Some flower rituals are still carried out today. In many hospitals, red and white flowers are never mixed within the same vase in case of a death on the ward. Equally, today's brides might have a sprig of orange blossom in their bouquets in hopes for a marriage with children, but the former favourites rosemary and myrtle have fallen out of favour. In an interesting twist, the wallflower, now the term for someone so shy that they don't want to join in, previously was a symbol of a knight's faithfulness when away at war. And really, did you know that chicory can make you invisible?!

According to British pre-Victorian tradition, there was a flower for each month of the year, but the language of flowers really developed during the highly conservative period of the Victorian era. The Victorians were strongly restricted by the rules of etiquette when it was considered totally inappropriate to express feelings of love or affection. The language of flowers evolved when a meaning was assigned to specific flower by which means a lover could send flowers which conveyed a hidden romantic message. Some of the most popular flowers used were as follows, although the full list extends to around a hundred!

Bluebells meant faithfulness, buttercups radiance, camellias showed loveliness, the crocus meant happiness. A white carnation denoted purity of affection, but a red one meant the full, fiery passion of love! Daffodils could mean both shyness and diffidence, whereas dahlias or red, white or yellow showed a potential suitor a rebuff, dismissal or real distaste, respectively. To delay a meeting, Victorians sent a daisy, but for a goodbye, only a Michaelmas daisy would do. For remembrance whilst apart there was, of course, the forget-me-not, but watch out if you were sent a foxglove because this meant that your love thought you shallow. A gardenia showed sweetness and an iris ardour. Honeysuckle could be sent as a confirmation of betrothal, or lavender as a refusal of such (probably resulting in you getting sent some gladioli back as a sign of pain and upset.) Traditionally lilies were the sign of purity, but a tiger lily showed passion and the magnolia, strength. A morning glory flower denoted affection, but nothing more. A red poppy asked a suitor to be patient and to exercise moderation and a white poppy meant indecision. As today, the red rose meant 'I love you with all my heart', but the white rose showed a refusal of the affection and a yellow rose that the affection was misplaced. A sunflower was sent when a lady thought her gentleman was being too showy with his affections, whereas sweet peas approved of his tenderness. Lastly tulips were sent when a clear message was needed: red for a declaration of love, but yellow for refusal.

Combinations of flowers and plants could send a very particular message, which could be as specific as the time of day. A combination of ivy and buttercup denoted that a lady wished to tell her suitor 'I will meet you tomorrow, but cannot see you before ten.' There must have been a lot to learn in order to make sure the message was read correctly!

Growing or buying flowers is all very well, but we're crafty people here. Why not knit your own brooch with its hidden meaning? Whether you'd like to be showing your strength, or making a statement of ardour with an iris, there is a pattern out there for you.

Here are some good links for making your own daffodils, camellias, lilies, gardenias and morning glories.

For a more generic flower, that you could alter to fit your needs, this pattern is good.

If you really get into knitting and crocheting your own flowers, there are some great books available.

Nicky Epstein's Crocheted Flowers and Knitted Flowers by Susie Johns are good ones to start with as they both have a wide range of flower types to make.

And if they aren't quite what you want, why not experiment with freeform knitting and crochet to make the shapes that you would like instead. Just watch out for the message that you might be sending!

The images in this post are copyright of Ingrid Murnane. If you wish to use the images please request permission from Ingrid.


Arcarti, Krystina. 1997. Language of Flowers: a beginners guide. Hodder & Stoughton (ISBN: 978-0340697818)

Fanshawe, Simon. 2005. The Done Thing. Century. (ISBN: 978-1844138739)

Greenaway, Kate. 2003. The Language of Flowers. Dover Publications Inc. (ISBN: 978-0486273723)

1 comment:

Thank you for stopping by - I would love to hear your thoughts on this post :-)